With the obesity epidemic reaching epic proportions in America, it’s clear that “light eating,” isn’t our strong suit. Big gulps, double bacon cheeseburgers, super-sized fries – it’s no secret that American portion sizes have ballooned in recent years and that options for a quick food fix are seemingly limitless. In fact, studies show that the average American gains 1 to 3 pounds a year. And it’s no wonder since as little as 100 extra calories per day can cause a 10-pound annual weight gain.
But American dining doesn’t have to be unhealthy. Indeed, our forebears subsisted entirely on whole foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats and dairy – and they worked hard to get it, too.
While America is known for calorie- and fat-laden fare, experts agree the foundation of our cuisine is essentially healthy. Just in time for Memorial Day, here are a few American staples that would make Uncle Sam proud:
- Peanuts: Peanuts are almost ubiquitous in the U.S. culture: baseball games, circus elephants, cocktail snacks, and the ever-popular peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And that’s a good thing since peanuts help boost your resting metabolic rate, which means you burn more calories even when you’re sitting still. Indeed, studies show that while peanuts are high in calories, they’re also more filling than other foods, and they naturally curb your calorie intake throughout the day.
- Vegetarian Chili: Nothing says all-American comfort like a steamy bowl of chili. With a base of tomatoes and beans, this one-pot-wonder is packed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C, A, and K, as well as disease-fighting lycopene. Plus, since nearly every chili recipe contains beans, you’ll get plenty of fiber and protein in your bowl, too, and that helps prevent the blood sugar roller coaster commonly associated with calorie-packed American meals. Beans are also loaded with protective phytochemicals, antioxidants and vitamins, making them quite possibly one of the world’s healthiest foods.
- Burgers: The all-American burger gets a bad rap. And it’s no wonder since “$6 burgers” made with supersized portions of ground beef stacked with cheese, mayo and other fattening accouterments are seemingly everywhere. But a growing number of restaurants are offering healthier alternatives to the traditional American burger. From Ahi tuna and salmon to chicken and veggie, the twists on this classic are often made with both health and taste buds in mind. Veggie burgers, for example, are not only a good source of lean protein, but they’re also loaded with important vitamins and minerals. Go for salmon burger instead, and you’ll get the same benefits plus a dose of healthy fats, too.
- Collard Greens: Long a staple of the South, collard greens outshine kale, mustard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage in terms of its ability to lower cholesterol levels. Collards are also an excellent source of vitamin C, beta-carotene and vitamin E, as well as disease-fighting plant chemicals. This broad spectrum antioxidant support helps lower the risk of oxidative stress in our cells – and that helps keep cancer and other chronic conditions at bay. Collards are also packed with fiber – 5 grams per cup – making them a perfect side dish for those watching their waistlines.
- Roasted Turkey: Turkey has long been associated with American history. In fact, you might argue that turkey is more American than apple pie. After all, an entire American holiday centers around this tasty bird. In addition to being an excellent source of lean protein, turkey is rich in immune-boosting minerals like selenium and zinc. It also boasts plenty of heart-healthy niacin and vitamin B6. And it’s low in calories and fat to boot!
It’s clear that despite Americans’ affinity for food that’s big and fast, our traditional cuisine is actually chock full of health benefits. The key? Seeking out “lighter” fare (think Californian cuisine) and keeping portion sizes in check. And taking your time! Instead of wolfing down a burger and fries, savor your favorite American eats in the company of family and good friends. So, what are you waiting for? Select a Healthy Dining restaurant, order a glass of California Chardonnay and toast to your health.
Check out these All-American Healthy Dining choices:
- Hot Turkey Sandwich from Black Bear Diner (590 calories, 12g fat)
- Baby Burger from Burger Lounge (330 calories, 16g fat)
- Vegetables n’ Sides: Turnip Greens from Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (100 calories, 3.5g fat)
- Waldorf Salad from Sizzler (130 calories, 8g fat)
- Soup: Deep Kettle House Chili from Souplantation (230 calories, 3g fat)
- Veggie Cheeseburger from Statue of Liberty: Crown Cafe (440 calories, 13g fat)