Going on a diet can be confusing and often leaves you with the same empty feeling as you search for healthy snacks. We've all heard experts tell us that we shouldn't be eating junk food, but the thought of another rice cake is going to collectively drive us all insane. So what do the experts actually eat? They can't all just live on kale and sunshine, right?
POPSUGAR sat down with culinary nutritionist Keisha Luke, and she gave us her secret list of foods she's eating that you'd probably love to eat as well. It's important to note that these are not her cheat meals. These foods that you've been craving ever since you bought that new water bottle and those yoga pants are actually part of her healthy diet — and they should be part of yours, too!
That's right — chocolate can be part of a healthy diet. According to Luke, "Chocolate has many healthy benefits, including it being high in magnesium and some amazing anti-inflammatory properties." But not all chocolate is created equally. Luke cautions that you limit your chocolate fix to "raw chocolate like cocoa nibs or powder that is without additives and preservatives." So go ahead and make some brownies, chocolate fudge cakes, or even a pudding.
A large AMC popcorn without butter contains 1,030 calories and 41 grams of fat — and that's without the extra fat! But there is a way to have popcorn and not derail your healthy diet. "Whether it's watching a movie or as an afternoon snack, popcorn is one of my favourite snack foods," Luke told POPSUGAR. Of course, this is the kind of popcorn you make yourself, not the packaged, microwavable kind that has a bunch of additives. If you buy some raw popcorn kernels and pop them yourself, one cup only contains about 30 calories!
While she enjoys eating traditional popcorn with butter and salt, she does have a special hack for it: "Substitute the butter for coconut oil and add sea salt." If you want to keep it savoury, Luke suggests adding "nutritional yeast, which will give it a cheese-like flavour while adding protein to this deliciousness."
If you're looking for a sweeter flavour, there's a nutritionist hack for that, too! Luke says all you have to do is subtract the sea salt and add some "cinnamon, maple syrup, and hemp seeds." Mix, indulge, and watch your friends or kids snack away on this healthy fare more often than they do with some of the packaged stuff.
What? You can still eat pancakes and be healthy? Yes! We're led to believe that a pancake is full of fat and calories, but it's just not true. Luke "uses buckwheat flour mixed with ground flax seeds and an array of spices, like cinnamon, all-spice, and nutmeg, that assist with digestion and maintaining blood sugar levels — not to mention, adding an abundance of flavour." She also adds in some vegan protein powder to make it a balanced meal that could start any guilt-free morning.
The Bottom Line
Beyond snacking, it's also important to realise that the supposed rules when it comes to eating aren't always accurate. As Luke told us, carbs are often vilified in many mainstream diet trends, but they're the building blocks of healthy nutrition. "Substituting complex, whole-grain carbs, like quinoa, brown rice pasta, sweet potatoes and millet, over the simple carbs, like foods with white flour, is a healthy approach for your body and will help stabilize blood sugar levels and maintain energy levels."
You also can't have a healthy weight without a good dose of healthy fats. "The body needs a combination of both unsaturated (olive oil and pumpkin seed oil) and saturated fats (chicken, beef, and coconut oil) in order to maintain energy levels and assist with proper brain and nerve function," according to Luke. And don't forget that healthy fats also help maintain healthy skin, hair, and nails, along with absorbing various vital nutrients within the body. So stop doing what you think the diet calls for and make smarter decisions instead. You'll enjoy your meals — and be healthier as well!