Savor Thanksgiving, but watch the carbs: 47 easy ways to scale back
Thanksgiving is but one day. So just enjoy it (in moderation, of course). After all, it’s what you eat the remaining 360-something days of the year that really determines your pants size.
Throughout 2013, the L.A. Times’ Mind & Body section has focused on taking small, simple steps to improve your health and fitness. And we’re doing more of the same as the holiday eating season gets underway. So how about we savor the handful of truly special meals that revolve around the gathering of family and friends — and keep a close eye on our plates the rest of the time?
One of the easiest ways to do that?
Slash the junky carbs.
No, we are not demonizing carbohydrates. But the fact is we’re Americans. Ergo, we eat too much of the sugary, starchy stuff. (The Institute of Medicine recommends 130 grams of carbohydrates a day. But many Americans eat at least twice that amount.) And scaling back your excess carb intake is a simple way to also scale back calories.
So here are 47 super easy ways to trim the carbs in your diet by 50% by focusing on processed carbohydrates and food, empty calories and portion sizes. Best of all? We suspect you’ll barely miss a thing. If you have tips for keeping a lid on the carbs in your diet, let us know on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #LATFit.
1. Give yourself a carb allowance when eating out: Choose one carb per meal. Are you going to splurge on one to two glasses of wine? A dinner roll? Or a dessert you can split with the table? Make the rest of your meal about veggies and lean proteins.
2. Bah humbug to coffeehouses and those irresistible holiday concoctions! Go for the small size and skip the whipped cream. Or get the fully loaded version and take a few sips and then toss the rest. Kinda wasteful, but see No. 28.
3. Your guilt-free party drink this holiday season? Wine spritzer.
4. No need to abandon Friday night pizza. How about use half an English muffin as your base? Pile on the toppings.
5. Even better: Use the inside of a roasted portobello mushroom cap for your Friday night pizza crust. Pile on the toppings.
6. Another veggie-rific alternative: Broil inch-thick slices of eggplant, and then use that as the base for your Friday night pizza. Pile on the toppings.
7. No need to abandon Saturday night burgers. How about use two roasted portobello mushroom caps as the “buns” for your cheeseburger. Pile on the toppings.
8. Or eat your cheeseburger served atop a salad, no bun necessary.
9. Or order your burger “protein style” (wrapped in lettuce).
10. Does your Sunday begin with pancakes? No need to miss out, but just have one instead of a stack. Pour on the syrup, slather on the butter, but just eat one.
11. There is no law that says Thai and Indian curries must be served over rice. Try ladling your curry over chopped and roasted broccoli or cauliflower.
12. Speaking of cauliflower: The rage in the Paleo community is “cauliflower rice” as a nutrient- and fiber-rich way to stick to your diet and still enjoy a Thai panang or a chicken tikka masala.
13. Love spaghetti and meatballs and lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese? Uh, who doesn’t? Try the meatballs on a cup of roasted spaghetti squash.
14. If you just have to have the real thing, watch the portions. According to the U.S. government’s food guidelines, a serving of spaghetti is half a cup. I know. Tragic.
15. Personally, I think the sauce is the best part of any pasta dinner. Ask nicely and your waiter might bring you a grilled chicken breast covered in the pasta sauce of your choosing. Order a green salad on the side and call that a treat meal for the history books.
16. Make your macaroni and cheese with roasted veggies instead of pasta.
17. Dying for a baked potato with a steak? Make it a small red potato. Go for a little butter and a dollop of sour cream. You’ll get a few bites of carb goodness but still stay on track.
18. Salad for dinner? Ask your server to hold the croutons, the fried tortilla strips and especially the deep-fried tortilla shell bowl.
19. Save the big bowl of strawberry ice cream for an occasional after-dinner treat. Instead, reach for a 6-ounce serving of plain Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of strawberry jam swirled in. Tuck it in the freezer for about 15 minutes before diving in.
20. If you are still dying for something cold and creamy, try a single fruit pop made without added sugars. (We’re not labeling these ice cream alternatives as health foods, mind you. They still have plenty of carbs, just not as much as that big bowl of ice cream. Plus, there’s built-in portion control.)
21. Try to get in the habit of enjoying fresh, seasonal fruit as your dessert. Experiment with frozen grapes, persimmon slices drizzled with fresh lime, just enough to keep you from running for the ice cream.
22. A Mexican restaurant can actually be a great option when watching carbs. Enjoy a handful or two (not a basketful) of chips and salsa. Then order the veggie-rich fajitas, hold the tortillas, rice and beans.
23. Devour those huevos rancheros, but skip the tortilla at the bottom of the heap. It’s just a soggy mess anyway.
24. If you are hankering for a slice of holiday pie, try microwaving a half cup of sweet potato and then mashing it with a bit of butter, a pinch of pumpkin pie spice and a teaspoon of sugar. Not as good as the real thing, of course, but better for your waistline.
25. If you do find yourself facing down a slice of pumpkin pie, just eat the interior and the golden brown edge of the crust. The rest of that crust is probably a soggy mess too.
26. Reach for an apple instead of apple juice. (It’s just too easy to overdo juice.)
27. But if you insist on juice, make it 2 ounces of juice topped off with sparkling water.
28. Don’t put it in your shopping cart. Don’t bring it in your house. We’re talking junk food (chips, sugary sodas, etc.). If you must, enjoy it at a friend’s house when it’s served, or go for the portion-controlled bag of chips or can of soda when ordering lunch. Just don’t put it in your shopping cart, and don’t bring it into your house.
29. For a rare carb-free indulgence, try making cheese crisps, known as fricos, instead of crackers.
30. Use a large romaine leaf as the “bread” for your ham and cheese.
31. How about a salad on a salad? If you like tuna salad, egg salad or chicken salad for lunch, try serving it on a bed of greens instead of between two slices of bread.
32. Make lasagna using zucchini strips that you lightly brown in a non-stick skillet. Or eggplant planks! (After all, the best part of lasagna is the cheese on top, right?)
33. Make your sandwich with one slice of bread, cut in half. Pile on the same amount of lettuce, tomatoes and other goodies. Who cares if it all hangs over the edge?
34. At lunch with friends, opt for a simple green salad as your side offering, and be the big spender who springs for a plate of fries for the table. Eat your salad, enjoy just a handful of fries and you’ll have the best of both worlds.
35. If you order something decadent at a restaurant, start out with a simple green salad as your appetizer. (If you don’t see it on the menu, ask.) When your entree arrives, enjoy a few bites, but don’t eat the whole thing. If you fill up on greens, there’s a good chance you won’t need to lick your plate clean. Speaking of which …
36. Turn in your membership to the Clean Plate Club. Don’t feel compelled to eat it all, especially at a restaurant with enormous serving sizes.
37. There’s a reason why “crackers” start with the word “crack.” They’re irresistible! But when you think about it, they’re often tasteless and have no nutritional value. And they are really just a way to transport cheese to your mouth, right? Alternatives: Eat the cheese solo, or atop thinly sliced coins of carrots or cucumbers, or on crispy, crunchy bell pepper strips.
38. Is there anything more decadent for dessert than a cheese plate? Nope. So when you are jonesing for something indulgent after dinner, consider an ounce of a really sharp cheddar served with half an apple sliced thin. (Save the other half of the apple for the next day’s breakfast or lunch. Just trim off any brown parts.)
39. Another option for indulging in moderation: Conspire with a like-minded diner. Share a healthful entree-sized salad as your starter, and then split a slightly more decadent entree.
40. Do you know what a serving of cooked rice is? Half a cup. Seriously. Measure this out on your plate the next time you make rice at home so you’ll know how much to eat (or not eat) when you are out.
41. This may be sacrilege to say in a place like L.A., but unless those tortillas are homemade, just eat the insides of the taco and throw the tortillas away. Then you can (see No. 1) enjoy a side of rice or refried beans or some chips guilt-free.
42. What’s the best bread you’ve ever eaten? Hold on to that memory. And the next time a server puts down a basket of stale or overly processed bread that was probably made a week ago and has been kept in the back of a truck wrapped in plastic, you can say, “No, thank you.” (Make sure you turn the bread away before they plunk it down on the table, so it doesn’t go to waste.)
43. Whole, fresh food is best. But protein powders can make a great meal substitute in a pinch. When choosing protein powders, scrutinize labels for lurking carbs or artificial sweeteners. (One option: Find a protein powder sans any flavorings or chemicals, and dress it up with your own fruit. Just watch portion sizes.)
44. Two words: Light beer. Try it. You might like it. And if you are the type who enjoys three or four beers while watching football on a Sunday afternoon, it won’t kill you to enjoy your favorite beer for the first quarter and then make the switch to light.
45. Start a food journal but just track your carb intake. (I know, I know, you hate food journals. Do it anyway.)
46. Who says your ham and cheese needs to be weighed down by two slices of bread? Lay out your ham. Slather on some Sriracha mayo. Top with a slice of cheese. And then roll up and secure with a toothpick. Serve with a green salad for a protein-rich lunch.
47. We saved the best for last: It’s Thanksgiving. And you can’t choose among the three homemade pies at the buffet. Take slivers of all three and enjoy a few bites.
Remember, it’s not what you do on Thanksgiving that matters most to your bottom line but what you do the day before and after.
Don’t forget to share your carb-slashing suggestions! Tweet me at @ReneLynch.