What if you could eliminate 500 calories a day — about a pound's worth of calories a week — while eating food that's not so different from what you eat now? Participants in a recent National Institutes of Health study did just that.
They spent two weeks eating ultraprocessed foods (stuff that comes out of bags, boxes and cans), then another two weeks consuming unprocessed, natural foods. On the ultraprocessed diet, they gained about a pound a week. On the unprocessed diet, they lost about a pound a week. And they enjoyed both diets equally!
Today, average Americans get nearly 60 percent of their calories from ultraprocessed foods. To help you make a step in a better direction, we reimagined three popular convenience foods as whole, healthy versions.
If you like frozen chicken nuggets, try...
Pure ‘N’ Simple Chicken Nuggets
Heat the oven to 450° F. Mix 3/4 cup almond meal, 3/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp poultry seasoning, 1/4 tsp garlic powder and 1/8 tsp black pepper. Spread two-thirds of mixture on a large surface. Cut 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs into nuggets. Dip into egg white; place on the bed of mixture. Sprinkle remaining mixture atop the nuggets. Coat a cookie sheet with olive oil. Move the nuggets to the sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, flip the nuggets, and bake for another 10 minutes.
You'll gain: 9 grams protein, 2 grams fiber
You'll lose: 337 milligrams sodium
If you like O-shaped sweetened cereal, try...
Combine 1 1/8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, 4 tsp each pumpkin and sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup pecans, 2 Tbsp raisins and 4 dried apricot halves, chopped.
You'll gain: 1 gram protein
You'll lose: 7 grams sugar, plus red dye No. 40, blue dye No. 1, yellow dye No. 6 and “BHT for freshness"
If you like store-bought frozen yogurt bars, try...
Blueberry-Banana Yogurt Pops
In a blender or food processor, combine until just smooth two-thirds cup blueberries, 3/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt and 1 ripe banana. Measure another one-third cup blueberries; put some at the bottom of 4 small paper cups. Dollop the yogurt mixture evenly into the cups. Top with remaining berries. Freeze, placing a wooden stick into each cup. To serve, peel off the paper; let pops soften for 10 minutes.
You'll gain: 2 grams protein, 2 grams fiber
You'll lose: 4 grams sugar, including corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup and cane sugar
Janis Jibrin is a registered dietitian and the author of The Pescetarian Plan.