The notion of trimming extra calories from your daily diet in order to lose the baby weight may seem overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be so tough -- simple strategies can really make a difference without sacrificing flavor for health. Keep in mind that if you're breastfeeding it's especially important to eat enough nutrient-rich food, as nursing causes you to burn an extra 500 calories a day. But whether or not you're nursing, here's how to make sure all your calories count.
We eat with our eyes, so the way you put food on a plate can increase your satisfaction. One great tip: cut your meat at an angle so that you have thin slices, which looks smaller than one thick piece. A 4-ounce portion of protein can make 10 slivers. Give them some great eye appeal by fanning the slices and placing them over whole grains, grilled veggies, or salad greens. By the way, when choosing grains, pick the most satisfying ones (read: high fiber), so you'll eat less and stay fuller longer. Some good choices are wild, brown, black, or red rice; barley; and quinoa.
Bulk up a meal with vegetables. Asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, celery, cucumber, fennel, lettuce greens, mushrooms, snow peas, spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini are rich in nutrients and low in calories, so eat as much of them as you want. Squash, pumpkin, peas, and potatoes are higher in calories, so limit them to two 1/2-cup servings a day.
The latest research shows certain foods satisfy hunger better than others. Here are food stars to add to your diet.
Pine nuts: Their fatty acids trigger the release of cholecystokinin, a hormone that could help suppress appetite. Allow yourself an ounce a day to toss into a salad or a pasta or grain dish.
Whole-grain cereals: High-fiber cereals, like oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, get digested more slowly, controlling blood sugar and sending a signal to the brain that you're full.
Almonds: The one-two nutrient punch of the protein and healthy fats satisfies hunger.
Apples: They have more fiber than other fruits, and munching one before a meal can speed up the feeling of fullness.
Low-fat cheese or yogurt: Their protein curbs hunger.
Eating out doesn't have to be fattening, especially if you go for Mediterranean, Asian, or Latin American fare. When scanning menus, look for these buzzwords: roasted, seared, poached, stir-fried, and en papillote (steamed in parchment paper). Some global herb-based sauces that are easier on the hips are pesto (Italian), chimichurri (Argentine), mojo (Caribbean), picada (Spanish), and pistou (French).
Studies show that when an equal amount of food is presented on a large and a small plate, we perceive the larger plate as holding less food than the smaller plate. How big is too big? A plate should be 9 to 10 inches in diameter. But today many are 12 to 14 inches. With 40 percent more room on your plate, it's easy to overeat. Also keep in mind that half of the plate should be vegetables (about 1 cup), a quarter of the plate should be lean meats (4 ounces), and another quarter should be whole grains (1/2 cup).
We all know we need to cut down our portions, but nobody wants to carry around a measuring cup. Instead, keep in mind these visual guides to help you judge how much you should eat.
Serving Size: 1 cup of fruit or cooked vegetables
Correct Serving: baseball
Serving Size: 1/2 cup of cooked pasta or a serving of pretzels
Correct Serving: cupcake liner
Serving Size: 3-ounce serving of meat
Correct Serving: deck of cards
Serving Size: 1/4 cup of dried fruit or nuts
Correct Serving: golf ball
Serving Size: 1 pancake or small waffle
Correct Serving: compact disc
Sidestep creamy high-calorie dressings for those made with olive or canola oil, vinegar, and fresh herbs. And instead of putting the dressing on top of your greens, spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons into the bottom of the empty salad bowl. Add 2 cups of greens, and then toss. Skip the croutons, and put in cucumbers for volume.
Eating out of the package is one of the easiest ways to go overboard on calories -- before you know it, your big bag of chips will be empty. Snacks that come in 100-calorie packs can take the guesswork out of portion sizes. Or you can put the exact amount you want to eat on a plate. If you're on the go, use a convenient container; for nuts, pack a 1-ounce portion, and use a 1-cup holder for popcorn, whole-grain crackers, or fruit.
To give a rich touch to lean dishes, cook with small amounts of toasted, chopped nuts or a drizzle of a flavorful olive oil. Half an ounce of a sharp cheese such as blue cheese or Parmesan can top a salad, soup, or sandwich. A 1-ounce piece of pancetta cut tiny and sauteed with olive oil, onion, garlic, and tomatoes makes a great smoky base for soups or pasta sauces. And 1 tablespoon of melted dark chocolate can be a healthy indulgence when drizzled over your favorite fruits.
Originally published in the April 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.
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