Decadent dips ruin the benefits of healthy choices like raw veggies.
Sometimes a carrot stick is just a carrot stick. But for many of us, it’s a crunchy, bright orange vehicle for decadent dip—blue cheese, perhaps, or a nice herbed ranch. And as you dunk your sixth or seventh spear into that delicious dressing, you might tell yourself, Well, at least I’m eating a hearty serving of veggies right now. True–but you’re also consuming quite a lot of salt, fat, and calories.
Wrecking our otherwise healthy food picks along with our waistlines is often beyond our control. In his book The End of Overeating (Rodale), former FDA commissioner David Kessler, MD, explains that when you smell, see, or even think about “highly palatable” foods–ones that are high in fat, sugar, or salt–your brain can trigger the release of dopamine, the reward-seeking neurotransmitter. So in a way, you can blame the dopamine surge for forcing you to eat that glazed doughnut. The fact is, it’s possible to stop your pleasure-seeking brain from making menu decisions.
You dunk veggies into fat traps
While it may seem like a good idea to watch Parenthood with a plate of crisp crudités on the coffee table in front of you, that jar of peanut butter sitting right next to it can spell trouble. Sure, peanut butter provides healthy fat and protein, but it also has 94 calories per tablespoon–so this seemingly healthy snack can tip the scale in the wrong direction. And 2 tablespoons of creamy dressing can pack 145 calories and 15 g of fat. “Eating just one hundred calories more each day can translate to about a ten-pound weight gain over the course of a year,” says Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.
The healthy move: If you’re dying to dip, mix fat-free plain Greek yogurt (it has about twice the protein of regular yogurt) with salsa or zingy seasonings such as horseradish or curry powder. Prepared hummus or black-bean dips coat raw veggies with protein, fiber, and flavor; just check the labels because fat and calories can vary among brands. Finally, beat boredom by introducing new vegetables into your rotation, such as crunchy jicama or radishes that offer a naturally peppery bite.
You go for fried sweet potatoes
Besides the beta-carotene (a disease-fighting carotenoid that our bodies convert to vitamin A) that’s responsible for their vibrant color, sweet potatoes provide vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, and fiber–all for about 100 calories in a medium potato. But when you fry these and other vegetables (hello, broccoli bites and zucchini sticks), the fat and calorie counts skyrocket. Not only that, but a study in the Journal of Food Science found that certain vegetables, like zucchini, actually lose some of their antioxidant power when fried.
The healthy move: A baked sweet potato is the worry-free choice (mash in 2 tablespoons of a creamy fat-free dressing for extra flavor); eat the skin and you’ll also get at least 4 g of fiber. If you’re just not satisfied with a baked spud, buy a bag of oven-ready frozen fries at the supermarket. Compare labels and choose ones that have no trans fat and no more than 0.5 g saturated fat per serving. See the packaged sweet potato “fries” that Prevention likes best.
You drown your food in olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is high in “good” monounsaturated fat–the kind of fat that can help lower LDL cholesterol–but it also has about 477 calories and 54 g of fat per 1/4 cup. If you don’t measure the amount of oil you use to sauté, grill, broil, or roast, you can end up with way more than you need.
The healthy move: When grilling or broiling, use a pastry brush or nonaerosol pump to lightly glaze food with oil, says Jennifer Nelson, RD, director of clinical dietetics and nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. If you’re making a stir-fry, wipe a paper towel dipped in olive oil around the wok before adding ingredients–or better yet, use a nonstick skillet. You can also make your sautés sizzle with wine, soy sauce, chicken broth, or 100% carrot, tomato, or vegetable juice.