Aug. 3, 2001 -- Listening to some experts talk, you'd think healthy eating was more complicated than the arterial map of Larry King's chest. Carbohydrate-to-protein ratios. Phytochemicals. Antioxidants. It's enough to make you nostalgic for high-school trigonometry class.
But don't get out the slide rule just yet: We have an easier way to improve what you eat. Adopt some of the following smart habits. These 20 simple tactics — if you stick to them regularly — will help you get more of the stuff you need into your diet while eliminating the stuff you don't. The best part? Before long you'll be dining like a nutrition expert, without even thinking about it.
Milk Before Coffee
At breakfast, put coffee in your milk instead of milk in your coffee. Fill your mug to the rim with skim milk first thing in the morning. Drink it down until all that's left is the amount you'd normally add to your coffee; then pour your java on top. You just took in 25 percent of the vitamin D you need every day, and 30 percent of the calcium.
Take your vitamins every morning. Study by study, evidence is mounting that a standard multivitamin fills enough of the gaps in your diet to make a real difference. For example, a recent study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle showed that people who took a multivitamin supplement and 200 I.U. of vitamin E for 10 years were half as likely to get colon cancer.
Drink two glasses of water before every meal. This will do two things — keep you hydrated and make you eat a little less. A Dutch study showed that drinking two glasses of water can make you feel less hungry, possibly reducing your food intake and aiding weight loss.
Heavy on the Sauce
Always order your pizza with double tomato sauce and light cheese. Men who eat a lot of tomato products tend to have less prostate cancer — probably because tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, a type of carotenoid that's believed to cut your risk of cancer. If you double the sauce on your pizza, you get double the lycopene. Reducing the mozzarella by just one-third (you won't miss it) will save you 20 grams of fat. That's as much as in a McDonald's Quarter-Pounder.
Always order your sandwiches with double tomato slices. Another chance for a healthy dose of lycopene.
Pile onions on everything. Research has revealed that onions are so healthful — they're a top source of heart savers called flavonoids — that it's practically your duty to eat them lavishly on hot dogs, pizza, burgers, and sandwiches. And speaking of junk food …
Wash Down That Big Mac
Whenever you eat fast food, drink two glasses of water afterward. Big Macs, subs, fries, and pepperoni pizza are all loaded with fat and sodium, which can be hellish for your heart. You can't do much about the fat once you've eaten it, but you can flush away some of the excess sodium by drinking plenty of fluid afterward, says Tina Ruggiero, R.D., a New York City dietitian.
When the waitress asks what you want to drink, always say iced tea. The more we learn about tea, the more healthful it looks. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that a serving of black tea had more antioxidants — crucial to your body's defense against heart disease, cancer, and even wrinkles — than a serving of broccoli or carrots.
Have an afternoon snack every day at 3 o'clock. A nutritional boost between lunch and dinner wards off fatigue and keeps you from overindulging later, says Keith Ayoob, Ed.D., R.D., director of the nutrition clinic at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Rose F. Kennedy Center. Just don't scarf down a candy bar. Try yogurt and fruit, crackers and cheese, or eat — an egg (hard-boiled), an apple, and a thirst-quencher like bottled water. All of these foods will give you long-lasting energy.
Always leave the skin on your fruit. If you peel apples or pears, you're throwing away heavy-duty nutrients and fiber. Same goes for potatoes. Go ahead and peel oranges, but leave as much of the fibrous white skin under the rind as you care to eat — it's loaded with flavonoids. Ditto for the white stem that runs up the middle.
Lots of Water
Put a bottle of water in the office freezer every night before you leave work. You already know that you should drink eight glasses of water a day, but how are you supposed to do it? Fill a half-gallon bottle in the morning, and make sure you've downed it all by the time you go home. If you like your water cold and you have access to a refrigerator, fill the bottle partially the night before and stick it in the freezer. Next morning, fill it the rest of the way. You'll have ice-cold water all day.
Whenever you buy grapefruit, go for red instead of white. Remember lycopene, that stuff in tomatoes that may fight prostate cancer? It's what makes tomatoes red. And it's responsible for the color in ruby red grapefruit (Watermelon and guava also have some).
Eat salmon every Wednesday. Actually, the day doesn't matter; the important thing is to have it once a week. Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat most experts say we don't get enough of. Omega-3s seem to keep the heart from going into failure from arrhythmia — men who eat fish once a week have fewer heart attacks — and they may even ward off depression. A weekly serving of salmon should supply the amount of omega-3 fats you need.
Rinse Your Meat
Always wash your meat. Here's an easy way to cut the fat content of your secret chili recipe: As soon as you finish browning the ground beef, pour it into a dish covered with a double thickness of paper towels. Then put another paper towel on top and blot the grease. If you want to remove even more fat, dump the beef into a colander and rinse it with hot (but not boiling) water. The water will wash away fat and cholesterol. Using these methods together can cut 50 percent of the meat's fat content.
Whenever you have salad, keep the dressing on the side. Here's the drill: Dip your fork in the dressing first, then spear a piece of lettuce, then eat it. Sound dumb? In fact, it's one of the smartest habits you can have. Four tablespoons of, say, honey-mustard dressing can have 60 grams of fat — nearly an entire day's worth for an average guy.
Whenever you eat broccoli, put a little margarine, olive oil, or cheese sauce on it. This is our kind of nutrition advice. Broccoli is a rich source of beta-carotene — one of the major antioxidants your body needs. But beta-carotene is fat-soluble, which means it has to hitch a ride on fat molecules to make the trip through your intestinal wall. Without a little fat in the mix, your body won't absorb nearly as much beta-carotene.
Always have seconds on vegetables. If we had to pick one food that represents the best insurance for long-term good health, vegetables would be it. Your daily goal: Three servings minimum. A serving, by the way, is 1/2 cup. Think of a tennis ball — it's about half a cup in volume.
Watch the Fat, but Eat Dessert
Do a fat analysis before every meal. It's tempting to go fat-free at breakfast and lunch so you can indulge in a high-fat dinner. Wrong. Studies show that, for several hours after you eat a meal with 50 to 80 grams of fat, your blood vessels are less elastic and your blood-clotting factors rise dramatically. William Castelli, M.D., director of the Framingham Cardiovascular Institute, says, "The immediate cause of most heart attacks is the last fatty meal." Spread your fat intake over the whole day.
Always eat (a little) dessert. Here's why: Sweets such as cookies and low-fat ice-cream bars signal your brain that the meal is over. Without them, you might not feel satiated — which might leave you prowling the kitchen all night for something to satisfy your sugar jones.
Eat a bowl of dry cereal every night before you go to bed. A low-fat, low-calorie carbohydrate snack eaten 30 minutes before bed will help make you sleepy, says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The nutrition bonus? Cereal is one of the easiest ways to reduce your fiber deficit. Most men eat only half the 25 to 35 grams of fiber they need daily. So pick a cereal that has at least five grams of fiber per serving.