Cook Your Way To A Healthy Diet

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People who eat out tend to consume more calories than those who cook their own meals. Those who prefer takeout to the kitchen also tend to consume more fat and cholesterol, and less of the nutrients a body needs to stay healthy.

"Get your diet back on track," said Peggy Fleming, Olympic figure skating champion and HealthSaver spokesperson. Make the right choices at the grocery. Change how you cook. And modify recipes to increase your meals' nutritional value.

"These adjustments will help you feel better than ever as you embrace the healthy lifestyle you deserve," said Brad Eggleston, vice president of HealthSaver.

Cook your way to a healthy diet with these tips.

Make Smart Choices

-- A healthy diet starts at the grocery. Begin your shopping at the produce section to stock plenty of unprocessed foods that carry essential nutrients.

-- Along with fresh food, buy frozen vegetables to ensure you always have enough veggies on hand. Dark-green vegetables, such as broccoli, are especially important.

-- Be wary of canned food with added salt or sugar. Opt for low sodium and low or no syrup.

-- Increase fiber with whole-wheat bread and pasta. Brown rice is also a healthier choice.

-- Bring a grocery list to avoid unhealthy temptations. Aim for foods from each food group. Variety is essential to a balanced diet.

-- Small changes make a big difference. Buy reduced-fat cheddar cheese instead of regular and avoid eight grams of fat.

Change How You Cook

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-- Base recipes on vegetables rather than meats. Add vegetables to casseroles, then use crushed whole-grain cereal as a topping for extra fiber.

-- Bring salads to life. Sprinkle almonds on greens for extra protein and calcium, or add orange sections for a sweet taste.

-- Make healthy ingredient substitutions within your recipes. Use low-fat milk instead of cream. Add cinnamon, vanilla extract or nutmeg in place of sugar. Season vegetables with herbs and spices rather than butter, salt or sauces. Try the following combinations: cilantro with rice and bean dishes, basil with tomato-based recipes, garlic with beef, rosemary with chicken, oregano with potatoes, and parsley with soups.

-- Stay away from the frying pan. Healthier options include grilled steak, baked chicken and steamed vegetables. Such methods will rid recipes of excess fat, and will help maintain foods' flavor.

-- Saute with low-sodium broth rather than oil. Or opt for nonstick cookware.

-- Decrease saturated fat by using less butter than a recipe calls for. Saturated fats raise cholesterol levels which can, in turn, increase your risk of heart disease.

-- Take advantage of your freezer. Prepare more food than necessary for one meal, then freeze the remainder in single portions for a later date. Next time you're too busy to cook, you'll have a healthy meal ready to go.

Focus on Fruits and Vegetables

-- Fruits and vegetables are not only essential to a healthy diet, but also help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Fruits and vegetables also reduce the risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes, help prevent stroke, and control blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

-- Get the most out of your calories. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, potassium and fiber. They also help you avoid overeating by helping you feel full.

-- Aim for two cups of fruit each day. Examples of one cup include one large orange, one small watermelon wedge, and eight large strawberries. You can consume the recommended two and a half cups of vegetables per day with a half cup of green beans, 12 baby carrots, and one cup of black beans.

A healthier diet could reduce cancer deaths in America by as much as 35 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health. Emphasize fruits and vegetables to reduce your risk of other such chronic diseases. Eat more nutrient-dense foods such as whole-grains. Such changes offer benefits you'll feel for a lifetime.

HealthSaver, an emerging health care discount program, offers savings on prescriptions, vision care, complementary and alternative health care treatments, vitamins and supplements by mail and more than 1,500 fitness clubs nationwide, including select Bally Total Fitness, World Gym and Ladies Workout Express locations.

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