Making Healthier Choices in the Kitchen

It’s that time of year when we all seem to indulge a little more than usual. The holidays bring delicious food and tried-and-true family recipes. But before we know it, we are talking about New Year’s resolutions. If one of yours is to eat healthier, you’ll be happy to know this doesn’t have to mean giving up all of the foods you love. The team at Gaston Medical Partners has suggestions for you on easy modifications to make in the kitchen to cut down on calories and fat, but not taste.

Food Substitutions

Lower the fat and calories

  • When baking, substitute applesauce for half the oil in a recipe. Your dessert will taste the same but have fewer calories!
  • Choosing egg whites or an egg substitute lowers the amount of cholesterol and saves on calories. Two egg whites or ¼ cup egg substitute is the equivalent of one egg. 
  • Using cooking spray instead of oil means less calories.
  • Look for low-fat dairy options over the full fat versions, to save on total fat and calories.
  • Plain greek yogurt is a great substitute for butter, oil, sour cream, mayo or buttermilk, adding extra protein with less calories and fat.
  • Extra-lean versions of ground beef are a better choice than the higher fat options. Another healthy choice in replacement of ground beef is ground chicken or turkey to save on fat and calories.
  • Skinless, white meat chicken is the healthier alternative to dark meat chicken with the skin.

Lower the carbs

  • Lettuce wraps can take the place of tortillas, providing all the nutritional benefits that come from leafy greens, with far fewer carbohydrates and calories.
  • Riced cauliflower is a good choice over white rice for vitamin A and vitamin C.
  • When cauliflower isn’t being used as rice, it can become cauliflower mash to provide an alternative to traditional mashed potatoes.
  • If looking to cut down on carbohydrates and calories, spaghetti squash can replace traditional pasta for more vitamins, minerals and fiber.
  • If spaghetti squash is not your thing but you are trying to stay away from pasta, zoodles (aka thin slices of zucchini) can fit the bill. They are low calorie, low fat, low carb and a good source of potassium, calcium and vitamin C.

Increase the nutritional value 

  • Replace half the amount of all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. Whole wheat contains more nutrients, including protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. That means multigrain or whole wheat versions of your favorite products are always the healthier choice.
  • Reach for brown rice instead of white rice for the healthier choice. It’s higher in fiber, magnesium and other nutrients. Sweet potatoes are also a great substitution for white potatoes, including as fries. With fewer calories and carbohydrates, they are full of fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C
  • By using olive oil instead of butter, you’ll reap all the benefits that come along with it. A large part of the highly regarded Mediterannean Diet, olive oil contains healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, reduces inflammation, and may prevent strokes and heart disease, fight Alzheimer’s Disease and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. All this and even more nutritional benefits, and it’s not thought to contribute to weight gain!
  • Reach for low-sodium or reduced-sodium options when given the choice (think canned soup and soy sauce).
  • Dark chocolate wins out over milk chocolate. With higher levels of antioxidants, dark chocolate is considered “heart-healthy,” helping to lower your blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
  • Dark, leafy greens (think spinach or romaine) are more nutrient-dense than traditional iceberg lettuce, packing in iron, vitamin C and antioxidants.
  • Instead of reaching for high fat, high sodium and high calorie potato chips, a better option is the baked chip variety, and trumping that are kale chips that provide vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

Cooking Techniques

The way you choose to prepare your food also influences its nutritional value. Baking is preferable to frying in reducing the fat content. Steaming vegetables wins out over boiling, to help retain more of the nutritional benefits.

Snack Smart

One of the quickest ways to sabotage your waistline is with mindless snacking. Try to be deliberate about what you eat in between meals and make your choices count. The doctors of Gaston Medical Partners provide three tips for healthy snacking here.

Incorporating some of the above small changes into your diet can lead to big health benefits, and not at the expense of your tastebuds. So eat up!


Managing Lower Back Pain

It’s something that we’ve probably all felt before – that random sharp pain or twinge in your lower back when doing something completely routine, like sneezing, or taking clothes out of the dryer. With back pain being the second most common reason that people go to the doctor, the physicians at Gaston Medical Partners often diagnose and treat lower back pain. 

The good news is most cases are not a result of something serious, and resolve over time. But living with lower back pain can limit your lifestyle, so understanding the causes and treatment options is important to getting back to your favorite activities. 

Back Pain Common Facts

In addition to being the second most common reason to see the doctor, back pain is the second most common cause of missing work. It’s also the most common cause of disability in those 45 years of age and younger. 

Back strain is the most common cause of lower back pain and average recovery time varies, with most recovering within 12 weeks.

Lower Back Strain Risk Factors

There are many factors that put you at increased risk of developing back pain, including:

  • Obesity
  • Bad posture
  • Sedentary lifestyle (sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time)
  • Smoking
  • Overactivity
  • Age
  • Osteoporosis (a condition where your bones are weak)

How to Reduce Your Back Injury Risk

A healthy lifestyle can also lead to a healthier back. In efforts to avoid back pain, remember:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight will prevent putting additional strain on your back.
  • A balanced diet ensures you’re getting the nutrients your body needs (don’t forget about calcium and vitamin D, to help ward off osteoporosis!) and managing your weight. 
  • Regular exercise (aerobic and strength training) has many benefits to overall health. Any amount is better than none at all, but ideally, you should try for 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (or 75 minutes a week of more intense exercise), including at least two strength training sessions. Having a strong core (muscles in the back, abdomen and sides) helps prevent back pain by supporting the spine.
  • Don’t smoke. Your spine will age faster if you smoke, as the smoke and nicotine can wear down the discs between the vertebrae. You’re also more prone to coughing if you smoke, which can irritate your back.
  • Work on your posture. Your weight should be evenly distributed on both feet when standing, with your head up, hips tucked in and shoulders straight. It’s important to remember not to slouch. When sitting, make sure that your chair provides the proper amount of lower back support, and that both feet can rest comfortably on the floor. Don’t cross your legs! Try to only sit for short periods of time (10 to15 minutes and then get up and move, arching your back to stretch).
  • Lift wisely. Before lifting a heavy object, determine the best plan of action.. Bend at your knees, engage your core and lift with your legs. If something is too heavy for you to lift, do not hesitate to ask for help. 
  • Avoid overactivity. Repetitive motions can lead to muscle soreness. 

Lower Back Pain Treatment Options

Time is usually the best treatment, but it’s hard to be patient when your back is hurting. If you’ve tried to incorporate some of the tips above, and things are not feeling any better, you should turn to your primary care provider to come up with a plan that is best for you. 

Frequent treatment options include over-the-counter medicines (think acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories), rest, physical therapy, or certain exercises, like yoga or pilates. If there is still no improvement, your doctor may order additional tests, such as X-rays to examine the bones, an MRI to examine the soft tissue, or a CT scan to provide more detailed imaging of the bones.

So while lower back pain can be frustrating, feel reassured that it is generally something that resolves on its own. There are, however, ways to help it improve, as well as ways to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. And hopefully, with rest and a treatment plan created in connection with your doctor, you’ll be back to business in no time.