5 Rules for Eating Healthy in a Food Desert

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Like many other underserved urban areas across the country, Far Rockaway is federally-labeled food desert. Residents don’t have consistent access to healthy food options, fresh fruit and vegetables, or non-fast food restaurants. Instead, the options that are readily available are the deli, chinese takeout, mexican fast food, fried chicken, and burgers & fries. Particularly for low-income and poverty-impacted residents, obstacles like pricing, lack of time or kitchen space to cook, and distance from grocery stores can make eating out a regular necessity. But eating low-quality foods regularly can raise your risk of serious health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more. If you order fast food or takeout often, use these 5 rules to make the most of your money and eat as healthy as possible.

1. Steamed or grilled, not fried

Go for steamed or grilled foods rather than fried. Frying adds extra fats and nutritionless breading in the process of cooking. Opting for foods that were steamed or grilled instead of fried is an easy way to cut back on sodium, fats, and empty calories. Ex: steamed vegetables, grilled chicken sandwich, spring rolls instead of egg rolls.

  Order: Grilled Chicken Sandwich    4 17 calories per 1/2 lb, 18 grams of fat and 0 grams of carbohydrates

Order: Grilled Chicken Sandwich

417 calories per 1/2 lb, 18 grams of fat and 0 grams of carbohydrates

  Not: Fried Chicken Sandwich   590 calories per 1/2 lb, 29 grams of fat, 20 grams of carbohydrates

Not: Fried Chicken Sandwich

590 calories per 1/2 lb, 29 grams of fat, 20 grams of carbohydrates


2. Sauce on the side

Sugary, high-sodium sauces and dressings can heavily unbalance the nutritional value of a meal. Asking for sauce on the side lets you control the portion to your own taste, or to opt out entirely. Using less or no sauce or dressing can make for a much healthier meal. Most takeout restaurants will allow you to order sauce on the side, even if it’s usually cooked into the food. In addition, light sauces are often better than creamy sauces. Ex: salsa instead of sour cream, sweet and sour sauce on the side, dipping instead of smothering.

  Order: Salsa   18 calories per 1/4 cup, .2 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbohydrates

Order: Salsa

18 calories per 1/4 cup, .2 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbohydrates

  Not: Sour Cream   123 calories per 1/4 cup, 12 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of carbohydrates

Not: Sour Cream

123 calories per 1/4 cup, 12 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of carbohydrates


 

3. No white rice, no white bread

Opt for brown rice and whole wheat bread instead of white rice and white bread whenever possible. White rice and white bread are empty carbs with very little nutritional value. This simple switch can make your meal much healthier overall — and make you feel full for longer, too.

  Order: Whole Wheat   The bran in whole wheat flour provides fiber and the germ provides protein and Vitamin E.  Also: B-vitamins, magnesium, manganese, iron, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc.

Order: Whole Wheat

The bran in whole wheat flour provides fiber and the germ provides protein and Vitamin E.  Also: B-vitamins, magnesium, manganese, iron, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc.

  Not: White Bread   The flour in white bread is more highly processed than that in whole wheat bread, and a lot of the nutritional value is lost. Some nutrients are artificially added back to the flour after processing, but the loss of fiber and protein are permanent. 

Not: White Bread

The flour in white bread is more highly processed than that in whole wheat bread, and a lot of the nutritional value is lost. Some nutrients are artificially added back to the flour after processing, but the loss of fiber and protein are permanent. 


4. Put plants on your plate

Make sure you get at least one serving of vegetables with everything you order. Whether it’s adding lettuce, pickles and tomatoes to your sandwich, going for broccoli with your chicken, swapping out fries for a side salad, adding (brown) rice and beans — seek out the veggies on the menu. An adult eating 2,000 calories a day should aim for 2½ cups of vegetables. The most brightly colored produce is often the most nutrient-rich, so it’s also important to eat a wide variety of colorful vegetables. If a vegetarian can’t eat happily at your restaurant of choice, you probably shouldn’t eat there too often either.

  Order: Chicken and Broccoli   220 calories per serving, 7 grams of fat, 31 grams of protein

Order: Chicken and Broccoli

220 calories per serving, 7 grams of fat, 31 grams of protein

  Not: Orange Chicken   400 calories per serving, 21 grams of fat, 15 grams of protein

Not: Orange Chicken

400 calories per serving, 21 grams of fat, 15 grams of protein


5. Go easy on sodas, cheese, and red meat

Opt for lean meats like chicken or turkey instead of beef and pork. Drink water or natural fruit juice instead of soda or other sugary drinks. Go for one slice of cheese instead of two, or swap cheese out entirely. Moderation is important for all three of these foods, but depending on your favorite fast food order, it can be easy to eat too much of them. Break the bad habit gradually by asking for less cheese, having a small soda instead of a large, and exchanging red meat for poultry or seafood regularly.

  Order: Turkey Sub   280 calories (6"), 14 grams of protein, 600 mg of sodium, 9 grams of fat

Order: Turkey Sub

280 calories (6"), 14 grams of protein, 600 mg of sodium, 9 grams of fat

  Not: Chopped Cheese   360 calories (6"), 19 grams of protein, 750 mg of sodium, 24 grams of fat

Not: Chopped Cheese

360 calories (6"), 19 grams of protein, 750 mg of sodium, 24 grams of fat