The importance of teaching your kids healthy habits from a young age

healthy habits

Today, about one in three American children is obese or overweight. While these numbers are sad, the truth is that parents can turn this epidemic around by teaching their kids healthy habits while they’re still young.

It’s important to teach your kids about eating healthy and getting lots of physical activity from an early age. This is because people who learn healthy habits as children are more likely to live a healthy lifestyle for the rest of their lives.

If you teach your child to live a healthy lifestyle when they’re young, they are less likely to grow up to become overweight or obese. It can also decrease their risk of health issues that can develop due to being overweight. These include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, certain types of cancer and more.

How to be a healthy role model for your child

Here are six simple but powerful ways you can be a strong role model for your kids and teach them to live a healthy lifestyle.

1. Be physically active together

Regular physical activity is important for your kids’ growth and overall well-being. Encourage them to get moving by changing how your kids spend their free time. Instead of letting them spend hours watching TV or surfing the web, get the whole family moving! Ride bikes together, go for a daily walk after dinner or simply head into the yard to kick a ball around or play a game of tag.

2. Drink lots of water

Water — not soda, fruit juice or sweet tea — is the best thing you can drink to quench your thirst, and our bodies need lots of water each day to run smoothly. Plus, water doesn’t have added sugars like fruit juice and soft drinks do.

Make sure your children see you drinking water throughout the day, and give them plenty of opportunities to drink water too. Get everyone their own special water bottles in different colors and patterns to make it more fun.

3. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables

Eating fruits and vegetables every day helps children grow and develop, and it can reduce their risk of many chronic diseases. Always keep fresh fruit on hand for a quick, healthy snack, and include fruits and vegetables with every meal.

4. Introduce new foods often

It’s important to introduce your kids to new foods and flavors regularly. Offer your kids the new food along with something they already like, and encourage them to at least try the new food. If they don’t like it after tasting it, they don’t have to finish it — but it’s important that they at least try.

Be sure to keep serving the foods your kids have tried and don’t like over and over. It can take as many 30 tries for your child to develop a taste for the food! This is a great way to get your child to try out all types of vegetables.

5. Eat healthy snacks

Healthy snacks help kids get all the nutrients they need, but not all snacks are created equal. The healthiest choices include fresh fruits and vegetables, reduced-fat dairy products and whole grains. Stock your fridge with things like apple slices with peanut butter, baby carrots with hummus, low-fat string cheese and hardboiled eggs. Limit or avoid snacks that are high in sugar or saturated fats, like chips, crackers and snack cakes.

6. Plan activities that don’t revolve around food

Instead of making eating out at a restaurant your main family outing, try to plan an activity that isn’t focused on food. Go bowling, take a painting class, go to the library and take out a bunch of books or go see a family-friendly play. The options are endless.

Not only will this create strong family bonds, it will also help your children appreciate things other than food, helping them to become well-rounded adults with a healthy relationship with food.

Starting a healthy lifestyle early in life is critical to giving your kids a shot at becoming healthy adults. Use the tips above to put your children on the path to living a healthy life in the long run.


Are you getting enough vitamin B12?

vitamin b12

Remember when your mother told you to take your vitamins? Well, she was both wrong and right.

She was wrong because it’s actually best to get your daily vitamins by eating a nutritious diet. Nutritionists agree that vitamins are the most effective when we get them naturally through food.

But your mother was also right, because while a healthy diet is the best way to consume vitamins, most people can’t eat a perfectly healthy diet 100 percent of the time. That’s where vitamin supplements come in.

Today, we’re talking about vitamin B12. What is B12, and do you need to take B12 supplements? Here’s what you need to know.

What is vitamin B12?

The body needs vitamin B12 to perform many important functions. B12 is used to make red blood cells, nerves and DNA.

B12 is found naturally in animal products, including meat, fish, eggs and dairy. When you eat these foods, your stomach breaks down protein, releasing B12, which is then absorbed by your small intestine.

Why do some people not get enough vitamin B12?

For healthy adults, the recommended daily minimum of vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms.

People who tend to be deficient in vitamin B12 include people who are age 50 or older, people who have gastrointestinal disorders, people who are strict vegans and people who take medication for ulcers and gastric reflux.

Stomach enzymes play an essential role in helping your body absorb B12. Medical conditions that interfere with the release of those enzymes can cause vitamin deficiency.

What conditions can vitamin B12 deficiency lead to?

If you are vitamin B12-deficient, you may develop the following symptoms:

  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Soreness of the mouth and tongue
  • Constipation
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Dizziness, light-headedness
  • Poor memory and confusion

It’s important to identify and fix B12 deficiency early. Otherwise, it can lead to severe neurological problems and blood diseases.

What can you do if you think you’re vitamin B12-deficient?

If you think you’re vitamin B12-deficient, be sure to talk to your doctor to find out if you really do have a deficiency.

After speaking with your doctor, you can take steps to boost your B12 levels, including taking B12 supplements, eating fortified foods (such as breakfast cereals and soy products), using fortified toothpaste and, if you’ve had weight loss surgery, taking B12 injections.

Eating a nutritious diet of lean proteins, complex carbs and fruits and veggies is the best way to make sure your body is getting the vitamins and minerals it needs to perform at its best.

Vitamin B12 is one of the important nutrients your body needs to work properly. If you think you may be B12 deficient, take action by making an appointment with your doctor.


Strategies for keeping your healthy lifestyle on track

It’s been proven over and over again that eating a good, nutritious diet and sticking to a daily exercise regimen is the most reliable way to lose weight and keep it off.

But committing to a healthy lifestyle is no easy feat. It’s a long journey, filled with speed bumps and occasional wrong turns.

So how do you keep up the hard work of living healthy? Here are some strategies to help you stay on track.

Lean on friends and family

Involving a few family members or friends can be crucial to finding the support you need on your journey. Find people who you trust, who you know love you and who will be non-judgmental about your new lifestyle.

Instead of eating a high-protein, low-carb dinner by yourself, invite your people over and share a dinner with them. Talk to your people about how you feel about your progress. Be willing to accept their support, and listen to what they have to say.

Bounce back from bad days

Discipline is key to a healthy lifestyle. But you will have moments of weakness, when you eat too much of something you shouldn’t or miss a few days of exercise. That’s OK.

The most important thing is to not beat yourself up about it. Just wake up the next morning and commit to eating your healthy meals and getting your exercise in. You’ll be surprised how much easier this journey is when you don’t blow your small mistakes out of proportion.

Keep a long-term perspective

On this blog, we’ve talked a lot about steering clear of “lose-weight-quick!” schemes and fad diets that promise fast results.

Here’s the truth: Losing weight and achieving your health goals will take time. Putting in the work over a period of time is the only healthy and effective way to lose weight and keep it off.

By looking at the long term, it’s easier to look past minor setbacks or seemingly slow progress. Keeping your expectations realistic means you won’t psych yourself out of a process that takes time.

Plan, plan, plan 

The sad fact is it’s easy to be unhealthy. When you’re busy with work, errands and family and friends, it can be simpler just to pick up fast food and veg out on the couch. Using your time wisely and getting ahead of daily stresses and tasks can help you keep your health commitments.

One example of this is meal planning. Instead of preparing entire meals every day, use the weekends to prep meals for the week. That can mean cooking enough chicken breast, salmon and/or tofu on the weekends to last you the week, and/or chopping all your veggies and packing all your salads for the week.

And the planning shouldn’t stop there. Always think ahead to make sure that, no matter what’s going on in your life, you can eat healthy and work out. Going on a vacation? Call ahead to find out if there’s a gym you can work out in. Having a dinner out with friends? Have a look at the menu beforehand to pick the healthiest item.

Be positive

Finally, stay positive and don’t dwell on negative thoughts. There will be lots of difficult moments on your health journey, but you’ll be surprised how much easier it becomes when you choose to be positive about it. You’re doing the hard work to improve your life — you have good reason to be happy with yourself.


Healthy summer BBQ recipe alternatives

 

Summer means one thing: backyard barbecues. Whether it’s a Fourth of July celebration, a no-frills get-together with family and friends or an all-out bonanza in the summertime sun, one thing is for sure: good food.

Summer can be a hard time for people trying to watch what they eat. Fortunately, there are ways to have your summer fun while sticking to your diet plan.

Here are our favorite healthy alternative summer recipes.

Spicy Yam Potato Salad

Instead of the traditional mayo and potato-heavy salad, this alternative version relies on Greek yogurt and sweet potatoes. Not only does this recipe deliver a sweet zing (and a kick!), it helps you keep your bad fats and carbs in check.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb yams, peeled and cut into eighths
  • 1 lb red potatoes, peeled and cut into fourths or eighths
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp chopped mint
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp harissa (or Sriracha if you can’t find it)
  • Salt and pepper

Add the cut-up yams and potatoes and a tablespoon of salt to a pot of room-temperature water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until tender (but not mushy). Drain the yams and potatoes and cool to room temperature.

Mix the spices, harissa and Greek yogurt. Set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients to the yams and potatoes. Then mix everything together and season with salt and pepper.

Cherry, Wild Rice & Quinoa Salad

Backyard BBQs are all about the sides. One simple yet delicious side is this salad that’s packed with complex carbs, nutrient-rich cherries, nuts and, most importantly, fresh flavor.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup wild rice
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed if necessary
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fruity vinegar, such as raspberry or pomegranate
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups halved pitted fresh sweet cherries
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3/4 cup diced aged goat cheese, smoked cheddar or other smoked cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add wild rice and cook for 30 minutes. Add quinoa and cook until the rice and quinoa are tender, about 15 minutes more. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool to the touch; drain well.

Meanwhile, whisk oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the rice and quinoa, cherries, celery, cheese and pecans and toss to combine. Serve at room temperature or cold.

Baja-Style Rosemary Chicken Skewers

Instead of fatty and cholesterol-packed hamburgers and hot dogs, try a leaner protein that’s just as delicious. Grilled chicken kabobs can satiate your need for flavorful meat. Try whichever seasoning or marinade you prefer. One of our favorite recipes is this rosemary chicken kabob.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 dried chiles de arbol, crumbled (or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon minced rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast (or thighs), cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 8 sturdy 12-inch rosemary sprigs, leaves on bottom half removed
  • Lime wedges, for serving

​In a large bowl, combine the onion, garlic, chiles, minced rosemary, oregano, lemon juice and olive oil; set aside 1/4 cup of the marinade. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the bowl. Mix well, cover and marinate for 30 minutes.

Light a grill. Remove the chicken from the marinade and thread the pieces onto the rosemary skewers; discard the marinade. Oil the grate and grill the chicken over moderate heat, turning occasionally and basting with the reserved marinade, until golden and cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with lime wedges.

Wasabi Salmon Burgers

If your backyard bonanza doesn’t feel complete only with chicken kabobs, then have your burger. But replace the fatty beef with lean proteins, like ground chicken breast, ground turkey or even wild salmon. In fact, one of our favorite burger recipes is this Japanese-inspired salmon burger.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons wasabi powder

1/2 teaspoon honey

1 pound wild salmon fillet, skinned

2 scallions, finely chopped

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Whisk soy sauce, wasabi powder and honey in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.

​With a large chef’s knife, chop salmon using quick, even, straight-up-and-down motions (do not rock the knife through the fish or it will turn mushy). Continue chopping, rotating the knife, until you have a mass of roughly ¼-inch pieces.

Transfer to a large bowl. Add scallions, egg, ginger and oil; stir to combine. Form the mixture into four patties. The mixture will be moist and loose, but holds together nicely once the first side is cooked.

​Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the patties and cook for 4 minutes. Turn and continue to cook until firm and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Spoon the reserved wasabi glaze evenly over the burgers and cook for 15 seconds more. Serve immediately.

Frozen Greek Yogurt Fresh Fruit Bars

Lastly, dessert. Set yourself up with healthy dessert alternatives and you can eat as much as you’d like. Yogurt pops are an excellent substitute for full-fat ice cream, and adding fresh fruit, especially berries, can boost the nutrient profile.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh blackberries, blueberries, raspberries (or a mix of all three)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 ½ cups plain Greek yogurt

In a large bowl, combine the berries, honey, lemon juice, water and Greek yogurt. Using the back of a spatula, lightly mash the berries to release their juices and stir until well combined.

Fill a popsicle mold with the yogurt mixture according to instructions. Freeze until the fruit bar is firm, 3 to 4 hours (or depending on instructions). Makes six popsicles.

Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean that your diet has to go on a break. Try these healthy recipes, and you can enjoy summertime with friends and family while staying true to your health journey.


New AspireAssist obesity device pumps food out of your stomach: Is it a gimmick?

AspireAssist

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, there are plenty of lose-weight-fast fads and gimmicks out there that make big promises, but rarely deliver results.

Add to that list an unusual new device that pumps undigested food from your stomach and dumps it into a toilet. The AspireAssist weight loss system is offered in North Texas, but Dr. Dirk cautions against it.

Here’s why.

What is the AspireAssist device?

AspireAssist is an external pump that connects to a surgically placed tube, which allows a person to drain a portion of the food in his or her stomach after every meal. The process takes around 10 minutes and removes nearly 30 percent of undigested food from the stomach.

The device is advertised as a less invasive treatment option for people who are obese. It’s designed for obese patients who are 22 and older, and have a body mass index of 35 to 55.

What are the drawbacks of the AspireAssist system?

Because the AspireAssist is a new device — the FDA approved it about a year ago — there isn’t a lot of hard data on its effectiveness. However, it has already gotten a lot of criticism from doctors.

There are doubts about the safety of AspireAssist. Draining 30 percent of your stomach can lead to problems including dehydration, irritation of the stomach lining and a lack of electrolytes.

Others say that, in time, we may see problems with infections, leakage, lack of nutrient absorption and other real problems.

And to top it off, there have already been instances of food clogging the tube, because the pump is unable to break up large foods.

What is Dr. Dirk’s opinion on the AspireAssist?

Besides all the risks associated with the AspireAssist device, Dr. Dirk believes that it is bound to fail because of one key reason: It doesn’t ask the obese person to make changes to his or her lifestyle.

According to Dr. Dirk, lifestyle changes — such as eating a calorie-controlled, high-protein, low-carb diet and getting daily physical exercise — are crucial to losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle.

The major issue with this device is that “it does not emphasize the need to change nutrition,” Dr. Dirk says. “Instead, what it says is, ‘I can eat whatever I want and just suck the stuff out!’”

Secondly, although the device claims to be less invasive, it is still “a surgical procedure that changes the stomach anatomy,” says Dr. Dirk. “This makes future surgery more difficult, and people will eventually need it when this device fails.”

And then there’s the “gross” factor.

“How cool is this?” says Dr. Dirk. “You get to walk around with a bag and tube sticking out of your stomach, so you can suck out food from your stomach after eating. What an exciting first date!”

Learn about weight loss procedures offered by Dr. Dirk here. 

 


Why does the lap band often involve multiple operations?

lap band revision
For more than a decade, lap band surgeries have been popular with people looking to slim down.

But a new study from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has found that people who undergo surgery to have lap bands placed around their stomachs often need one or more new operations to move or remove the device.

Here’s what you need to know about lap bands and Dr. Dirk’s expert opinion of them.

What are lap bands?

Laparoscopic gastric banding (also known as lap bands) work by placing a band around the upper part of the stomach, which a little pouch that holds about 1 ounce of food. The food from the small pouch then empties into the closed-off portion of the stomach and continues the normal digestive process.

The band limits the amount of food you can eat by making you feel full after eating a small amount of food. After the surgery, the band can be adjusted to make food pass more quickly or slowly through your stomach.

What are the findings of the new study?

The University of Michigan study found that one in five people who had a lap band procedure needed more surgery within five years of the procedure.

Lap bands can cause a variety of complications. They can erode into the stomach or slip down and cause a blockage. Problems can also happen if the stomach pouch gets bigger.

The study followed more than 25,000 people with lap bands and found that 18.5 percent of patients (4,636 patients) needed at least one more surgery to fix problems.

Those 4,636 patients required more than 17,500 surgeries for their lap bands. That’s an average of nearly four additional surgeries per patient!

Doctors have known about these risks for a few years, which is why lap bands have grown less and less popular in recent years.

What is Dr. Dirk’s professional opinion of lap bands?

“This study shows what we have known for almost 10 years,” Dr. Dirk says. “The adjustable gastric band is not the fantastic solution everyone thought it was going to be.”

According to Dr. Dirk, the fact that lap bands can have as high as an 80 percent failure rate, plus the new data about multiple follow-up operations, means that lap bands are a not a good idea.

“Lap bands involve placing an artificial device right next to the stomach,” says Dr. Dirk. “The stomach moves hundreds of times a day, so the device moves with it. Add to that coughing, sneezing, lifting and getting in and out of the car, and the band is constantly moving about.”

That’s where the problem happens. Bands end up slipping, and this is the most common cause of re-operation.

While less invasive procedures like this may seem like a good idea, Dr. Dirk says the lap band has had a long track record of failure.

“Don’t be swayed by gimmicks or fancy advertising promising a ‘less invasive’ option,” says Dr. Dirk. “In the long run, they don’t work.”

Instead, he recommends making real lifestyle changes, like eating a healthy diet and exercising every day. If these solutions don’t help, weight loss surgery — not the lap band — can be an effective solution.

 


Can you be obese and still be healthy?

obese and healthy

Obesity is a widespread condition in the U.S. About 35 percent of women and 31 percent of men are obese, meaning that their body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher.

In recent years, some people have said that it’s possible to be healthy and obese at the same time. The reasoning for this is that certain obese people don’t show the metabolism changes that usually come with obesity.

According to a new study from the University of Birmingham, however, the idea that a person can be both obese and healthy is a dangerous myth.

“Healthy” obesity is a myth

In the past, doctors relied on measurements like blood pressure and cholesterol levels to say whether someone was healthy or not. Some obese people don’t have the elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels that you might expect for someone of their weight.

But the University of Birmingham study, which followed the health records of 3.5 million people for 20 years, shows that these seemingly healthy numbers don’t mean that these people are actually healthy.

Obesity increases risk of heart disease and stroke

Contrary to claims of “healthy obesity,” this University of Birmingham study showed that obese people are greater risk for certain diseases.

Compared to people with a normal weight and a healthy metabolism, obese people are at a 49 percent increased risk of heart disease and a whopping 96 percent increased risk of heart failure.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, the health effects of obesity go beyond heart disease. Obesity has also been linked to cancer, liver failure, spine pain and even mental disorders, such as depression.

According to Dr. Dirk, this study is very important because it ends the myth that a person can be obese and still be healthy. “Obesity is a real medical condition in which which your body is not working effectively for you,” says Dr. Dirk.

The best solution is to tackle the core problem of weight. Making changes to your lifestyle, particularly changes in diet and physical activity, can do the trick. However, for some people, obesity surgery is the best and most realistic option.

“Surgery helps make good nutrition and exercise work better for you. It’s all about making you a healthy person,” Dr. Dirk says.

If you’re ready to take the next step towards living a healthy life, schedule an appointment with Dr. Dirk today.

 


5 Tricks for curbing your cravings

food cravings
Your weight loss journey is a long and challenging one. One of the biggest speed bumps along the way are your cravings for unhealthy foods and drinks.

So how do you deal with cravings and stay on track with your new healthy lifestyle?

First, think about whether your hunger is physical or emotional.

Is your stomach growling? Has a good amount of time passed since your last meal? Do you feel low-energy? These are signs that you’re physically hungry, meaning it’s OK to have a healthy meal or snack.

However, if you’re craving a specific food (like chips or ice cream), or if only a little time has passed since your last meal or snack, you may be experiencing emotional hunger, which can lead to unhealthy food binges.

If you feel a craving coming on, use these tips to combat it.

Distract yourself

One good way to curb your cravings is to distract yourself. There is lots of research that suggests that when you focus on the food you’re craving, your craving will get stronger.

Instead, outsmart yourself. Get out of the kitchen and go for a walk, take a nap or watch a movie. Do anything healthy and safe to get your mind off that chocolate bar you desperately want to nibble on.

Don’t keep unhealthy foods lying around

Don’t make it easy for yourself to give into temptation. Don’t keep candy, cookies or other unhealthy snacks in your pantry or fridge. Instead, keep healthy snacks like fruit nearby to put roadblocks in the way of your cravings.

Eat breakfast

Believe it or not, eating breakfast can go a long way towards keeping your cravings at bay. Start the day with a filling, nutritious meal — with items like steel-cut oatmeal, eggs and fruit — and you’ll be less likely to give into cravings.

Eat often

Don’t go more than three or four hours without eating. Getting too hungry can cause you to make poor eating decisions and make you more likely to give into those bad cravings you want to avoid.

Give in (a little bit)

It’s not realistic to expect that your diet will be 100 percent healthy every day. It’s OK to treat yourself once in a while, but be smart about giving into cravings. Include just one or two unhealthy items you absolutely love in your diet and allow yourself only those — and have them occasionally, not all the time.

Cravings can sabotage your journey to a healthier you. By using the smart strategies above, you can ensure that your cravings won’t derail your weight loss journey.


The dangers of opioid use after surgery

dangers of opioid use after surgery

The American opioid epidemic is a very serious problem. About 2.1 million Americans suffer from substance abuse related to prescription opioid pain relievers.

A new University of Michigan Medical School study has even found that people who have minor surgery are nearly as likely to abuse opioid drugs as people who undergo major operations.

The study finds that 5.9 percent of people who undergo minor procedures develop a chronic opioid habit in the three to six months after the procedure. For people who’ve had a major operation, that figure is 6.5 percent.

These numbers show that the type of surgery a person has doesn’t have much of an effect on the likelihood that they will develop a chronic opioid use problem.

In fact, patients continue to use opioids after their surgery for reasons other than the pain from the surgery, according to one of study authors.

A better predictor of a person’s risk for chronic opioid use after having surgery is their prior history of chronic pain. Also, if a person has a history of substance abuse, such as with alcohol or tobacco, he or she is more likely to become a regular user of opioid drugs after surgery.

So what does this mean for your weight loss surgery? 

Dr. Dirk understands the risk of opioid addiction. He rarely prescribes opioids after operations, and he watches his patients carefully after their weight loss procedures.

During and after surgery, Dr. Dirk uses various medications to provide pain relief for his patients. Research shows that this approach reduces pain and makes the need for opioids less necessary.

While opioids have an important role to play for surgery patients, it’s very important to make sure that patients don’t become dependent on these drugs. If you’re worried about the risk of opioid use during or after your weight loss surgery, Dr. Dirk is here to help. Contact his office today to schedule a consultation.

 


Healthy substitutes for pasta and other high-calorie foods

pasta substitutes

Keeping track of your calories is crucial to weight loss. Losing weight is all about taking in fewer calories than you burn.

Unfortunately, there are lots of delicious foods that are high in calories. Regularly eating high-carb or high-calorie foods like pasta will prevent you from losing weight and keeping it off.

So how can you make do without these items? One of the best options is to sub out unhealthy ingredients with healthier ones.

Here are some great substitutes for high-carb, high-calorie foods.

Whole-grain pasta for white pasta

A simple change you can make when you want to eat pasta is to choose whole-grain pastas over regular pastas. This is because whole grains are complex carbs, which take more work for your stomach to digest, so they keep you full longer.

That said, even whole-grain pasta can be high in the carbs and calories. So while eating whole-grain pasta once in a while is fine, you don’t want to make a regular habit of it.

Veggies for pasta or rice

If you’d like to cut out pasta altogether, simply sub it out for healthier options, like using vegetables in place of noodles.

Veggies are a wonderful “blank canvas” that allow the flavor of the sauces and proteins to shine. They contain many of the nutrients that are part of a healthy diet, and they contain far fewer calories and carbs.

Shred or julienne zucchini or summer squash, and you can create pasta-like ribbons. (You can also buy a special gadget called a spiralizer to make veggie “noodles.”) Try “ricing” cauliflower to sub out rice for finely chopped cauliflower. Green beans go great with pesto sauce, and eggplant strips taste delicious with marinara.

Greek yogurt for sour cream

Greek yogurt is a fantastic protein-packed snack. But you can also use it in place of sour cream.

Greek yogurt is naturally sour, like sour cream. If you’re making a dessert recipe that calls for sour cream, you can make a 1-for-1 substitution to give your dessert a protein boost and cut saturated fat.

Or squeeze a lemon into a small container of Greek yogurt to make a great condiment for tacos. Just make sure you select plain Greek yogurt, without added fruit or sugar.

Ground turkey for ground beef

Not all proteins are created equal. Go for lean proteins, including skinless chicken breast, salmon and turkey, rather than high-fat meats like beef.

Turkey is a fantastic substitute for ground beef when you’re cooking burgers, tacos or casseroles. The consistency is the same, but turkey lacks the high saturated fat and cholesterol of red meats, while maintaining a high protein content.

It’s a quick and easy substitution, and it can go a long way towards your heart health.

Extra-virgin olive oil for butter or other oils

Extra-virgin olive oil is one of the best all-around oils. You can use it for salads, for cooking and for finishing dishes. It’s packed with the good fats you need for heart health, and it’s much healthier than butter or other kinds of oil, which can be high in saturated fats.

Eating healthy doesn’t mean cutting your favorite foods out of your diet. That can be depressing and even counter-productive. Instead, get creative by finding healthy food substitutions.