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It’s undeniable: Avocados are the A-listers of the produce section.

Not only are avocados Instagram stars — there are 7 million+ posts with #avocado —adding avocado to anything instantly amps up the flavor of your meal.

But are avocados healthy?

The answer, as is the case with most foods, depends on the details: how much you’re eating, how often, and what you’re pairing it with.

Read on to get the 411 on avocado nutrition and how they can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.

(Fun fact: About 90 percent of U.S. avocados are grown in California!)

Avocado Nutrition Facts

Avocados are a nutrient-dense fruit: You get a lot of bang (vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, protein, etc.) for your buck.

One avocado (136 g) contains:

– 227 calories

– 21 g fat, total (13 g of monounsaturated fat; more on this healthy fat below…)

– 12 g carbohydrates

-3 g protein

– 9 g fiber

– vitamins and minerals such as vitamins K, C, folate, potassium, and magnesium

– contains less than half a gram of sugar

Here’s a breakdown of all the good things in avocados:

1. They contain healthy fats

You’ve probably heard that avocados are a good source of healthy fats, specifically monounsaturated fats, or MUFAs.

Unlike trans fat, which is found in many processed foods and has the potential to raise your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, monounsaturated fat promotes heart health and may help lower your LDL cholesterol.

2. They contain vitamins and minerals

Avocados deliver vitamin C (helps support a healthy immune system), Gorin says, as well as folate (helps regulate cell function), and vitamin K (bone health).

Plus, avocados are an incredible source of potassium (supplying even more than a similarly sized banana!), which, Gorin explains, can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.

That’s not all, though. Avocados also contain carotenoids (the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant color), specifically lutein and zeaxanthin, which play a key role in eye health, Newgent says.

3. Avocados contain fiber

“What I love about avocados is that they’re this amazing source of monounsaturated fat — but you also get a bunch of fiber,” explains Denis Faye, M.S. and Beachbody’s executive director of nutrition. “They’re right up there with seeds and nuts in terms of benefits, in my opinion,” he adds.

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women ages 19–50 get from 25–28 grams of fiber daily; men ages 19–50 should aim for 30–34 grams each day. But more than half of Americans get less than half the recommended amount.

Not only does fiber facilitate good digestion, Gorin says, it also helps promote satiety. “It basically bulks up the diet to help make you feel full,” explains Newgent.

4. Avocados can help you absorb nutrients

Eating foods with a high nutrient content is just one half of the equation — to reap full health benefits, your body also has to properly absorb the nutrients you take in.

And that’s where avocados can assist in that process.

“They can act as a ‘nutrient booster’ by helping to increase absorption of vitamin E and other important fat-soluble nutrients,” Newgent explains.

Fat-soluble nutrients — like vitamins A, D, E, and K — absorb into your bloodstream more effectively when paired with a source of fat.

5. You can add avocado to almost any meal

Avocados are delicious, sure, but their greatest appeal may lie in their versatility.

They’re easy to slice and scoop, require zero prep work, and have a creamy, mild taste that pairs well with a seemingly infinite amount of foods.

Think whole-grain breadtacos, eggs, veggies, smoothies, sushi, and more.

They’re also perfectly tasty eaten on their own with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Is it Okay to Eat an Avocado a Day?

If you love the convenience and buttery taste of nature’s fattiest fruit, it’s tempting — easy, even — to eat one every day.

But is it OK to eat an avocado a day?

“This really depends on what else you’re eating during the day,” says Gorin. Other factors, like your activity level and health goals, can also come into play.

If you’re trying to lose weight, for example, eating one large avocado a day can rack up calories quickly.

As a general rule, Gorin recommends eating no more than a quarter to half an avocado daily.

Faye agrees and says it’s important to exercise caution when you’re eating avocado in the form of, say, guacamole, which can be tricky to quantify in terms of calories.

“But half an avocado — which you can control — is only about 114 calories, which isn’t all that far off from fruit, so it’s a worthy caloric investment,” he explains.

Pro tip: If you’re following the Portion Fix nutrition plan, a 1/4 of a medium avocado (or mashed) fits in the blue container.

How to Add Avocado to Your Diet 1. Rethink your toppings

“Since the majority of fat in avocados is monounsaturated,” Newgent says, “it makes them a healthful swap for foods and ingredients with a high-fat ratio.”

She recommends topping your salad with avocado instead of cheese or layering avocado slices on your bagel or baked potato instead of cream cheese and sour cream.

Other tasty (and classic) ideas: Add sliced or mashed avocado to soup, omelets, and veggie bowls.

2. Use avocado as a healthy swap in recipes

Give your desserts and baked goods a healthy makeover by using avocado as a substitute for certain ingredients.

For example, “Avocado can replace some or all of the oil or butter in a brownie recipe,” says Gorin; same goes for chocolate mousse and muffins.

This method adds extra nutrients to your food, while significantly reducing the calorie count.

For example, two tablespoons of pureed avocado are just 46 calories, compared to two tablespoons of butter, which is over 200 calories.

You can take the same approach with savory recipes, too. Gorin suggests using avocado instead of mayonnaise for healthy deviled eggs; you could also use it as the base for a vegan cream sauce, hummus, or salad dressing.

3. Mix avocados in smoothies

“To help blunt a blood sugar spike, toss some avocado cubes in the blender with fruit smoothie ingredients,” suggests Newgent.

Your smoothie will get a thick, creamy texture thanks to the avocado, and the combo of healthy fat and fiber will help keep you satiated for hours.

Here are some Shakeology recipes to get you started:

Avocado Ginger Shakeology Shake

Mint and Avocado Shakeology

(Pro tip: Don’t have Shakeology yet? Get all of the Shakeology flavors here!)

Avocado Recipes

These avocado recipes are healthy, easy to make, and full of flavor.

Quick Avocado Tips
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It’s official: Meal prep can be a crucial part of achieving your weight-loss and fitness goals.

A study shows that people who spend more time thinking and preparing ahead about what they’re going to eat tend to make better choices, incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diet.

That same study showed also that spending less than an hour a day preparing food at home is linked to eating more fast food and spending more money eating out.

Now, you might think that healthy meal prep is for those who have plenty of time and money to spend, but experts beg to differ.

“Healthy meal prep can actually be very economical,” says health and fitness specialist Jim White R.D., A.C.S.M. “Plan well and you could save time and money, not to mention your health.”

Ready to get planning and save yourself some dough while eating healthier and getting in shape? Here’s how!

1. Make a Plan

A great first step in making a saving is to have a pretty solid idea of your food needs throughout the week before you do anything else.

Take a moment to think about the week ahead: Think about where you’ll be at mealtimes — home, work, on the move — whether you’ll have the means to reheat food if you’ll need something that’s ready to go and the kinds of containers you’ll need to store them.

Most importantly, think about the clean meals and snacks that you want to eat. If planning clean meals becomes a drag or a bore, you’ll resent the whole endeavor.

Here are a dozen fantastic ideas for appealing, healthy meals that cost between 45 cents and $2.72 per serving.

2. Make a Clean-Eating Grocery List

Once you’ve thought about the clean, healthy nutritious meals you’d like to have ready to go when you want them this week, work backward to come up with a grocery list.

“The biggest expense will be your protein,” says White. “Getting the chicken thigh instead of the chicken breast can be less expensive and not a huge difference in the nutritional profile. Or use canned tuna instead of fresh tuna for some of your meals.”

Beans or lentils are also a good (and less expensive!) alternative protein source instead of meat, he adds.

Once you’ve made your list, think about where each of the items can be bought at the best price and get your groceries on a day when you’re not rushed.

Amy Shapiro M.S., R.D., C.D.N. lists a few common mistakes that lead people to spend more when meal prepping: “Always shopping organic, not shopping in bulk, only buying fresh food when frozen can be just as healthy,” she says.

Here are examples of healthy foods that should make up the core of your clean-eating grocery list:

1. Lean protein (fish, chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef, tofu, etc.)

2. Dark leafy greens and vegetables of different colors (frozen and canned work, too)

3. Fruit (frozen and canned work, too)

4. Healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts/seeds

5. Whole grains

6. Eggs, Greek yogurt (2%)

3. Stick With the List

Ever gone to the store to buy groceries and come home to find that you bought a lot of things you hadn’t planned on and maybe even forgotten some things you meant to buy?

Turns out that supermarkets put a considerable amount of time, money and effort into making sure that customers stray from their lists and make impulse purchases.

That’s bad for your budget and, because impulse buys are generally not the healthiest items, bad for your overarching health goals, too.

And you’ve probably heard that going to get groceries with a rumbling belly is a bad move for your weight-loss goals.

Well, a 2013 study showed that when people go shopping when they’re hungry or have gone a long time without eating, they tend to buy foods with a higher caloric density.

4. Shop the Bulk Foods Aisle

What do beans, grains like quinoa and barley, nuts, seeds, rice, and legumes have in common?

Most supermarkets offer these items in bulk bins.

Not only does shopping in bulk save you money because you’re not paying for the fancy labels, you can also take as much or indeed as little as you need — meaning that you can experiment with new things and new meals without getting stuck with something that’s not up your alley.

Beans – rich in both protein and fiber – are particularly cheap when bought dry and from the bulk bins.

Soaking them might sound like a hassle but if you’re already planning your meals for the week, it ain’t no thang. To save even more time, you might consider investing in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot.

One upfront cost might be to get some airtight jars to store them in. Put them on a shelf (avoid placing them in direct sunlight) and they have the added bonus of making your kitchen look pretty homey too.

5. Shop Seasonally

Shop local.

Farmers’ market can be a win-win: You can find fresh, locally grown food that may actually be cheaper than what’s at your grocery store.

So if you come across fresh produce at your local farmers’ market, then, by all means, add them to your week’s meals!

6. Go Really Big

Consider investing in an annual membership to a wholesale market like Costco, especially if you’ve got a family.

One caveat: Get your quantities right. The savings you make by bulk buying will disappear if you don’t eat what you buy before it goes bad.

Plan ahead (sense a theme here?) and figure out what can be stored in the fridge and what you can freeze for later.

If you’re freezing food, write the date on the package or container so you don’t have to guess whether you should keep it or toss it when you defrost.

Get Cooking

You had a bulk mindset when you bought this stuff and to really unlock your savings, you should adopt a bulk mindset when cooking.

Set aside a few hours on a Sunday (or whatever day is most convenient) putting together three or four dishes that can be frozen in batches to give you the benefits of variety and economy.

And while you’re putting food into containers, make sure portion sizes are in step with your weight-loss goals. Or take the guesswork out of the equation and use Portion Fix containers to assemble your meals, then freeze. (Don’t freeze the containers themselves!)

“If you are not measuring your portion sizes you could not only be consuming too much food and costing more money,” says White. “By keeping foods at the correct portion size you will be trimming your waistline and also trimming costs.”

The Bottom Line

It may seem daunting at first to plan an entire week of meals, shop, then cook it all.

But if you stick with it and start meal prepping on a regular basis, you’ll figure out what works/what doesn’t work, and you’ll save yourself time and money.

Here are some meal prep ideas to help you get started!

A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prep

10 Tips to Make Meal Prep Easier

7 Clean-Eating Meal Prep Tips

No-Cook Meal Prep for the 1,200-1,500 Calorie Level

Meal Prep Tips From the Pros

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Pop quiz: Is a salad still a salad if it doesn’t have greens in it?

(Short answer: YES.)

“People think you need lettuce to call something a salad,” says Chelsey Amer, a registered dietitian based in New York City.

Your bowl or plate can contain any variety of ingredients — with or without dark, leafy greens — and it’s still a salad.

If you’re struggling to learn to like vegetables or if greens gross you out, don’t write off salads — they’re an easy way to bump up your vegetable and fruit intake each day, even without the green leafy stuff.

Here’s our foolproof formula for building a healthy, no-greens salad, along with some tips that may help you learn to like greens — some day!

How to Make a Salad Without Greens

Easy peasy: Just skip Step 1 in our Foolproof Formula for a Healthy, Delicious Salad or the vegetarian version. (For creative, delicious green alternatives, see our list below).

The non-starchy vegetables that are usually considered add-ins or toppings can replace lettuce or greens as the base of your salad.

Though she likes greens, Amer sometimes bypasses them herself.

“One of my favorite salads is an Israeli salad that’s made from chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, plus sometimes onion,” she says. This becomes the base of her salad in place of greens.

(Pro tip: If you’re not a huge fan of raw veggies, steam your favorite vegetables or roast them in the oven.)

Once you have your base, start adding your protein, carbs, and healthy fats, says Alyssa Cohen, R.D.

“When you build a salad, make sure to include all three macronutrients,” she says. This ensures your salad provides enough calories and other nutrients to keep you satisfied until your next meal or snack.

The other rules of building a healthy salad — and the most common mistakes we share in those formulas — still apply.

You’ll want to keep portion sizes in mind, especially with healthy fats, condiments, and tasty toppings like nuts and seeds.

The Best Alternatives to Greens

There are so many alternatives to lettuce in a salad — almost anything in the produce aisle can be the base of your no-greens salad bowl.

“The truth is, you can create a salad any way you want,” says Cohen. (Remember that if you burn out on kale, lettuce, and spinach.)

Check out some of the options:

Cauliflower rice (or broccoli rice)

Cauliflower rice (and now broccoli rice) is available pre-riced at most supermarkets, or you can make it yourself in a flash by pulsing fresh florets in a food processor.

Cauliflower rice tabbouleh is a fresh spin on a Mediterranean classic, and broccoli rice can be tasty with leftover Ginger Soy Flank Steak as your protein choice.

If you prefer cauliflower whole, you can make Buffalo Cauliflower Bites and use them as a salad topper.

Broccoli slaw

Broccoli slaw is a genius way to use up the stalks that many people toss in the garbage.

Buy it pre-shredded or use a vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer layer, then shred the inner stems using a food processor or spiralizer.

Broccoli slaw can be tough and dry, so toss it with a pre-measured amount of dressing, massage well, and refrigerate for up to a day. Try it with Creamy Dill Dressing.

Shredded or spiralized vegetables

How you prepare vegetables can affect the way you feel about them, as the texture can influence your sensory experience.

Salads involve a lot of chewing, so starting with smaller pieces may make certain vegetables more appealing.

Using a box grater, slicing attachment on a food processor, or spiralizer, you can turn unlikely vegetables into the stars of your salad.

Shredded carrots and beets sweeten up salads (and are more fun to eat than giant raw chunks), while thinly sliced or shredded Brussels sprouts and cabbage disperse their strong flavor throughout your bowl. You can also grate or slice bitter radishes.

Spiralized veggies make salads more fun — who doesn’t love twirling noodles?

“Zoodles” made from zucchini are an obvious choice, but cucumbers, carrots, and even beets can be used in addition to or in place of noodles like soba.

(Fun Fact: Like kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are both members of the cruciferous family of vegetables.)

Massaging these tough, dry veggies with a tiny bit of salt and acid (like vinegar or citrus juice) can tenderize them.

Even if you’re adding dressing, don’t skip this step. Sprinkle with a small amount of salt and acid, then use your hands to squeeze and massage until they soften slightly, give off some liquid, and appear shiny.

For best results, refrigerate for at least a few hours before eating.

Diced vegetables

Turn common veggie toppings — like tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, carrots, onions, or peppers — into your base by finely dicing them.

Keep all pieces uniform for a fun, confetti-like salad, and opt for a mostly clear dressing (like Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette) to show off the rainbow colors of your veggies.

Portion Fix: A serving of non-starchy vegetables is one green container.


Remember how you can chill down anything, put it in a bowl, and call it a salad? That means grain bowls are technically salads.

“You can also replace the greens with a starchy base such as farro, quinoa, or brown rice,” says Cohen.

Build your own Buddha Bowl, try a Grilled Peach Panzanella salad, or enjoy leftover Roasted Fennel and Farro Salad chilled.

Portion Fix: A serving of carbs is one yellow container. This includes whole grains as well as starchy vegetables — like corn, roasted white or sweet potatoes, or green peas.

5 Ways to Make Salad If You Hate Greens

Research proves trying new foods is hard. When introducing kids (and adults!) to a new food, for example, it can take between eight and 15 tries, so cut yourself some slack — and don’t give up!

If you’re working to overcome a distaste for greens, here are five things you can do to a salad if you hate greens or lettuce.

1. Wrap it

This tip puts a food you know and like between you and your salad.

Place a serving of salad inside rice paper wrappers (like spring rolls), nori (like sushi), or a whole-grain tortilla. If you’re feeling brave, wrap your salad in a collard leaf or lettuce cups!

2. Chop it

Sometimes eating a salad can feel like a workout, and facing down huge lettuce leaves may feel intimidating. (We’re looking at you, kale).

One solution? Chop your greens and other ingredients finely so they’re generally all bite-sized. Avoid any mess by chopping your ingredients before adding any dressing.

No more lettuce leaves flopping off your fork or dangling out of your mouth!

3. Scoop it

Once you’ve chopped your greens, use a serving of baked chips or healthy versions of crackers to give your salad some crunch — and make it more fun to eat!

4. Dress it

Dry greens appeal to very few people, so try tossing them with dressing before making the rest of your salad.

Place a portion of dressing in the bottom of your bowl, add your greens, and use tongs to toss and coat every leaf. Then add the rest of your ingredients.

Try these Portion Fix-approved dressing recipes:

Honey Mustard Dressing

Healthier Ranch Dressing

Thousand Island Dressing

5. Hide it

Start small. There’s no rule that says you must fill your entire bowl with greens.

In Portion Fix, a serving of greens is one green container, so start with that and mix them in.

No one likes soggy, watery greens. Be sure to dry them well, using a salad spinner or using paper towels or a dish (clean!) towel to absorb as much moisture as possible.

You can chop the greens to further hide them, or use any of these other tricks. Chances are, once they’re in the bowl, you won’t notice them.

Pro Tip: If you’re really, REALLY not down with greens, a daily Shakeology is a great way to get your greens in without having to hold your nose or hide them. Get your bag here!

The Takeaway

A salad sans lettuce or any greens can still be a filling, nutrient-dense meal.

Get creative with your ingredients and your preparation techniques, and you can eat the rainbow without ever including greens that you don’t like.

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Whoever invented the concept of “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” deserves a hearty handshake from anyone who has ever tried to get their diet under control.

After all, a little structure — be it three squares daily (and maybe a couple snacks), intermittent fasting, or more involved plans such as Beachbody’s 80 Day Obsession Timed Nutrition — goes a long way toward giving us the right foods at the right time to help us reach our goals, whether it’s weight loss, performance, or plain ol’ good health.

Unfortunately, one caveat of this structure is that you keep a fairly normal 9-5 schedule.

When and how much to eat gets confusing quickly if you don’t sleep seven or eight hours at night and stay awake during the day.

This can happen for a few reasons: Typically it’s because you work the night shift, the swing shift, the 24-hour-shift, or some other terrible shift your employer has devised to torture you.

(Another reason for irregular hours is that you’re a vampire. If this is the case, you typically have your diet sorted out, so this article isn’t much use to you.)

But if you’re among the living, we’re come up with a few guidelines to help you figure out how and when to eat when you work weird hours.

But First, Sleep

Before we dig in, though, let’s go slightly off-topic and discuss sleep. It’s important to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night for so many reasons.

Among other benefits, sleep is prime time for muscle recovery and building. It also helps regulate the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, both which are important to appetite control.

If seven to eight hours a night can’t happen, at least try to take naps. While nothing truly makes up for a good night’s sleep, a 2008 British study shows naps to be more effective in dealing with afternoon drowsiness than caffeine.

Naps can also ward off fatigue for those forced to stay awake for long hours.

Got it? Cool. Now here are those guidelines:

If you wake up at odd hours but still keep a consistent schedule….

Start your eating day when you wake up. If you crawl out of bed at 6pm, that’s your morning. Eat accordingly.

This is ideal for people who consistently work the night shift. Just like the rest of your life, day becomes night and night becomes day with your diet.

If your schedule shuffles around but you still get eight (or so) hours of sleep daily…

Reset your plan at midnight. In other words, just make sure you get all your meals for each day in within a 24-hour period, starting at 12:01am.

This might mean that some days are breakfast, sleep, lunch, and dinner while others are breakfast, lunch, sleep, and dinner. Just make it work for the day and reboot at midnight.

If you need to stay awake for a prolonged period (18-24 hours)…

You need to be a little more strategic. Here’s a six-step plan.

  1. Eat normally for the first 12 or so hours.
  2. Don’t eat for the next four to six hours. Normally, this is part of the time you would be sleeping, so if you can work a short nap in here, great.
  3. After that, start eating the next day’s meals. It should be one or two meals.
  4. Unless you’re going for a Guinness World Record, you should be done working, so go to sleep!
  5. When you wake up, finish the rest of the meals for the day you started before you slept.
  6. Make a point of going to bed early this day.
The Bottom Line

There’s no one-size-fits-all hack for dealing with unusual working hours. Just like other aspects of your life, you’ll need to improvise and learn as you go, but hopefully, with this set of tips, you should be able to find the right solution for you.

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Sweet potatoes aren’t just for pies anymore.

Like regular potatoes, they’re one of the most versatile veggies out there: You can add them to a breakfast scramble, toss them on a salad for lunch, or stuff them for a quick and satisfying dinner. Sweet potatoes can even satisfy your sweet tooth as part of a healthier dessert.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty cooking details, let’s take a closer look at this tasty tuber.

Yam vs. Sweet Potato

First things first: A yam is not a sweet potato, and a sweet potato is not a yam.

Sweet potatoes and yams are from two different plant families. Sweet potato skin and flesh come in a variety of colors, but most people are familiar with the red skin/orange flesh combo.

Yams often have dark brown, bark-like skin (they can also come in purple), with white flesh that’s more firm and starchier than sweet potato flesh, which is more moist and sweeter.

Yams are generally imported to the U.S. from Africa and Asia, and usually found in specialty grocery stores, rather than your market down the street.

So why do people use the terms interchangeably? The most common theory is that in the 1800s, sweet potatoes were called “yams,” short for “nyami,” the African word for “to eat.”

Sweet Potato Nutrition

medium baked sweet potato (114 g) contains 2 grams of protein, 24 g of carbohydrates, less than 1 g of fat, and 4 g of fiber.

In addition, one medium sweet potato delivers 438 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin A and 37 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C.

It contains minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

(Pro tip: A serving of sweet potato fits in the yellow Portion Fix container.)

How to Buy, Store, and Prep Sweet Potatoes

How long do sweet potatoes stay fresh? How can you spot a “good” one? Here are the sweet potato basics you need to know.

Buying Sweet Potatoes
  • Look for firm sweet potatoes with clean, relatively smooth skin.
  • Avoid potatoes that are soft, or brown/black spots.
Storing Sweet Potatoes
  • At room temperature, sweet potatoes will most likely last one to two weeks. Ideally, store sweet potatoes in a cool, dark, well-ventilated space; they can be safely stored this way for three to four months.
  • Don’t refrigerate them, because cold temperatures will convert the potatoes’ starch into sugar, which may affect the flavor.
Prepping Sweet Potatoes
  • Wash them right before you cook with them. Don’t wash them sooner — water may get trapped in the eyes of the potato and get musty or moldy.
  • Use a food-safe scrub brush — not the same one you use to clean around the house, obviously — to dislodge any dirt.
  • If your sweet potatoes have “eyes,” or sprouts, don’t toss them — just scoop them out with your peeler or a knife.

How to Cook Sweet Potatoes

For optimal texture, baking sweet potatoes in the oven — or toaster oven, if you’re only making one or two — is your best bet.

How to Bake Sweet Potatoes in the Oven
  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet.
  3. Pierce each sweet potato three to four times with a fork.
  4. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until tender.

Pro tip: If you want to get fancy, cut your sweet potatoes into small cubes and toss with oil, herbs, and spices before you roast them. Or slice them and spice them for homemade sweet potato fries.

How to Cook Sweet Potatoes in the Microwave

Note: You can cook a sweet potato in the microwave — but it may cook unevenly, and the result can be a “gummy”-like texture if you get the timing wrong.

Depending on how fancy/not fancy your microwave is, you may want to experiment with cooking time until you get your preferred texture. But in general:

  1. Place sweet potatoes on a microwavable plate.
  2. Pierce each sweet potato three to four times with a fork.
  3. Microwave on HIGH for 5 to 8 minutes, rotating halfway through.
How to Bake Sweet Potatoes in Foil

When you bake a sweet potato in foil, it traps the potato’s moisture — so it’s more like steaming it than baking it.

This can leave you with slightly soft potato skins, but it’s great in a pinch — for example, if you’re cooking a big meal and your oven is already full.

If you wrap each potato in aluminum foil, you can place them right on the rack around or between large pans that hog precious oven real estate.

Cooking a sweet potato in foil is the same as baking it on a sheet:

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. Pierce each sweet potato three to four times with a fork. Wrap each individually in foil.
  3. Place directly on the oven rack and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until tender.

8 Creative Ways to Eat Sweet Potatoes

Did we mention the sweet potato is super versatile? Here are a few fun ways to eat this veggie.

1. Mashed Sweet Potatoes

There’s a reason mashed potatoes are considered a comfort food: they’re warm, delicious, and filling.

Swap in this mashed sweet potato recipe and you’ve got the same warm comfort, minus the added calories and fat from butter, sour cream, and milk.

Everything you do with regular mashed potatoes you can do with mashed sweet potatoes: Spread it on top of a shepherd’s pie, add it to baked goods, or use it as a thickening agent in gravies and sauces.

2. Sweet Potato Smoothie

Similar to the way bananas thicken smoothies, baked sweet potatoes make them super creamy and thick.

Try this sweet potato pie smoothie, which includes Vanilla Shakeology, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg for a healthy take on the classic fall dessert.

3. Sweet Potato Egg Cups

Who knew that the humble muffin tin would turn out to be such a clutch kitchen player?

In addition to cooking more traditional sweet breakfast muffins, you can use muffin tins to bake savory “muffins,” like these sweet potato egg cups.

Cook one batch (12 egg cups, two per serving) and you have a delicious grab-and-go breakfast (or snack!) for six days.

Bonus: Here are 12 egg cup recipes with five ingredients or less!

4. Sweet Potato Latkes

When you hear “potato pancake,” you might immediately think of the beloved Hanukkah mainstay — and you can use sweet potatoes for a healthier latke recipe.

With just sweet potatoes, onion, egg, flour, breadcrumbs, and garlic, you’ll want to eat these crisp, savory latkes any time of year.

5. Sweet Potato Hash With Eggs

This sheet-pan breakfast recipe couldn’t be easier: Simply combine all the ingredients, spread it on a sheet pan, crack some eggs on it, and bake.

6. Sweet Potato Salad

Sweet potatoes are a delicious way to add heft to your salads. Bake an extra with dinner, then cube it and toss it on top of your favorite greens the next day.

Try this apple, arugula, sweet potato, and pumpkin seed salad — or for something heartier, try this more substantial winter superfood bowl, which features beets, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, avocado, bulgur, and more.

7. Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Baked sweet potatoes can quickly transform last night’s leftovers into a full-on entree. Try these filling barbecue chicken baked sweet potatoes: With just five ingredients — sweet potatoes, shredded chicken, barbecue sauce, red onions, and fresh parsley — prep is a cinch.

8. Sweet Potato Pie

It would be a sin to overlook desserts when we’re talking about a veggie with “sweet” in its name. Sweet potato pie is a classic — but traditional recipes tend to include lots of sugar and butter.

This healthier spin on sweet potato pie incorporates Medjool dates and pure maple syrup (or raw honey) for sweetness, and pecans for a little crunch.

The Bottom Line

Sweet potatoes are an easy-to-cook, healthy base for just about any meal. Bake a few at the start of the week to save time and then chop, mash, or puree them when you’re ready.

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I think two of the most overlooked, underutilized and often life-saving pieces of equipment you can have in your cooking arsenal are a kitchen timer and a good probe thermometer. These two inexpensive tools have saved my rear end more times than I can count, and I’m a professional chef with a pretty solid, innate sense for time and temperature. For the average home cook, I’m going to stop short of calling them “essential”, but I will say this: once you start using them, you’ll wonder how you ever went without.

How to Choose a Kitchen Timer

A kitchen timer isn’t really something you need to go out and buy. A lot of stove-tops have them built-in, as do microwaves and smart phones. I, personally, use an app on my iPhone called Timer+ that allows me to set and label multiple timers at once – a fabulous resource for cooking big meals when you’re cooking several dishes at the same time. The hardest part is getting into the habit of using timers since it always feels like a pain to set them, but that 10 seconds it takes to set a timer can save you hours of extra work trying to fix a dish that was overcooked, not to mention wasted food and money when you need to toss it altogether.

Most cooks have a story about the day they learned the importance of the timer. For most it revolves around something like a 300-dollar hunk of prime rib that they turned into shoe leather. For me it was less dramatic. Mine was the day I burnt four batches of croutons. Each time I told myself “I won’t forget to check the croutons in 20 minutes”, but each time filling the kitchen with the smell of smoke. After that, I never failed to set a timer for the croutons, and I never burned another batch.

But timers aren’t just useful for avoiding the catastrophic failure of charred food. They’re also great to have around when following a recipe because, quite frankly, most of us have no idea how long a minute is. I know that sounds funny, but it’s true. We’re always in a hurry, always strapped for time to get the meal done, or just plain starving and anxious to eat. The recipe says to sear the chicken breast five minutes per side, and there we are two minutes later, flipping that meat too early, only to find out when we cut into it that it’s still pink in the middle and we have to go back to the stove. In this situation, a timer can be the ultimate impatience-buster.

Timers also make great teaching tools. Pop on a timer when you start sautéing your carrots and learn how long it takes for them to soften, or learn how many minutes your spaghetti had to boil to reach that perfect al dente texture. Taking a moment to learn as you work will make you a better and more efficient cook in the future.

So, whether it’s your phone, your microwave or one of those little wind-up eggs, find a timer that works for you, something easy to use and hard to lose. Put it on the counter next to you when you begin to cook, and it’ll be ready to make your life a whole lot easier when you need it

How to Choose a Food Thermometer

Now let’s talk about thermometers. A good probe thermometer is a worthwhile investment.  They’ll usually set you back anywhere from 15 to 30 dollars, but will give you years of use. Look for a model with a digital read-out, a probe that attaches to the read-out by means of a long wire, and an alarm that can be set to go off when it reaches a given temperature. Here is a picture of what I mean:

This type of thermometer is great for when your roasting something in the oven, like a turkey or tenderloin. You can pop the probe into the thickest part of the meat, set the alarm for your desired temperature, place the read-out on the counter next to the oven and forget the whole thing until the alarm goes off. Then, presto, perfectly cooked meat every time. When using this technique, just remember to bury the probe in the meat all the way up to where the probe bends. If too much of the probe is exposed to the hot oven, you’ll end up with a false reading. Also, avoid hitting a bone with the tip of the probe, which would inhibit you from putting the probe all the way in, for the same reason. You can also use this technique when baking loaves of bread in the oven.

These thermometers aren’t just good for checking temperatures in the oven, they can also be used when cooking on the grill or on your stovetop to quickly check the temp of steaks, chops, burgers, chicken breasts, or fish. It takes the guess-work out of the process and gives you verifiably perfect results, every time.

How to Cook Chicken to Keep it Tender And Juicy

One of the most common questions I get regarding meal-prep is: “How do I cook my chicken breasts without drying them out?” Is the oven ok?  Should I use the broiler? Poach? Grill?  Should I cover the pan, add liquid?  The lengths to which people will go to avoid that dry, mealy meat are really impressive. Unfortunately, all of these options are usually pretty ineffective, which is why my answer is always the same: “It’s not so much how you cook it; the importance is to not overcook it.” Chicken breast, when cooked to the right temperature is naturally tender and juicy, but it dries out very fast when overcooked, not only losing its juices, but turning crumbly and tough in the process.

The safe, internal temperature for chicken is 165 degrees F, but all meats continue to rise in temp even after they’re removed from the heat. So, I always pull mine around 161 degrees F, and let it finish those last few degrees off the heat. It’s a technique you should use with all your meats. Just remember, the thicker the meat, the more heat it will gain after taking it off the heat. That’s my secret to perfectly juicy and tender chicken, and it works no matter how you choose to cook it. But the only way to know you’ve got it right is to use your trusty thermometer.

And one last thing before I go. It’s a good idea to check the calibration of your thermometer once every few months. You can do this by submerging the probe in a glass of ice-water and stirring for 30 seconds or so. If your thermometer is accurate, it should read 32 degrees F (the temperature of ice).

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I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with red meat. And by that, I mean I love beef burgers and hate everything else.

Save for a good, flavorful burger, I find most other red meat unappetizing and tend to steer clear of it, opting instead for veggie-heavy meals.

That’s why I was excited — and sure, slightly skeptical — when I heard about plant-based “burgers” that look, taste, and feel like ground beef.

Beyond Meat® claims its plant-based burger “looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef.” A bold claim, to be sure, especially considering that its main ingredient is pea protein, which — let’s be real — doesn’t exactly scream “beefy.”

(Impossible™ Burger, another brand of plant-based burgers, includes soy lehemoglobin, the “magic ingredient” that makes its burgers taste, look, and feel like ground beef. Impossible Burgers are currently only available in select restaurants.)

With claims like these, the next logical step is a taste test, of course!

For the purposes of this experiment, I went with Beyond Burger so I could get the full experience, from purchase to first bite.

What Is Beyond Meat Made Of?

The number-one question on everyone’s minds: What’s in a plant-based burger, anyway? Here’s the 411…

Here’s the full ingredient list for Beyond Meat burgers:*

Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Water, Yeast Extract, Maltodextrin, Natural Flavors, Gum Arabic, Sunflower Oil, Salt, Succinic Acid, Acetic Acid, Non-GMO Modified Food Starch, Cellulose From Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Beet Juice Extract (for color), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Annatto Extract (for color), Citrus Fruit Extract (to maintain quality), Vegetable Glycerin. No GMOs or soy.

In Beyond Meat burgers, it’s the beet juice extract that mimics the “bleeding” when you cook beef burgers. (More on that later…)

Calories: 290 per four-ounce patty (1 serving)

Fat: 22 grams

Saturated fat: 5 grams

Protein: 20 grams

Carbohydrates: 6 grams

Cholesterol: 0 grams

For comparison, here are the stats for a four-ounce ground beef patty (80 percent lean meat, 20 percent fat, cooked):

Calories: 305

Fat: 20 grams

Saturated fat: 8 grams

Protein: 29 grams

Carbohydrates: 0 grams

Cholesterol: 99 grams

Buying the “Meat”

The first step was to find the burger. I assumed I’d have to drive to a specialty health food store because there’s no way your average grocery store would carry fancy plant-based beef burger, right? Wrong.

There it was, right in the meat section: The package contains two perfectly round, pre-shaped pink patties that look exactly like raw beef. It’s uncanny.

I picked up two packages for $5.99 each, along with my favorite burger fixings: avocado, tomato, lettuce, and red onion.

Cooking the “Meat”

I invited my boyfriend, a self-proclaimed beef aficionado who’s never turned down a burger in his life, to join my experiment.

He marveled at how much the patties looked like beef. “This is the burger? It looks so real,” he said.

But that’s where the marveling stopped. Because while the “burgers” may look eerily similar to beef, they sure don’t smell like it.

When we opened the package and leaned in for a whiff, the smell was…different. Nothing terrible or gag-inducing, just slightly “manufactured.”

I seasoned three of the patties with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then left one patty unseasoned to use as the control.

The instructions on the package said to cook the burgers for three minutes on each side; they would look either pink or red when fully cooked, similar to the shade they started at.

Although the indefinable smell lingered as the burgers cooked, they looked juicy and greasy in the skillet — they even bled like regular beef, thanks to the beet juice extract.

Three minutes, a quick flip, another three minutes, and bam — they were done. No guessing, no salmonella or e.coli fears, or waiting for the exact right shade of pink.

Tasting the “Meat”

We toasted buns, piled them with lettuce, red onion, tomato, avocado, and ketchup, then slid the burgers on top.

After snapping a quick pic, I picked up my burger and — in what felt like a very ceremonious moment — took a big bite. To my great delight, I liked it — it tasted like a burger! My boyfriend was pleasantly surprised and agreed.

As we chowed on, though, I started to notice subtle differences. Despite being super thick and fatty-tasting (likely due to the coconut oil), the burger wasn’t quite as juicy as animal-based beef, nor was it crispy the way grilled burgers are.

Rather, it had a dense, spongy texture that made it slightly chewy. And when we tried a bite of the unseasoned patty sans bun and toppings, it didn’t hold the same appeal at all.

The Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed the burger and so did my boyfriend, who ate two patties quite happily.

That said, we both agreed that the main reason the burger tricks your tastebuds so well is that it has a texture and flavor that’s easily disguised when you load it with all the typical burger fixings.

I don’t think it would be quite as tasty on its own — wrapped in lettuce, for example, or eaten with a knife and fork.

And if you don’t like beef to begin with, it’s probably not your best option — the bloody color and fatty taste might put you off.

Twenty minutes of discussion and two rounds of fries later, my boyfriend concluded that if he wanted a vegan burger for dinner, he’d rather dig into something obviously different from beef, like a spicy black bean patty, rather than an imitation beef burger.

I prefer the grainy texture of a black bean burger, too, but I could definitely see myself whipping up a couple Beyond Meat burgers once in a while to mix things up or reduce my meat consumption without sacrificing flavor.

I’d love to experiment with different seasonings, though, (like crushed red pepper or minced onion) to see how they interact.

All said (and eaten), it wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had, but it was definitely a delicious take on the real thing.

*Information pulled from Beyondmeat.com on January 30.

Beyond Meat is a trademark of Savage River, Inc.

Impossible is a trademark of Impossible Foods, Inc.

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As someone who doesn’t eat meat, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been served plain greens or a pile of raw vegetables and had no choice but to consider that measly salad a “meal.”

From weddings to work dinners, I’ve chewed and chomped my way through those skimpy salads; I even made a few lackluster salads for myself in my early meat-free days before learning about macronutrients.

If you’re just starting to make the switch to a vegetarian way of eating, you can build a filling meal-size salad with our foolproof formula for a healthy vegetarian salad.

(Pro tip: For all you omnivores, check out our Foolproof Formula for a Healthy, Delicious Salad.)

But first, let’s take a look at where your vegetarian bowl of greens may be going astray.

The 4 Biggest Vegetarian Salad Mistakes

Along with smoothies, salads are one of the easiest ways to load up on produce and reach your quota of vegetables — and sometimes fruit — each day.

But not all salads are created equal. Here are the four most common vegetarian salad mistakes.

Mistake: You simply leave out meat or fish

Restaurants seem to include meat or seafood in most meal-size salads, and the vegetarian option is often to omit that — with nothing in its place.

Big mistake, because without a protein source, your salad won’t keep you full for long! “I often reinforce to clients that meatless does not mean protein-less,” says Alyssa Cohen M.S., R.D., L.D.N.

Mistake: You rely on cheese as your protein

Sure, cheese contains protein, but Portion Fix considers most cheeses (aside from light ricotta and 2-percent cottage cheese) to be fats, which are measured using the blue container.

Think of cheese as a seasoning or garnish for a burst of salty or creamy flavor, rather than the backbone of your salad. When dining out, ask for cheese on the side or request the kitchen go light on the cheese.

Mistake: You limit yourself to only veggies

Raw vegetables are an integral part of most salads, but don’t just be basic, says Cohen. She advises that you go beyond “salad vegetables” like lettuce, cucumber, and tomato.

They are low in calories and nutritious, but a raw veggie salad “does not constitute an entrée, as these ingredients lack significant macronutrients,” she adds.

Mistake: Your fat (and sugar and salt) are out of control

While your salad needs some healthy fats for mouthfeel and to help you absorb certain fat-soluble nutrients (including vitamins A, D, E, and K), fat is the most calorically dense macronutrient at nine calories per gram (compared with four calories for both carbs and protein) so the calories can add up quickly.

If you’re adding oils, avocado, nuts and seeds, and even cheese, “portions are important,” says Cohen. “Don’t use large portions of all of these items, or your salad could end up being a calorie bomb.”

Prepared dressings may also sneak unwanted sodium and sugar into your salad, too, so make your own at home.

How to Build a Healthy Vegetarian Salad

With this advice in mind, your mission, should you choose to accept, is to make the ultimate meat-free salad.

Here are our five easy steps to building a healthy vegetarian salad, from greens and veggies to dressing and everything in between.

Step 1: Build Your Base

Think of greens as a blank canvas; the rest of your ingredients will be your palette of paints to add color and flair.

Dark, leafy greens are the obvious choice for your salad base, but you can choose any green(s) you like.

For those following a dairy-free diet, greens (like kale, mustard greens, bok choy, turnip greens, collards, and watercress) are an easy way to ensure you’re getting calcium in your diet.

Instead of yet another bowl of lettuce, spinach, and kale, try other dark-green vegetables like bitter escarole and endive (these leaves also make fun scoops for avocado egg salad in place of toast); crunchy purslane or tatsoi; or peppery arugula.

Portion Fix: A serving of greens is one green container.

Step 2: Add Fruits and Vegetables

Use the rainbow as your guide or start with the classics: “One of my favorite salads is an Israeli salad that’s made from chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, plus sometimes onion,” says Amer. “It’s so filling and refreshing!”

Cohen’s go-to combo adds bell pepper to that trio, and there are so many more veggies to consider adding to your salad.

Think beets and red radishes; carrots and summer squash; broccoli and sprouts; purple cabbage; or cooked eggplant.

If you frequent local farmers’ markets or specialty grocery stores, you may even be able to find some unusual hues (like purple or orange cauliflower) and other weird-looking fruits and veggies.

Don’t forget about fruit, but opt for fresh over sugary dried fruit, advises Cohen. She suggests citrus segments, while Amer loves the burst of sweet-tart berries in a salad.

Apples and pears (including Asian ones) are tasty salad additions. In summer, try melon, or add fresh figs, cherries, grapes, or stone fruit like peaches and plums.

Portion Fix: A serving of non-starchy vegetables is one green container, and a serving of fruit is one purple container.

Step 3: Pick a Plant-Based Protein

No meat on your salad? No problem!

“There are so many great plant-based sources of protein, and if a salad is your main meal, you should certainly be adding some source of protein, says Cohen.

Give your vegetarian salad staying power with hard-boiled eggs, two-percent cottage cheesebeans and lentils, tofu, tempeh, or even a veggie burger.

“Beans are my favorite protein because they work for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike; they’re inexpensive, and they’re so tasty,” says Cohen. “Beans are a good source of protein and carbohydrates, so they also serve a double purpose (and offer filling fiber).”

Don’t forget to season your tempeh or tofu — bland cubes won’t be very enticing atop a salad, and you may be tempted to add extra salt or dressing instead.

“Marinated tofu is a great option for vegetarians,” says Amer. She also likes the French technique of topping salads with poached eggs, since the runny yolk creates a creamy dressing.

Cheese, whole grains, and nuts and seeds also add protein, says Cohen, though these foods provide other macronutrients, too.

(With Portion Fix, those foods are not counted as proteins, so measure them accordingly.)

At restaurants, don’t sweat it if the meat-free proteins are not compatible with a salad. Order a side of black beans, scrambled eggs, or lentil soup to round out your meal.

“As long as you are consuming protein with your meal, it doesn’t need to be in every course,” says Cohen.

Portion Fix: A serving of protein is one red container.

Step 4: Add Some Carbs

Hold the buttery rolls and salty croutons, and seek out complex carbs from whole foods the next time you build a salad.

Since foods tend to provide more than one macro at a time, says Cohen, you likely are consuming enough carbs if you’re adding those plant-based protein stand-ins such as beans or even a more protein-heavy grain like quinoa to your bowl.

If your salad is mostly non-starchy vegetables, or if you’re relying on eggs and nuts for protein and fat, “you likely are forgetting the carbohydrates,” says Cohen.

She reaches for starchy vegetables (try corn, roasted white or sweet potatoes, or peas), adding that such vegetables “are great carbohydrate sources that will provide additional nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.”

Still craving something bread-y, carb-y, or crunchy? Try whole-grain pasta, toasted whole-wheat bread, or even whole-grain crackers.

Portion Fix: A serving of carbs is one yellow container.

Step 5: Add Healthy Fats and Flavor

Fat adds richness to any meal, but it’s especially noticeable in a big salad, where it adds creamy contrast to cool, crunchy vegetables.

Dressing is the obvious choice, but Cohen says that avocado, nuts, and seeds “will provide healthful unsaturated fats.” Flavorful cheeses like feta, Parmesan, or goat also add creaminess and fat.

What if you don’t eat dairy? If it’s the cheesy flavor you crave, Cohen suggests swapping in nutritional yeast instead. (Bonus: “Nootch,” as it’s also known, adds fiber and protein, and some fortified varieties contain B vitamins, too.)

Want the creaminess of cheese? Add avocado, Cohen recommends. “It will be a source of monounsaturated fatty acids, lower in sodium, and tastes just as creamy as cheese,” she says.

Stretch the flavor of your favorite fat sources by chopping nuts, crumbling or grating cheese, and dicing avocado or blending it into avocado dressing.

If you’re using a traditional oil-based dressing, use this chef’s tip: Measure your dressing into the bottom of a large bowl, then add your greens and other non-starchy vegetables.

Use tongs to toss and coat the vegetables evenly with the dressing, ensuring no dry lettuce or bland veggies will languish in the bottom of your bowl.

Check out these Portion Fix-approved dressing recipes:

Honey Mustard Dressing

Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette

Creamy Dill Dressing

Healthier Ranch Dressing

Thousand Island Dressing

Craving even more flavor? Reach for fresh or dried herbs and spices, which is Amer’s secret to awesome salads. You can add as much as you’d like without racking up fat grams or calories.

Fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, and basil can elevate the flavors in your salad, too.

Portion Fix: A serving of avocado, nuts, or most shredded cheeses is one blue container (healthy fats). A serving of seeds or Portion Fix dressings is one orange container. A serving of oil or nut butter is one teaspoon.

Bonus: Herbs and spices are freebies!

The Bottom Line

Now you’re armed and ready to build your best vegetarian salad ever.

Get creative and use your salads as a way to challenge your tastebuds: Try new vegetables, fruit, or protein sources each week; swap in a new herb; or seek out an exotic green at the farmers’ market.

Scope out the menus of the top plant-based diet hotspots (especially those of you who haven’t had a chance to visit yet), and get inspiration for your own meals. I often scour online menus of trendy restaurants to breathe new life into my salad meals.

But there’s also nothing wrong with finding your signature salad and sticking with that.

“I’m happy with my go-to salad that usually includes a base of ‘basic’ salad vegetables,” says Cohen. She adds a handful of walnuts, beans, avocado, and sometimes cheese. “This is my typical lunch, because it’s so easy to prep, cost-effective, nutritious, and delicious.”

No matter what your nutrition goals are, salads can be a regular part of your meat-free eating plan. Even without meat and fish, you can make a salad into a filling and satisfying meal.

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As a longtime vegan, I feel like I’m about to give away a state secret, but here it goes:

Vegan food isn’t all kale smoothies, quinoa bowls, and almond milk. There’s a lot of junk food that happens to be vegan. And just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

Say what?!

“There is the idea that as long as it’s vegan it’s healthy, but that’s not true,” says Paige Benté, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. “A cookie is still a cookie.”

Speaking of cookies, did you know Oreos were technically vegan? Yep. So are French fries, Fritos, Hershey’s syrup and even some bacon bits (they’re made from soy).

There’s no meat, milk or eggs to be found in any of those foods. Does that mean they’re healthy? Nope.

“It’s junk food, and we call it that for a reason,” says Benté.

Vegan Food Is Healthy! (Right?)

“Vegan foods are healthier” is the second-most prevalent myth I hear about a plant-based diet (right after “you’ll never get enough protein!”).

Full disclosure: I totally pull the “but it’s vegan, so it’s good for me” card sometimes, knowing full well that I’m kidding myself as I eat (vegan) ice cream or an extra slice of (vegan) pizza.

A vegan diet isn’t always a plant-based diet — meaning it might not be a diet plentiful in plant-based whole foods. Sometimes a vegan diet is just as full of processed, unpronounceable ingredients as the standard American diet.

A vegan diet isn’t always a clean diet, either. But it can be — when it’s also a whole-food, plant-based diet.

It’s worth noting that the decision to follow a vegan diet can be highly personal. For some, it’s driven by health; for others, it’s ethics. We’re looking only at the nutritional aspects here.

No, All Vegan Food Is Not Healthy

In my experience, a reliance on vegan junk food happens when we try to mimic a typical omnivorous diet, which has become even easier thanks to the widespread availability of specialty diet foods.

Vegan cheese and meats are usually highly processed and high in sodium, and foods like vegan butter or baked goods can be even worse than the traditional versions, says Benté, citing the use of hydrogenated oils (aka, trans fats).

“A lot of times the vegan and gluten-free options can be worse because they’re so much more processed,” says Benté.

Simply switching from regular pizza to vegan pizza, regular cookies to vegan cookies and regular doughnuts to vegan doughnuts isn’t a way to clean up your diet, she says.

But switching from pizza to spaghetti squash or from cookies to date-and-nut bars, and from doughnuts to low-sugar muffins made with whole-grain flour and real fruit are great places to start.

The takeaway: Read the label, and choose those with short lists of ingredients that sound like real food.

What Is a Clean Vegan Diet?

As a health coach, when I help people transition to a plant-based lifestyle, I remind them: “reinvent, don’t replicate.”

That is, unless you’re making a vegan version of your favorite meal using whole food ingredients, it most likely lacks the full benefits of the nutrients and phytochemicals you’d find by eating the original plant-based form.

While I’m grateful that vegan versions of comfort foods exist — they’re great for when cravings hit now and again — a balanced vegan diet is like any balanced diet: It’s one that’s full of whole foods that are as close to their natural form as possible.

“You can definitely make a vegan diet very healthy,” says Benté. “It can meet all of your needs.”

Protein aside — and Benté says there’s little need to worry that vegans won’t get enough high-quality protein from plants — vegans need to ensure they’re getting adequate amounts of micronutrients that may be lacking from a plant-based diet, like vitamin B12, or may be more difficult to obtain in appropriate amounts, like iron or calcium.

And if you’re a Shakeology lover, rest easy: There are vegan Shakeology flavors available as well and plenty of vegan Shakeology recipes.

After that, look to Mother Nature: Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are all clean vegan foods.

So have that (vegan) cookie. Just don’t give it a health halo it doesn’t deserve.

Here is a sampling of Portion Fix-approved vegan recipes to get you started!

Vegan Shakeology Recipes

Vegan Chocolate Caramel Delight Shakeology

Vegan Key Lime Dream Shakeology

Vegan S’mores Shakeology

Vegan Strawberry Mojito Shakeology

Vegan Cookies and Cream Shakeology

Sweet Vegan Recipes

Double Chocolate No-Bake Vegan Brownies

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Fruit Dip

Frozen Banana Pops

Vegan Sugar Cookies

Cashew and Oat Gluten-Free Waffles

Savory Vegan Recipes

Vegan Buddha Bowl With Spring Vegetables

Vegan Slow Cooker Stew With Chickpeas and Spinach

Barbecue Spaghetti Squash Sliders

Vegan Cauliflower Rice and Broccoli Gratin

Vegan Cashew Queso Sauce

Get more vegan recipe ideas here!

(BONUS: Currently doing 21 Day Fix? Here’s a vegan meal prep just for you.)

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If you’re struggling to eat enough fruits and vegetables, salads are an easy, tasty way to reach your daily quota, or at least get yourself a lot closer!

They can also be a nutrient-dense, filling meal on their own when you know what to include.

But beware: Salads can easily turn into calorie bombs if you’re not keeping an eye on portions and ingredients.

To simplify your salad-making process, we came up with a foolproof formula for a filling and healthy salad.

But first, let’s take a look at where your bowl of greens may be going astray.

The 4 Biggest Salad Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
Mistake: You limit your salad to vegetables

“The more veggies you add, the more filling it will be,” says Chelsey Amer, a registered dietitian based in New York City. She loves to bulk up salads with other nutrient-dense veggies like broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, and tomatoes.

But if you’re making your salad a meal rather than a side, go beyond those non-starchy vegetables, says Alyssa Cohen M.S., R.D., L.D.N.

“While non-starchy vegetables are an important dietary component, [your salad] will lack protein and fat, which are also important components of any meal, ” she cautions.

Ideally, your salad should include all three macronutrients — carbs, protein, and fat.

Mistake: You overdo it — or skimp — on the dressing

“Dressing is meant to be a fat source,” says Cohen, which will add satiety and mouthfeel to your salad, “but it’s common for people to douse their salads. ”

Not only does drowning your greens add extra fat and significant calories, but in the case of bottled dressings, you may also be adding sugar, salt, and other additives.

But don’t feel compelled to skip the dressing — that’s no fun, and you need fat to absorb certain essential nutrients. “Let it enhance your salad rather than overwhelm it,” says Cohen.

It’s easy to make your own delicious dressing at home — where you control the ingredients. We recommend one to two tablespoons of dressing per salad. (More on homemade dressings below!)

Mistake: You load up on high-calorie toppings

Fat is the most calorically dense macronutrient — nine calories per gram — so it can be easy to overdo it.

If you’re making a salad at home or ordering from a menu, think “some” not “all” when you’re deciding which toppings and fat sources to include.

Avocado, nuts, seeds, cheese, and are all tasty toppings, but “while many of these sources are not inherently unhealthy on their own, a combination of these fat sources can add up to a lot of calories very quickly,” says Cohen.

She recommends keeping portions of these add-ins small and choosing one or two of your favorites, instead of all of them.

Mistake: Your salad is full of sugar

Sugar is a sneaky ingredient, and it can hide in even savory salads in the form of dried fruit, candied nuts and seeds, fried or caramelized “crunchy” items, and of course, salad dressings, says Cohen.

“If you prefer some sweetness, opt for fresh fruit,” she advises. If you do include those other items on a salad, use them as a garnish, not as a significant part of your salad.

How to Build the Perfect Salad

Ready to make the best salad ever? Here’s our formula to help you build the perfect salad, from greens to dressing, and everything in between.

Step 1: Build Your Base

Grab your greens. Instead of just a bowl of iceberg, try combinations of leafy greens: butter, Romaine, arugula, endive, escarole, radicchio, chard, spinach, and mesclun.

Opt for a mix of soft and crunchy, as well as sweet and bitter greens. If you’re new to eating greens or still learning to like vegetables, shredding or finely chopping the leaves can make them more palatable.

Worried about the cost and potential waste of buying several types of greens? Grab a pre-mixed blend from the store.

Pro tip: If you’re using a hearty green like kale or cabbage, massage the leaves with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of lemon juice or vinegar ahead of serving time. This will soften greens and make them easier to chew.

Portion Fix: A serving of greens is one green container.

Step 2: Fill Up With More Vegetables — and Fruit

Once you have your bowl of greens, reach for fruits and non-starchy vegetables. Now’s your chance to eat the colors of the rainbow and don’t forget the “pale” veggies, too.

Try asparagus, radishes, sprouts, jicama, broccoli, bell peppers or onions. Loading up on non-starchy vegetables can help you feel more satisfied while eating fewer calories.

Think about mixing a variety of colors, textures, and flavors. Or create a theme, like a taco saladsalad Nicoise, or a homemade version of your favorite takeout salad.

And if you’re not keen on raw vegetables, add in grilled, steamed, or roasted vegetables, warm or cold.

Then add some fruit. “I love to add some fruit to my salad for a sweet surprise hidden among the greens,” says Amer. Tasty options include apples, pears, berries, citrus, or melon.

Pro tip: Make a semi-homemade salad by buying bags or containers of greens, then picking up a few prepared vegetables from the salad bar — shredded beets and carrots, diced peppers, riced cauliflower, or roasted squash.

Portion Fix: A serving of non-starchy vegetables is one green container, and a serving of fruit is one purple container.

Step 3: Pick a Protein

Give all those veggies some staying power with a serving of lean protein.

Though Amer loves tuna salad and grilled salmon, she also enjoys getting creative with proteins: One of her recent discoveries was a small amount of smoked salmon and a poached egg on an arugula salad for breakfast. The runny yolk creates a warm, savory dressing.

Cottage cheese, or tofu can be a protein source, as can eggs and fish. “And of course, grilled or baked chicken/turkey, a lean steak, or fish/shellfish are great options for meat eaters,” says Cohen.

Keep prep time to a minimum by keeping cooked proteins on hand for your salads. Bake or grill tofu, salmon, or chicken ahead of time; drain and rinse beans; and boil and peel some eggs so you can have a meal in minutes.

If you’re using leftover meats, thinly slice them to spread the flavor throughout your salad.

Portion Fix: A serving of protein is one red container.

Step 4: Choose Your Carbs

Crackers and croutons are the typical carb companions for a salad, but they often add unwanted fat and salt (and sometimes trans fats).

To add healthy carbs to your salad, think leftovers. Cohen tops her salads with healthy carbs like roasted squash. This also helps winterize your salads by giving them some heft and warmth.

Quinoa, farro, beans, or lentils make great carb choices because they also contain protein.

You can also try these healthier cracker and chip swaps, or add a small amount of store-bought ones — Cohen likes to crumble a few tortilla chips made from beans over her taco salads.

If you’re a crouton fan, try making your own to control how much oil is used, or grill a slice of whole-grain bread for a healthier Caesar salad.

Portion Fix: A serving of carbs is one yellow container.

Step 5: Add Healthy Fats

Fat adds flavor and satisfaction, but it also pours on the calories quickly. While the healthy fat in salads usually comes from dressing, you can use avocado, nuts, and seeds.

Cohen likes to make her own dressing using ingredients such as avocado, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, sometimes adding mustard or lemon juice for extra flavor.

Bottled dressings have come a long way, she says, and many contain only whole-food ingredients. “Just remember — no matter how great the ingredients label may look, keeping portions in check is key,” she adds.

Amer recommends using a dressing that’s translucent or mostly translucent, such as a vinaigrette.

At home, she uses a 1:1 ratio of vinegar to oil to boost flavor and keep healthy fats in check. Adding a small amount of Dijon mustard to this mix will act as a binder.

“Always underdress your salad to start,” Amer says, since you can add more if need be.

If you want to use fat on top of your salad, in the form of nuts, avocado, or seeds, consider using salsa, a flavored vinegar, or lemon or lime juice as your “dressing,” omitting the oil.

Pro tip: Measure your dressing into a bowl, add the greens and toss to coat every leaf. This is a restaurant trick that will help you stretch your dressing and add flavor to each bite.

Portion Fix: A serving of avocado, nuts, and most shredded cheeses is one blue container (healthy fats). A serving of seeds or Portion Fix Dressings is one orange container, and a serving of oil or nut butter is one teaspoon.

Check out these Fix-approved dressing recipes:

Honey Mustard Dressing

Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette

Creamy Dill Dressing

Avocado Dressing

Healthier Ranch Dressing

Thousand Island Dressing

Step 6: Finish With Toppings and Flavor Boosts

The toppings are where you can take your salad from ho-hum to awesome, but it’s also an easy place to go overboard. (Hello, bacon bits!)

Amer adds flavor for almost no calories with fresh and dried herbs and spices. She loves all the health benefits she gets from adding cilantro, dill, parsley, and basil to her salads.

If you opt to use your fat as a topping, measure out your portion to avoid adding more than you intended.

Chop nuts and avocado into small pieces to stretch their flavor, and choose raw over roasted and salted nuts to avoid excess sodium.

Portion Fix: Herbs and spices are Freebies!

The Bottom Line

Salads are an easy and delicious way to load up on all your food groups in one meal, but it’s important to remember to keep your portion sizes in control.

With this formula, you can mix-and-match and experiment to create a meal that’s delicious and healthy.

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