Congratulations on transforming your diet in an effort to lose weight and feel great. Eliminating traditional "diet" foods (think frozen dinner and fat-free devil's foods cakes) and substituting them with nutritious fruits and vegetables is a great first step—provided you're not trading up on the calorie count. Fruits and vegetables contain massive amounts of nutrients and are indeed a much better choice than the universal "diet" foods most Americans are consuming, but they still have calories. So trading a 100-calorie cookie with a 400-calorie smoothie may actually thwart your weight loss goals.
In the summer, when so many of our favorite fruits and vegetables are in season and readily available, it's easy to justify gorging on the good stuff. But a handful of blueberries here and a serving of cherries there, all tossed back with a fruit smoothie, can add up when you tally the overall calorie and sugar consumption. Let's start with fruit: it's a wonderful addition to your diet, especially if you tend to favor processed sweets. However, if fruit is playing a leading role in all your snacks and meals, it may time to cut back. Excessive fruit consumption can covertly push you way beyond your daily caloric needs. Sure, a bowl of berries is a better choice than a piece of berry pie—but it shouldn't be considered a "free" food.
To get the most benefit from fruit, aim for 4-5 handfuls a day (that's about ½ a cup). If you're finding it difficult to decrease your fruit consumption, don't throw your five handfuls of strawberries into a smoothie or mix your berries in a recipe with a million other ingredients. Instead, enjoy your fruit choices plain on their own and with a mindful appetite, savoring the texture, sweetness and smell of every bite!
It's also quite common for people to tread the fine line between calorie-dense and calorie-free when it comes to vegetables.
Every vegetable is classified as starchy or non-starchy. The green ones (like kale, broccoli, green beans and dark green lettuces) are considered non-starchy—meaning they won't affect your blood sugar levels and their calorie count is nil (that's before calorie-laden dressings and sauces, of course).
Starchy vegetables, on the other hand, are carbohydrate-dense and metabolized quicker than non-starchy veggies. High starch vegetables—such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and winter squash—aren't necessarily "bad." In fact, they are all chock-full of cancer-fighting and inflammation-reducing compounds, as well as fiber. But the key with these guys is moderation.
To illustrate the point: One cup of romaine lettuce contains 25 calories and zero carbohydrates; the same amount of potatoes rings in at 120 calories and a least 20 grams of carbohydrates.
Veggie-wise, aim for five handfuls a day with only one of those handfuls being a starchy vegetable.
Regardless of the food choice, any calorie that is not used as energy will be stored as fat. So while some types of calories are more beneficial than others, even the good ones can add up quickly!
Check out our slideshow above to find new ways to eat low starch vegetables.
Elizabeth Parker contributed to this blog