Alternatives to Your Top Five Calorie Wastes

Get the most bang for your calorie buck by choosing foods wisely.

baked applesPhoto via iStockphoto.

According to the most recent dietary guidelines for Americans, the top sources of calories in the average U.S. diet leave a lot to be desired. As a country, we’re getting most of our calories from some of the least nutrient-dense foods available, like yeasty breads, sodas, and booze. Boston regularly makes the upper echelons of the ‘healthiest cities’ lists, but I’ll bet even we can still do better: let’s stop wasting calories on foods that will not nourish our bodies.

It’s not as hard as you’d think. To get us all started, I’ve suggested healthier alternatives to the top five sources of calories — suggestions that will put the right foods up top. After all, you only have so many calories within your budget, so choose them wisely.

  • Instead of this: Grain-based desserts (i.e. cake, cookies, pie, cobbler, sweet rolls, pastries and donuts).
    Choose this: Refined flours, sugar and bad fats are what make this group top the list. So instead, try baking apples, pears, peaches, berries and other fruit with cinnamon and a little honey. Here is a recipe that I love for Apple Blueberry Walnut Crisp, plus a kids’ favorite: sweet, slow cooker applesauce.
  • Instead of this: Yeast breads (i.e. white bread or rolls, mixed-grain bread, flavored bread, and bagels).
    Choose this: I’m willing to bet Dunkin’ Donuts bagels top the list for Bostonians, but there are better options out there. Choose 100 percent whole wheat bread or English muffins. Here is a sandwich idea on a whole-wheat English muffin.
  • Instead of this: Chicken and chicken mixed dishes (i.e. fried or baked chicken parts and chicken strips/patties, chicken stir-fries, chicken casseroles, chicken sandwiches, chicken salads, stewed chicken, and other chicken mixed dishes).
    Choose this: Yes, chicken meat is lean, but making it a healthy part of your diet means watching the preparation method. Bake, roast, broil, or stir-fry chicken with healthy oils and lots of vegetables. Avoid frying, high-calorie breading, cream sauces, and mixes. Or, try these veggie nuggets.
  • Instead of this: Soda/energy/sports drinks (includes sweetened bottled water such as vitamin water).
    Choose this: Drinking your calories will not leave you satiated. The body just does not respond to liquid calories the same way it does to solid-food calories. Choose tea, coffee (but not a “regular” loaded with cream and sugar), water with citrus wedges or cucumber, or seltzer. Have you tried Tazo Passion Brewed Tea at Starbucks? It’s full of fruit flavor, without the sugar. I also love Tea Forte, a local tea company based in Concord, MA. They have incredible flavor combinations like “white ambrosia” and “ginger pear.”
  • Instead of this: Alcoholic beverages.
    Choose this: This is pretty obvious: alcohol provides empty calories. If you choose to imbibe, avoid fruit-flavored and cream-based drink mixes which can add hundreds of calories to the preexisting total. Wine, red in particular, can offer some health benefits in moderation.