(Family Features) Fad diets come and go, and as many Americans find, so do the pounds they lose. Most experts agree that eliminating, or drastically reducing, any of the major foods groups from your diet can be detrimental to your health and prevent you from achieving long-term healthy eating goals.
Each of the food groups plays a distinct role in fueling your body and providing it with the vitamins and nutrients it needs. Attempt a well-rounded approach to eating, such as one that includes more nutritious choices for popular dishes like sandwiches. In general, pay attention to the variety, amount and nutrition of the foods you consume.
Consider these ideas for creating a balanced diet and a nutritious sandwich to help ensure you get enough of each food group:
Start from the Outside
There are two groups of grains: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel, while refined grains have been milled for a finer texture and are required to be enriched per government mandate to help the population make up for nutrient shortfalls. Grains should account for about one quarter of each meal, but at least half of them should be whole grains - a fact that may surprise some people.
"Many health professionals mistakenly encourage consumers to skip the bread when trying to improve diets," said Yanni Papanikolaou from Nutrition Strategies Inc., who completed a study to assess the energy and nutrients contributed from sandwiches in diets of children and adolescents. "Americans need to think twice before cutting bread from their diets. In fact, bread packs more of a nutrient punch than a caloric one."
The ingredients inside a sandwich, not the bread itself, are the most significant drivers of calories, fat and sodium, according to Papanikolaou's research. A separate study published in the journal "Nutrients" shows grain foods contribute less than 15 percent of all calories in the total diet, while delivering greater than 20 percent of three shortfall nutrients - dietary fiber, folate and iron - and greater than 10 percent of calcium, magnesium and vitamin A.
Consumers can significantly and positively impact their caloric, fat and sodium intake by making more deliberate decisions about sandwich ingredients, including choosing either whole-grain or enriched-grain bread.
Rethink the Ingredients
Making more nutritious choices with sandwiches and positively impacting your consumption of calories, fat and sodium is oftentimes a matter of changing the way you stack ingredients between the bread. Consider this sample sandwich: two slices of whole-grain or enriched bread, 2-3 slices of lunchmeat, two slices of cheese, a few spinach or lettuce leaves and a slice of tomato.
Contrary to popular belief, research shows that sandwich eaters who choose either whole- or enriched-grain bread can consume less calories, fat and sodium compared to the typical sandwich consumed in the American diet. This demonstrates the need to focus on the ingredients between the bread for a better (more healthful) sandwich.
Try a different take on a lunchtime favorite by adding spicy horseradish to this Roast Beef and Arugula Sandwich, or make packing a lunch even simpler with this Ultra-Thin Pastrami Sandwich Lunchbox.
According to the USDA, most Americans get about the right amount of protein in their diets, but could do better at choosing leaner options and adding more variety to their menus.
Incorporating more variety doesn't have to mean sacrificing convenience. For example, while prepared meats like deli meats, hot dogs and jerky are sometimes a target of critics, numerous studies and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans affirm they can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. Prepared beef products provide a convenient source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Because most prepared meats are pre-cooked, they offer consumers easy, on-the-go access to the nutrient density in meat.
The prepared meats category is diverse and offers choices to meet nutrition needs, tastes, budgets and personal preferences. Thousands of products are available in the meat case, including low- and reduced-sodium products, low- and reduced-fat products, American Heart Association-certified, organic, Kosher grass-fed options and more.
Roast Beef and Arugula Sandwich
Recipe courtesy of the Grain Foods Foundation
Prep time: 5 minutes
- 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons horseradish
- 4 slices whole-wheat bread
- 4 slices tomato
- 4 ounces lean roast beef, thinly sliced
- 1 cup arugula or wild greens
- Spread mayonnaise and horseradish evenly over two bread slices.
- Layer tomato, roast beef and arugula on top of mayonnaise and horseradish. Top with remaining bread slices.
Ultra-Thin Pastrami Sandwich Lunchbox
Recipe courtesy of the North American Meat Institute
- 2 slices thin whole-wheat sandwich bread
- 2 tablespoons low-fat garden vegetable cream cheese
- 1 ounce ultra-thin pastrami
- 1 ounce unsalted pretzels
- 1 apple
- 1 squeezable low-fat yogurt
- 1 water bottle (8 fluid ounces)
- Using knife, spread bread slices with cream cheese. Layer pastrami on bottom slice and top with second slice.
- Fill lunchbox with sandwich, pretzels, apple, yogurt and water bottle.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images (main image)