HEALTHY EATING: Lower-calorie choices can be even better


Variety, balance and moderation are the three keys to good nutrition. Eat a bunch of different foods and balance your intake of the various groups — meat, dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables — and you’re more likely to consume the variety and quantity of nutrients you need.

Be moderate with splurge foods that contain fats, oils, sugar and alcohol and you’ll stay on track to maintain your weight and keep your body healthy. Anytime you add more vegetables to a meal, choose leaner meats, grab the whole-grain version of breads and go easy on the butter, cheese and oil, you’re right in step with the list of things to do to eat a healthier diet.

The concept of portion control has emerged as one of the strategies to avoid overeating. Just the other day I was shopping for seafood and overheard another customer ask the clerk, “Can you please give me two 4 ounce portions of salmon?” “Wow,” I thought. “This portion control thing is really getting across.”

Then I read the results of the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s 2009 Xtreme Eating Awards in the nutrition advocacy group Nutrition Action’s newsletter. Some of the restaurant dishes maligned — including a fried macaroni and cheese entree and a quesadilla stuffed with a bacon cheeseburger — contained more than 2,500 calories per serving with more than 40 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat. That’s more calories than most of us need for the day and twice as much fat as recommended.

So if these belly busters are discouraged by dietitians, what should you enjoy when dining out? I give my award for being really healthful and tasty to these dishes you may already be enjoying but might not have known how healthful they really are.

Guacamole — Because the main ingredient is avocado, guacamole is a good source of heart-healthful mono- and polyunsaturated fats. And the impressive list of nutrients in avocados includes fiber, potassium, vitamin E and folic acid. One ounce of avocado, which is two tablespoons mashed, contains about 55 calories.

Barbecued chicken — Here’s the bottom line if you’re aiming to reduce your bottom or waistline: Batter and deep fry a 5 ounce chicken breast and you’re looking at 500 calories. But if same size chicken breast is dressed up in barbecue sauce instead, your choice is 350 calories — a 150 calorie savings.

Peel ‘n’ eat shrimp — Shrimp are exceptionally low in fat, if you keep them that way by enjoying boiled shrimp (a quarter- pound of boiled shrimp is 112 calories and 1 gram fat) instead of fried (274 calories, 15 grams fat). Peel ‘n’ eat shrimp often are boiled with a spicy seasoning, so all you need is a squeeze of lemon and you’re ready to dig in. Because all that peeling takes some time, it slows you down a bit — another plus to keep portions in control. (Yes, shrimp contain some cholesterol, but because they are so low in total fat, they’re considered a healthful choice.)

Sirloin steak — Not as pricey as filet mignon or porterhouse, the sirloin cut is one of the leanest. A 6-ounce sirloin steak, strip steak or London broil has about 360 calories and 16 grams of fat. Splurge on the same size serving of prime rib or rib-eye and you’re looking at an additional 100 calories and 10 grams of fat. Want some sauce with that? Try two tablespoons of steak sauce (30 calories) rather than two tablespoons of bernaise sauce (120 calories).

Spring rolls — No, not the deep-fried egg roll kind. But you can dig in and enjoy the Thai basil rolls popular on many restaurant menus today. These chilled rice wrappers filled with fresh veggies and maybe shrimp or chicken are a low-calorie, high-fiber finger food full of crunch and flavor. Low-calorie dipping choices range from sweet and spicy to pungent fish sauces.

Gelato — La dolce vita! Italian gelatos are commonly made with milk, not cream, so they are a bit lower in fat and calories than ice creams. But the real plus is that gelato is usually served in a dainty half-cup serving. Add a half-cup of berries, and you’re adding a fruit serving to your dairy dessert.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at

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