27 Favorite Healthy Eating Tips from Food Writers
By Brittany Anas
For those who write about food or develop recipes, eating everything in moderation is a no-brainer. But as they've eaten their way around the world or sampled recipes until they got them just right, food writers have also picked up some great healthy eating tips. They're sharing them with us in the same spirit as passing an appetizer around the table for all to enjoy.
First, I'll make a couple confessions. I tried (and liked) fries at a beachside spot in Dubai. Wait, there's more: the fries were covered in a creamy dip to tame down the top layer, which was Flaming Hot Cheetos. And when I was in Gulf Shores, Alabama, I doubt the triathlon I did resulted in a big enough calorie deficit to cancel out the post-race Bushwhackers (think: chocolate pina colada) I sipped. These are just a couple of my sins as a food and travel writer. Hey, when duty calls…!
But like many people who are in the business of food writing, I've also picked up a few healthy eating and living tips while on the road. Bread baskets are rarely worth it; the best way to explore a new city is via a paddleboard or a jogging trail; chimichurri sauce is a delish steak topping substitute for a caloric bearnaise. (Hat tip to the corporate chef for Certified Angus Beef for that one.)
Beyond eating in moderation, what else have people like me learned? I tapped some other pros who write about food or develop recipes and asked for their best insights that they swear by. They're sharing their best healthy eating tips for both dining out and eating at home, with some bonus ideas for how to get active (and burn off some creamy, Cheeto-dusted fries) while traveling and enjoying your own version of food tourism. And for more expert advice, check out these 25 Best-Ever Nutrition Tips!
Look at the Dessert Menu First
First off: Always check out the dessert menu, suggests Carolyn O'Neil, RD, a food writer, author of The Slim Down South Cookbook and blogger at ONeilOnEating.com.
"It may sound crazy, but you have got to plan ahead for the high-calorie treats at the end of a meal, especially if the desserts are not-to-miss local specialties," O'Neil says. "That way, you know not to get a fried appetizer to start and can skip the cream based soup—especially if it's so you can enjoy the apple strudel in Austria and strawberry tarts in the south of France." Yum, we like the sound of that.
Some foods are definitely worth the calories; but others are not, like these 22 Foods That Are Never Worth the Calories.
Greek Is Often The Answer
Try Greek yogurt as a healthy substitute for mayonnaise, heavy cream, or sour cream, suggests Dr. Sonali Ruder, author of The Greek Yogurt Diet and Cooking Well: Anti-Aging. "Greek yogurt is incredibly versatile and can be used in savory dishes like chicken salad, deviled eggs, and creamy pasta sauces or sweet dishes like muffins and cookies," TheFoodiePhysician.com blogger says. "It adds great flavor as well as a boost of protein, calcium, and digestion-aiding probiotics."
Make EVOO Your Pre-Party Secret Weapon
"Now that it's holiday season, we'll all be going to a lot more holiday parties and festivities," remarks Kelly Choi, food journalist and author of The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse. "To ensure that you don't get too tipsy at any party, enjoy a tablespoon of high-quality extra virgin olive oil before you leave home. You'll get a good dose of healthy omega-3 fats to satiate your appetite so that you don't overeat, as well as coat your tummy so you probably won't want to drink all that much." Choi goes on to explain that a good oil will make your throat scratch a little bit because of the polyphenols—and that, yes, she means "drinking" a tablespoon of EVOO straight up!
Visualize Your Plate when Grazing
Travel with an imaginary plate, suggests O'Neil. This is an especially helpful tip for travelers who love to eat like they're PacMan, grazing through local markets, food halls, and street food vendors.
"A bite of this here and a bite of that there can add up pretty fast when you're grazing your way through a city market full of tempting food stalls," O'Neil says. "Think of a dinner plate to balance your on-the-go dining adventure with a protein food, at least two vegetables, a whole grain, and a fruit serving. Your suitcase may be overweight with the souvenirs you've snagged but you won't be!"
Ask Questions Before You Order
Caroline Chambers, a chef and a freelance recipe developer, has come up with recipes for some of the country's biggest chain restaurants and fine-dining spots. That makes her well-versed in the hidden ingredients that go into recipes to make food taste great and be "crave-able."
"My biggest piece of advice when eating out is not to be afraid to ask about the ingredients in what you're ordering," Chambers says. "Sure, some waiters will act inconvenienced, but you have a right to know what you're putting into your body. You'll be shocked at which dishes can include butter, sugar, cream, and even MSG. That butternut squash soup you ordered? You won't consider it a 'light' order once you discover that it's 50 percent heavy cream!"
Beware of Fish Fraud
"Always ask your server where the fish is sourced from," instructs Dana Leigh Smith, Associate Editor at Eat This, Not That! "Fish fraud is rampant these days, so I'm always weary of ordering filets or sushi—especially from chain restaurants." Smith has spent thousands of hours researching and reporting on chain restaurants, so she would know! Check out her list of 20 Things You Should Never Eat at a Chain Restaurant for more expert tips!
Stash Tupperware in Your Tote
Kate Bernot, editor at DRAFT Magazine, avoids energy spikes and crashes throughout the day by eating high-fiber and high-protein foods for breakfast or lunch and then saving a portion of them in a to-go box for snacking throughout the day. "Yes, I've even stashed Tupperware in my purse for this purpose," she says. #NoShame! After all, it keeps her blood sugar and energy levels steady and cancels out the urge to make a trip to the vending machine when hunger strikes.
Find a Way to Stop Yourself
"When I was an editor at a teen magazine, I was out to lunch with a young starlet at a restaurant that served giant portions," says Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal, an EatThis.com writer and seasoned lifestyle reporter. "The food was delish and I kept picking at my plate even long after I was full. The starlet? She took her water and dumped it over what was left on her plate and then sprinkled salt on top of that. It's been a surefire way for me not to overeat at restaurants ever since—and that's always been a big weakness of mine!" Find out other ways that famous people keep their portion controls in check with these 15 Things Celebs Do to Stop Overeating!
Probiotics Don't Work Without Prebiotics
Everyone loves talking about gut-healthy probiotics—the belly bugs that help you stay slim, boost nutrient absorption, and ward off infections—but research shows they can't work alone. And Olivia Tarantino, Staff Writer/Researcher at Eat This, Not That!, can talk circles around anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. "If you're taking a probiotic supplement or eating more probiotic-rich fermented foods, you also have to make sure you're also eating enough prebiotics," she says. "Prebiotics are the fuel the beneficial bacteria needs to even get to work at healing your gut. But it's not hard! Look to sources like beans, spinach, blueberries, asparagus, and—wait for it—dark chocolate!" See more from Tarantino about probiotics with these 10 Probiotic Foods You Should Never Eat!
Translation: Bring Your Own Water. Bernot always carries her own refillable water bottle, preferably one that holds at least 32 ounces. "I'm much more likely to drink water if it's with me at all times rather than waiting for it to be served with meals," she says. Get chugging with these 50 Best Detox Waters!
Switch Up Your Plates
Sometimes you've got to play some tricks on yourself. Beth Nydick, founder of healthy food site Blue Barn Kitchen, suggests eating on smaller plates. "You will not only eat less but it will trick your eyes and your head to manage your portions," she says. Need more simple tips? Here's 25 Easy Ways to Lose 10 Pounds!
Put Your Ice Cube Trays To Work
It's an oldie but goodie: Freezing stocks and herbs in ice cube trays makes them available for easy, year-round use in your dishes, shares Hong Kong-based food and travel writer Chris Dwyer of FineFoodDude.com. For even more kitchen tricks, check out 32 Kitchen Hacks for Healthy Eating!
Stop Fearing Fat!
We were at war with healthy fat decades ago; now it's an ally. "Oil, avocados, and walnuts are all staples in my diet that I love," Perri O. Blumberg, writer at VeganWhenSober.com and a holistic chef. "They add a richness and flavor to meals and help contribute to satiety. Anything that is low-fat or non-fat and marketed as good for you is just clever marketing and a relic from several decades ago."
Skip the Salt Shaker
"Cut back on salt and use other flavorful spices to make up for the flavor," recommends Rebecca DiCenso, who has written for EatThis.com, mindbodygreen.com, and is certified in Culinary Nutrition from the Natural Gourmet Institute. "There's really no need for additional sodium when spices like garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne add so much taste!" Did you know that sodium is one of the 7 Foods That Weaken Your Bones? Yikes!
Eggs Are Egg-celent
Justine Iaboni, the blogger behind Jetset Justine, has a travel breakfast routine: A poached egg or a hard-boiled egg. "It gives me major energy for whatever the day brings," she says. "Plus, it's healthy and you can find a hard-boiled egg just about anywhere—even at airport lounges." Speaking of, find out the 11 Airport Foods to Avoid at All Costs (and What to Get Instead)!
Say Cheers to Champagne
When you're attending restaurant openings and other media events, it's common for libations to be served; after all, the hosts probably want the attending food writers to be relaxed and more open to what they're about to indulge in. But Iaboni makes sure to reach for wine and champagne instead of cocktails—and she always has a healthy snack on hand. It's advice she picked up from Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat.
Beware the Palm Oil, PB Lovers
"If you're a peanut butter addict like me, then you need to know this," says Cheyenne Buckingham, an EatThis.com contributor. "I used to love Earth Balance's coconut peanut butter spread, but then I found out it had palm oil in it. Why is this bad? It causes the amount of saturated fat to heighten when it's not necessary. In fact, a lot of so-called 'healthy' peanut butters do this. Peanut butter, if you think about it, should only have two ingredients at the most: Peanuts and maybe salt for taste. That's it. Think about that the next time you pick up a jar of your fave PB." If you can relate to her peanut butter passion, check out 17 Signs You Are Obsessed With Peanut Butter!
Schedule Stuff to Do
When you're on vacation, schedule activities between meals, suggests Eva Glasrud, a science blogger at TheHappyTalent.com, where she covers food and exercise. "When we're just hanging out, we eat mindlessly, out of boredom," Glasrud says. "Prevent yourself from falling into the same trap by scheduling an activity between meals." It's great if the activity involves exercise—but even if it doesn't, you're avoiding the snack trap.
Skip the Stash of Junk Food
"Don't keep junk food in the house," says Smith. "If it's not in your house or apartment, you can't decide to eat it on a whim. You'll have to make a conscious decision to head to the store to buy whatever it is you're craving. If you really want it, go and buy it—but nine times our of ten, you probably won't want it bad enough to actually leave the house."
Cream and Butter Is Easy to Swap Out
In most recipes, it's simple to cut oil and butter by half, says Lindsay Klix, who shares recipes that pair with her handmade dishes on OffYourRockerPottery.com. "Cream can be easily replaced by 2 percent milk," Klix says. "Many times, you can just let it simmer for a few extra minutes to thicken and you won't be able to tell in the taste. This may seem like a very small reduction, but day after day and meal after meal, it sure does add up." For similar swaps, check out these 25 Healthy Ingredient Swaps for Baking.
Find a 3-Ingredient D.I.Y. Salad Dressing
Think balsamic vinegar is a good-for-you salad dressing? You can do even better, says Judi Gallagher a chef, writer, television personality and culinary director who can be found at JudiGallagher.com. "Balsamic vinegar has a high sugar content," she says. "Instead, try orange zest with a splash of red wine vinegar and sea salt with fresh ground pepper." For the bonus round, add a crunch to your salad by mixing in sliced jicama, sliced honey crisp apples, or pumpkin seeds, she suggests.
Change Up Your Sandwich
Move over, mayo! Try hummus as a tasty sandwich spread, Ruder suggests. Because it's made with pureed chickpeas, hummus is high in protein, fiber, and many essential vitamins and minerals. She suggests making a variety of homemade hummus options by pureeing it with different flavors, like sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, or chipotles in adobo.
Try Cauliflower Rice
"My favorite substitute is cauliflower rice," dishes Krysten Dornik, a food blogger specializing in allergy-friendly recipes at KrystensKitchen.com. "I've made it for family parties and people have no clue that they are eating cauliflower. They all think it's rice." Her trick? Add in feta cheese, sliced almonds, green onions, garlic, and seasoning. "You definitely feel like you are eating carbs when you are just eating more veggies," she says. Love it? Then you'll love these 17 Ways to Use Cauliflower.
Eat Something Weird
Bugged out by the latest trend of high-protein crickets on restaurant menus? Anthony Bianco from The Travel Tart blog pushes the limits even further, like noshing on caterpillars in South Africa. "Some of the weirder food I've tried around the world tastes great and is actually pretty healthy," he says.
Eat Like The Japanese
A trip to Tokyo inspired Jess Winfield, author, screenwriter, and travel editor, to switch up his breakfast routine.
"The hotel I stayed at had a two-pronged breakfast buffet," Winfield says. "One prong was American, heavy on the carbs with waffles and pancakes and hash browns and muffins. The other side was Japanese. For the novelty, I went Japanese. Baked fish, miso soup, pickled vegetables, seaweed, tofu, tamago (a small brick of scrambled egg), and green tea. The only carb was a small bowl of rice. It was so delicious. I usually want to take a nap after an American buffet breakfast, but this time I felt nourished, light as a feather, and ready to conquer the world. I now generally go low-carb for breakfast, and a packet of Trader Joe's instant miso soup with some extra tofu added is one of my favorites." Speaking of the popular store, don't miss The Best and Worst Foods at Trader Joe's.
Add Some Beer
Gallagher swears by beer can chicken. Hear her out on this one: "You might think using a half can of beer underneath a whole roasting chicken sounds caloric, but actually the fat drips down into the pan and the bird stays amazingly juicy," she says. Who knew cooking with beer could be so healthy?
Keep a Healthy Snack Stash
"The only person who will save '3-PM You' from eating Doritos for an afternoon pick-me-up is 'Sunday You'—the sensible person who took just an hour or so to buy and prep healthy snacks," says Tarantino. "When you're hungry, you'll reach for whatever food is closest to you—including the leftover donuts your coworker put on the communal snack table in the break room. I've learned that the easiest way to keep yourself from making unhealthy food choices is to arm yourself with waistline-friendly snacks. That's why I always keep protein- and healthy-fat-packed snacks like a bag of mixed nuts, beef jerky, or a bar of 85% dark chocolate in my desk drawer to nibble on when I feel my energy levels tanking." For more ideas, check out these 40 Healthy Snack Ideas to Keep You Slim!
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