How a nutritionist really eats

Maya Vadiveloo spends most weekdays studying food. As a dietitian and associate professor of nutrition at the University of Rhode Island, she studies large data sets to help people make healthier choices at the grocery store.

But at night, when he comes home from work, a perfect diet is not the main thing.

Obviously, I spend some time thinking about food, she said, but as a single mother of an 8-year-old daughter, she tries to model balance and pleasure rather than perfection and rigidity.

Here are seven tips she shared for maintaining that balance and eating well when you’re short on time.

Make your vegetables lazy snack

Vadiveloo always has carrots, cucumber slices or celery sticks on hand for a quick snack. This helps you reach your goal of eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and means the easiest choice is a healthy one.

It’s amazing how content I can be just by having a bag of baby carrots on my desk, she said.

Focus on the perimeter of the grocery store

Most supermarkets place fresh, whole foods such as fruit and vegetables, dairy, meat and fish on the outer edges, with processed and packaged foods in the center aisles.

Vadiveloo spends more time in the produce section, comparing prices and selecting seasonal fruits and vegetables to keep on hand for smoothies, lunches, snacks and dinners. Top it off with a stop at the freezer case, where you pick up some versatile and inexpensive favorites like frozen broccoli, green beans, edamame, corn, and berries.

Read nutrition labels on packaged foods

Vadiveloo tends to buy the same types of yogurt, tofu, and whole grain bread every week. But when you pick up an unfamiliar brand, scan the nutrition labels.

With breads and breakfast cereals, for example, look for those that include a whole grain as the first ingredient and have at least 3 grams of fiber and less than 5 grams of sugar per serving. She tries to stay below the same sugar level when buying flavored yogurt for her daughter and often chooses unsweetened yogurt and adds her own honey and vanilla at home.

For canned soups and jarred sauces, which can be quite high in salt, choose those that are lower in sodium.

Get creative with smoothies

Smoothies aren’t just for breakfast, and they aren’t just fruit. They can be a satisfying meal with protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. And unlike juices, they include all the fiber found in the fruits and vegetables you throw in the blender.

One of Vadiveloos’ favorite lunches is a smoothie made with frozen banana and mango, fresh spinach or kale, kefir, almond or peanut butter, chia seeds, oats, and milk or almond milk. It’s quick, delicious and incorporates all the food groups.

Explore your food cravings

When he finds himself craving a treat, Vadiveloo takes a moment to ask himself what exactly he’s craving at that moment. Are you really hungry? If the answer is yes, start with a nutritious snack such as trail mix, yogurt, a piece of fruit or carrots.

If he still craves something else, he asks himself: do I want something sweet, salty or cold? She has found that identifying the specific desire and satisfying it is more effective than trying to avoid it or substitute something else that isn’t exactly what she wanted.

Meal preparation at the weekend

The weekend is when she has time to simmer big batches of her favorite foods: bone-in chicken broth, tomato sauce, chili, and vegetable soup.

Cooking stock from scratch means it will have less sodium and more flavor than packaged stock or stock cubes. And Vadiveloo freezes its stock, sauces and soups in smaller portions that can be used in the following weeks or months.

A big pot of beans, seasoned just the way you like them, can also be a quick and nutritious base for the next week’s meals: tacos one day, a burrito bowl the next.

Don’t deprive yourself of the foods you love

Vadiveloo is a self-described connoisseur of the salty soft pretzels dipped in gooey melted cheese that he sometimes orders as a main course when he goes out. It’s not a balanced meal, she said, but it’s something she occasionally enjoys without a hint of guilt.

Depriving yourself of favorite foods can be counterproductive, research suggests, because it can make you crave them more, leading to overeating.

Sometimes just allowing something makes it easier to stick to a healthier pattern, she said.

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