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Small Changes Can Make Big Differences

Image of fresh fruits
When was the last time you said, "I need to lose a few pounds," but didn't do anything because you didn't know where to start? You're not alone. Millions of people ride the weight loss roller coaster every day. They perpetually jump on and off the wagon because they're too busy or too overwhelmed with scheduling, shopping, exercising and eating choices.

Whether you have 10 or 100 pounds to lose, it didn't appear overnight. Chances are you've been making some not-so-great choices over a period of time that added up to a little love handle here and there. The good news is that you don't have to change everything overnight. Integrating a few small changes, s-l-o-w-l-y, can be simple, while adding up to a big difference, in your weight and your health.

Swapping an unhealthy food, habit or lifestyle choice for a healthier option is easier than you think.

As nutritionist for The Biggest Loser for 12 seasons, I learned a great deal about typical factors that play a key role in weight gain. These factors are what many of our contestants, as well as many Americans, have in common. They:
  1. Prioritized other things - such as their families, friends, and jobs - over their own health and wellbeing.
  2. Had absolutely no idea how many calories their bodies really needed (or how many they consumed each day).
  3. Frequently skipped breakfast and other meals.
  4. Didn't eat enough fruits or vegetables.
  5. Didn't eat enough lean protein.
  6. Didn't eat enough whole grains.
  7. Ate too much "white stuff," such as white flour, white pasta, white sugar, white rice, and simple carbohydrates.
  8. Didn't plan their meals in advance and often found themselves grabbing something on the go, which they ate standing up, in the car, or at their desks.
  9. Drank too many of their calories (some people consumed their daily calorie budgets in sugary drinks alone!) but didn't drink enough water or milk.
  10. Didn't get enough exercise (if any).
  11. If this list sounds familiar, you have 10 great places to start making small changes. The most important swap though, really needs to be number one on your list - changing your priorities.
1: Swap other people's needs for your own. This is one of the hardest changes for many Biggest Loser contestants to make, and why their time at the ranch - away from colleagues, friends, relatives and others who place demands on their time - is so valuable. It's important to understand that putting your needs first is not selfish. Your health and happiness are more valuable than any PTA meeting or dinner party. Allow yourself to focus on you.

2: Low vegetable and fruit intake is probably the second most common problem I see. Kicking up your fruit and vegetable intake can be easy and it has loads of priceless benefits. At the ranch we aim for four cups (total) of fruits and vegetables per day, mostly vegetables.
Image of vegetables
Fruits and vegetables supply most of your daily nutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, although they contain relatively low numbers of calories. In other words, you get the most nutritional bang for your calorie buck from fruits and vegetables. The exception to this would be the starchier vegetables, such as pumpkin, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and yams. These veggies are higher in calories and carbs, so you want to limit your intake to a few servings a week. Fresh produce should be your first choice, but if it isn't available or is too expensive, opt for frozen or canned versions of your favorite fruits and vegetables. Just make sure there's no added salt or sugar.

When it comes to dried fruit, though, be careful. When fruit is dried, it is dehydrated, meaning that all the water has been removed. So the calories in dried fruit are more concentrated. Dried fruits aren't as filling as raw fruits per serving size, but they are still a great option for portable, non-perishable snacks. When fresh fruit isn't available, dried fruits are great to sprinkle on yogurt or oatmeal or add to trail mix.

The Power of Antioxidants
You've probably heard a lot about antioxidants in the news lately. But what are they, and why do you need them? Antioxidants are vitamin-like compounds that help protect your body from inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, various types of cancer, and other serious health problems. Antioxidants are found in fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Some of the most important antioxidants are vitamin A, which can be found in broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collard greens, potatoes, squash, and tomatoes; vitamin C, which is abundant in citrus fruit, cranberries, green peppers, leafy green vegetables, and strawberries; and vitamin E, also found in leafy green vegetables, as well as in nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Another essential antioxidant is selenium, which is abundant in chicken, eggs, fish, garlic, and grains.

Different vitamins are used by our bodies in different ways. Some vitamins, such as vitamins B and C, are water-soluble, which means that they stay in our bloodstream for only four to six hours. It's important to eat foods that contain these vitamins every day. Other vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, are fat-soluble, which means that they're stored in our bodies a little longer. They ensure that we stay healthy even on days when we aren't able to eat all our veggies.

Here are some easy tips to help you meet your daily fruit and veggie requirement:

Eat a vegetable salad most days of the week. Keep a container of sliced or chopped vegetables, such as broccoli, jicama or red or green bell peppers, in your refrigerator for easy snacking. Choose whole fruits rather than fruit juices. Most fruit juice contains no fiber and therefore does little to help you control your appetite or make you feel full. Try a new fruit or vegetable every week to build some variety into your diet. Choose fruits and vegetables from the six color groups: red, orange, yellow, light green, dark green and purple. This is a great way to make sure you're getting a variety of nutrients in your diet. Try to eat at least one raw fruit and one raw vegetable each day. Mix up a fruit smoothie containing fresh or frozen fruit as a pre-workout snack.

Veggie Swaps
Swap white pasta for spaghetti squash. Spaghetti squash has been a favorite on the Biggest Loser Ranch where contestants love to serve it with pasta sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Not only does a cup of cooked spaghetti squash have a mere 40 calories, plus two grams of fiber and loads of vitamins, but it's also satisfying and flavorful.

Swap potato chips for jicama chips. Also known as the Mexican potato, jicama is a sweet edible root that makes a delicious impostor for your favorite dip. One cup of raw jicama slices contains 45 calories, six grams of fiber and nearly 40 percent of your daily vitamin C!

Swap pizza crust for mushroom caps. Make a mini-pizza that satisfies your craving while cutting carbs and slashing calories. An average portobello mushroom has only 27 calories. Mushrooms have a meaty texture and rich flavor, and they're loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients. Top a grilled portobello cap with marinara sauce and low-fat cheese, and you have a no-guilt pizza treat.

Swap lasagna noodles for veggies. Try making a healthier, lower-carb lasagna by replacing the pasta in your favorite lasagna recipe with thin slices of grilled or broiled zucchini or eggplant. Better yet, try the Veggie Lasagna recipe below:

Veggie Lasagna
You'll never miss the pasta in this scrumptious, cheesy Italian favorite. Wrap and freeze any extra servings individually to thaw and warm for lunch in a hurry. Eggplant can be substituted for the zucchini.
Makes 8 servings
Image of Veggie Lasagna
2 large Zucchini (about 1 pound), ends trimmed, thinly sliced lengthwise
3 links (about 4 ounces each) lean Italian Turkey Sausage
1 Roasted Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 cup White or Yellow Onion, chopped
1 teaspoon Minced Garlic
1 cup Low-Fat Marinara Sauce
2 Egg Whites
1 (15 ounce) container Fat-Free Ricotta Cheese
2 teaspoons Melissa’s Organic “My Grinder” Italian Herb Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2/3 cup Shredded Low-Fat Mozzarella Cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with olive oil cooking spray. Set aside.

Lightly spray a baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray. Arrange the zucchini slices in a single layer on the baking sheet. Spray them lightly with olive oil cooking spray. Broil (or grill) the zucchini for about eight minutes or until tender and very lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

To prepare the meat sauce, cook the sausage in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for about three minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to break up any clumps. Add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic, and cook for about four minutes longer, until the meat is no longer pink. The juices should be cooked dry. Stir in the marinara sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about five minutes, stirring frequently. The sauce will be very thick. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine the egg whites, ricotta, Italian seasoning and black pepper until well combined.

To assemble the lasagna, spread half of the meat sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Layer on half of the zucchini slices, followed by half of the ricotta mixture and half of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat with the remaining meat sauce, zucchini slices, ricotta mixture, and mozzarella. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 40 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Per serving:
210 calories, 18 g protein, 17 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat (2 g saturated), 45 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 340 mg sodium.
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