One of the best things about learning more about nutrition and eating a smaller quantity but greater variety of foods each day is that when you start paying attention to what goes into your mouth you tend to want to make each bite count. If I felt that every day was suffering I’d never have kept up with my healthier diet. I figured I’d have to give up some foods that I like to eat, and that most of what I’d be eating, at least for a while, would be bland and unsatisfying.
As it happens, I found that the opposite was true. The foods I’m eating now are not only healthier than the junk food I was eating before, but they also taste much better. For one thing, fresh ingredients just tend to taste better than processed, dried, frozen, or otherwise manipulated ones. But that’s not the trick. The trick is to sneak a little extra deliciousness into everything you eat so that it’s full of flavour.
The trick to getting more deliciousness into your diet has to do with umami, the relatively recently discovered fifth taste (along with sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and saltiness). It’s the savoury taste, that deliciousness that you get from protein-heavy foods like meat and cheese, especially when browning them (the maillard reaction is a powerful flavour-enhancer). I actually bought a counter-top grill/panini press for the purpose of taking low-fat meats and making them more delicious (not to mention more convenient to cook).
So my trick is to plan a balanced meal and then “save” some of my calories for things that have very intense and delicious umami, like bacon and cheese.
Here are some things you can sprinkle on a salad to make it 10x more delicious and only slightly less nutritious (and even most of these things have some nutritional value):
- crumbled bacon (but NOT that fake Bac-Os salty soy crap)
- grated parmesan cheese (get the shredded rather than the salty dust, or better yet, grate your own from a wedge)
- mild banana pepper rings (I like the tangy mild ones better than the hot)
- crushed red pepper flakes
- crushed walnuts
- slivers of almonds
- crumbled feta or blue cheese (you can get these in resealable tubs now and a little pinch goes a long way)
- kalamata (Greek) olives
- sunflower seeds
- sliced strawberries (yes, in a garden salad)
- other peppers, cheeses, or fruits
Tired of bland boneless chicken breast? Grill it or pan fry it in a cast iron skillet (I like to use a spray can of olive oil to just barely oil the pan) and make a sauce from Greek yogurt (which is more like sour cream than the yogurt we’re used to eating as a breakfast or dessert – I like the Fage brand which I can get at pretty much any supermarket), dill, and a little lemon juice. Cut up the cooked chicken breast, mix it with a little of the yogurt sauce, and put it in a whole wheat wrap with some lettuce, onions, and bell peppers for a very low calorie dinner.
Fish is generally pretty healthy and depending on what kind you eat can be really healthy. Stick with tuna and salmon which are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and you get a nice combination of healthy and delicious. Even shrimp, which I always thought were supposed to be bad for you, are almost completely fat-free (albeit high in cholesterol), cook fast, and the peeled and frozen bags of uncooked shrimp actually aren’t too bad when they’re thawed and keep for weeks in the freezer. Granted, you shouldn’t eat the whole bag in one sitting, but 8-10 large shrimp (about 3.5oz) are only a hundred calories or so, and are good along with some vegetables or a salad.
Losing weight and getting healthy is hard enough as it is. Don’t punish yourself by eating food without any umami. A regular diet of food that is just absolutely fucking delicious isn’t a diet you tend to slip, you know?