Trying to keep track of the latest nutrition advice can be dizzying. What's worse? Actually attempting to follow it. Consider this your new assignment: Cut yourself some slack. Sure, sticking to a strict diet regimen can produce quick results, but they'll usually be short lived. The healthiest eaters know how to maintain a balance without going overboard. Besides, many of the rules you hear aren't even completely true. In fact, we've rounded up nine that you should start breaking immediately. There--don't you feel better already?
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Bright orange and deep-green veggies have a halo for their high levels of health-boosting antioxidants, but it turns out white produce has been unfairly ignored. A Purdue University study found that potatoes, cauliflowers, turnips, and onions are significant sources of potassium and magnesium, two essential nutrients that are essential for a healthy heart. Here are surprising ways to eat more veggies like these.
There's no question that whole grains are a superior source of dietary fiber compared to refined ones, but you don't have to swear off white bread entirely. The USDA recommends that only half of our daily grains come from whole-grain sources, so if you're in the mood for a classic grilled cheese, don't deprive yourself. "As long as comfort foods don't become your mainstay, they still have a purpose," says registered dietician Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD. Make up for the loss of vitamins and minerals by stuffing sandwiches with nutrient-dense ingredients, such as hummus, spinach, and tomatoes.
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"Eggs have gotten a bad rap over the years, and while some people's yolk fear is dissipating, it's still something I hear from clients on a regular basis," says registered dietician Erica Giovinazzo, RD. "In studies, dietary cholesterol has not been shown to have a great effect on the body's bad cholesterol levels. If you're eating a healthy diet overall and aren't genetically predisposed to heart disease, enjoy eggs in the morning." Protein at breakfast is a great way to fuel your muscles for the day ahead.
Fresh fruits and veggies taste better--especially when locally grown--but frozen produce is by no means nutrient deficient. Plus, it won't rot in the fridge when your schedule gets bonkers and dinner plans change. "Your favorite vegetable isn't always in season, but it's always ready in your freezer," says Gerbstadt. Some veggies even have higher concentrations of nutrients when frozen: Researchers at Penn State University found that frozen spinach retains its nutrients more effectively than fresh spinach does.
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Fat has long been vilified as a waistline widener, but the truth is, your body requires it to run optimally. "Vitamins A, D, E and K all require fat for absorption," says Gerbstadt. In other words, if you don't eat a food containing fat when you take a vitamin D supplement, your body won't readily be able to use the vitamin. Fat also promotes that feeling of satiety that keeps you from zombie stomping toward a vending machine an hour after you eat. Shoot for a diet that contains 30 to 35 percent fat, most of it unsaturated, suggests Gerbstadt.
The reality is that any non-caffeinated, unsweetened beverage will do the trick--welcome news for those of us who think H2O is total snooze. Herbal teas are flavorful, and floral varieties like hibiscus create a beautiful, appetizing color. "Juicy fruits like grapes, Asian pears, and citrus fruits count toward your hydration total too, as does soup," says Gerbstadt.
The no-nighttime-eating rule assumes you're going to sleep at a certain time, says Gerbstadt. "You may have a schedule that keeps you up a little later, and if you go to bed hungry, you won't sleep as well." And the truth is, it's the added activity that burns more calories during the day--not that foods are inherently more caloric when consumed after dark. "If you take a walk after eating late or exercise first thing in the morning, you can temper it," says Gerbstadt. Just keep in mind: If you eat too much, you may not sleep well either."
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Finishing a meal with a sweet treat shouldn't be verboten. You can enjoy dessert every day if you're mindful of the portion size and your activity level, says Gerbstadt. Her rule of thumb? "Stick to just five bites." Besides, adding dessert to your dinnertime repertoire may have other benefits besides satisfying your sweet tooth. "It may even help curb night binging, since you will feel more satisfied," she says.
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Salads can be an excellent option, but it's ridiculously easy to morph this healthy meal into a dietary disaster. "Fixings like cheese, olives, avocado, nuts, and dried fruit really pile on the calories," says Giovinazzo. She recommends sticking to just one of the above and adding just a sprinkle of another. Dressings can also quickly sabotage a salad--and not just by the shocking amount of calories they can contain. "Salad dressings can also have a lot of additives and added sugar, so use a plain olive oil and vinegar dressing at home, or if out, ask for it on the side."
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