People always think that dietitians are perfect eaters. As if “perfection” can be applied to the way we eat. Of course, we dietitians are just like you. We strive for balance and seek the right blend of “every day” and “sometimes” foods. While there are some foods that we should all save for rare occasions (read: rich chocolate cake), there are other foods that are more uniquely “sometimes” foods for one person but not another. Identifying the foods that need to be limited in your diet and knowing when to have them is a key ingredient toward following an overall healthful diet. Here are the five essential questions you need to ask yourself.
Can you live without it?
I call them “power foods.” You know the foods that just seem to have power over you. You tell yourself…just one more bite, just one more handful, and yet it seems hard to walk away. If you are thinking of foods that fit this definition then you have just identified a “sometimes food” that is unique to you. For you, moderating how often and in what way (read: not straight from the bag or box) you eat this food is very important.
Is it adding value to your day?
It is so easy to eat certain snacks during the day without even considering if it is adding value to your day. Possibly it is a low-protein cereal bar or 100 calorie pack of cookies that clearly doesn’t present as decadent, but if you consider how it is benefiting your day, you see that it isn’t. It makes it to your shopping list every week, however, and inevitably into your daily eating pattern. If you can identify foods like this then you may want to turn them into your “sometimes” foods.
Do you eat it out of habit or hunger?
This question is likely to also identify those “sometimes” foods that are unique to you. For example, do you have the exact same snack or a bowl of ice cream every night sometimes without even thinking about it before hand? It can be as simple as a second scoop of granola on your yogurt, but if it is something that you eat out of habit instead of hunger then it is a food that you should consider only having around “sometimes” to help you break the habit.
Is it a sweet or savory food that is easily a “sometimes”?
This is probably what we think of when we consider sometimes foods by their true definition. We, on occasion, choose more decadent sides and sweets. Generally speaking, when we do we know that we should be mindful of how much we indulge and not stack too many of these special foods into one day. Eating foods simply because they taste delicious and are enjoyable is no doubt part of a healthful approach to eating (at least according to this dietitian!).
Is there a more healthful alternative?
This one is more complicated as it challenges you to find the best option among the foods you already eat. The easiest example of this is yogurt. While you may be enhancing your day with a protein-rich Greek yogurt, which is terrific, you may be also adding more sugar than you think simply because you are choosing a flavored option instead of a 3 Guiding Stars plain variety. When you become familiar with the most healthful option of the foods you eat (whole wheat pasta, brown rice, etc) then the alternative, less nutrient rich option becomes the “sometimes.”