At some point or another, we all experience food cravings we can’t control. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a strict diet or if you eat whatever you like, being hungry can hit you unexpectedly at the worst possible times. Most of us don’t want to binge or overeat late at night, but in the past, this has always been a problem for me. I know there are a lot of others out there who can relate. Dinner is almost always my biggest meal of the day and I expect it to do its job, especially as I try to eat healthier and have a meal full of all the good stuff-plenty of vegetables, protein, the good kinds of carbs and fat.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. Our bodies and certainly our digestion can seemingly have a mind of their own when it comes to what they think we need. There’s no surefire solution to gain more control of our body’s natural processes, but there are certainly more bad options than good ones. For me, the best options against overeating or eating the wrong kinds of food are broken down into two categories: prevention and having healthy options readily available. Here’s what I’ve found.
Almonds and other unsalted nuts
Unsalted nuts, especially almonds, are a great snack choice. They’re loaded with the good kind of fat, protein, fiber, calcium and iron. Unsalted versions contain practically no sodium, and a very small amount of carbs and sugar. They’ll help you stay full longer, and at least for me, they’re a good way to combat hunger pangs without binging on other snack foods-like chips or crackers-way more than I should. I can sometimes eat an entire bag of chips and be just as hungry as I was when I started. That’s why the protein and fiber in nuts are so important. When I eat nuts slowly, I can consume far fewer calories and feel much fuller than with other snacks. The only problem is that nuts do contain a lot of calories. You don’t want to treat them like popcorn and snack mindlessly through an entire movie. It’s important to accurately measure them out before you eat them.
One study published in the Journal of Nutrition Research put parents and children to the test by instructing them to eat 1.5 ounces of whole almonds each day during a 14-week research period. Before the study began, the subject’s diets were scored on the healthy eating index, which assesses a person’s conformance to U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines. A score below 51 is reflective of a poor diet, a score between 51 and 80 reflects a need for improvement, and a score greater than 80 indicates a good diet. The subjects’ average scores at this time were 53.7 ± 1.8 for the parents and 53.7 ± 2.6 for the children.
After switching out unhealthy salty or processed snacks with almonds during the research period, the average healthy eating index score for parents and children increased, with the parents’ average increasing to 61.4 ± 1.4 and the children’s average increasing to 61.4 ± 2.2. They increased their component scores for total protein foods and decreased the intake of empty calories. In essence, simply by forcing themselves away from the unhealthy options already in their homes, these families got used to and began preferring the healthier options. I’ve noticed the same change in my own eating habits, because in all honesty, eating better makes me feel better throughout the day, which is much more than I can say about the short-term gratification of a few too many cheeseburgers.
Organic milk and meat
It can be hard deciding if a so-called “all-natural” or “organic” product is worth buying instead of the traditional stuff you’re used to. Usually, the all-natural or organic products are more expensive-sometimes considerably so-but even if money is no object, I know I would prefer knowing that the health-conscious lifestyle decisions I’m making are actually accomplishing what I want them to. So one tip I’ll throw in: While an “organic” label is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration so that only FDA-approved items can call themselves organic, “all-natural” is open to any product on the shelf. That’s right, soda or frozen pizza companies could call themselves “all-natural” if they wanted to, but I think we all know that doesn’t really mean anything.
However, if you want something in the organic line of products that will actually prove significantly healthier than the alternatives, you can’t go wrong with organic milk and organic meat. Why? Because they’re both rich in omega-3 fatty acids, containing about 50 percent more than their nonorganic counterparts; and omega-3s are one of the best, if not the best, nutrients you will ever eat. They’ve been linked with reduced risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease and inflammation. They can improve ADHD symptoms in children and improve a baby’s development in the womb. They can even reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in some individuals.
Eggs (even if you’re worried about heart disease or high cholesterol)
Another great source of omega-3 is eggs, especially the kind that are enriched specifically with omega-3s. You can find them next to all the other brands at your local grocery store, and although they’re a little more expensive, the potential results are worth the investment. Some people may avoid eggs out of fear that they will raise their cholesterol or increase their risk of heart attack, but that’s simply not the case. There’s been previous research that showed this, but another study released this month found that a high intake of dietary cholesterol, or eating at least one egg a day, was not associated with an elevated risk of coronary heart disease.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.