The best way to start moving toward a healthier lifestyle may be to look for things we can change immediately with little effort: the "low-hanging fruit" approach. This type of "fruit" is easily discovered in the food category. There are some foods that we should simply learn to live without, and we won't miss them once they're gone!
Restaurant foods are some of the lowest-hanging fruit, and we're not talking about just the usual fast-food places we like to decry as the unhealthiest of the unhealthy. When meeting with patients, I like to sit together in front of the Web and look up nutritional information about their favorite restaurant foods on sites such as CalorieKing.com. That's usually an eye-opener. One patient's blood glucose record showed major spikes every weekday evening. We found that the culprits were several fast-food restaurants she visited during her long drive home from work. A quick check of the nutrient content of what she was eating revealed the extent of the problem, and it wasn't pretty. Another patient experienced similar surges in blood glucose, and the source was identified as a special ice cream treat at a local restaurant. The calorie count for one "small" serving: 750 calories and 100 grams of carb! Another nutritional news flash about restaurant foods: They can contain frighteningly large amounts of sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure. A shrimp scampi appetizer at one establishment racked up almost 3,000 milligrams, more than the recommended sodium intake for an entire day, and that's by far not the worst example.
Other low-hanging items: regular (non-diet) sodas and sweet treats. Why waste 140 calories and 39 grams of carb on a regular soda when you can drop that to zero with the sugar-free version? The same can be said for fruit juices and "sweet tea." Once you make the change to no-added-sugar versions, you'll never go back. My personal challenge is the large cookies often found stacked on trays at office parties. Those can pack 300 to 400 calories or more per cookie, and three or four of them can go down pretty quickly. Another favorite: peanut butter cups. The small ones contain 70 calories each, so three or four (or more) cause the calories to stack up fast. My best bet is to turn and run at first sight.
This all isn't to say that we can't visit our favorite restaurants with friends and family or enjoy healthy sweet treats, or even less-healthy ones on occasion. Simply, there are always great-tasting and satisfying alternatives that can be uncovered with a little research. Another of my patients investigated the menu at her favorite sit-down restaurant. She came up with a 600-calorie, low-carb meal that was healthy and satisfying amid a sea of undesirable menu options. Let's use the nutritional information at our fingertips to help us truly enjoy what we eat!