Olives vs. steak: Tips for tricking your brain into eating healthier

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Updated Apr 22, 2013
Rice cakes make for a good between-meals snack.Rice cakes make for a good between-meals snack.

I love food. If I weren’t so vain, I’d probably weigh 400 pounds. I was raised in the South, with a fine Southern cook for a momma, so the bar is set pretty high for me as far as taste and enjoyment goes. Unfortunately, Southern cooking and proper nutrition don’t often go hand in hand. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to continue eating like I want to without blowing up like a Sumo wrestler. Compounding matters is the fact that I only run if someone is chasing me or my hair is on fire.

Most people confuse taste with flavor. Taste is a chemical sense, using receptor cells that make up the taste buds. Flavor is a fusion of multiple senses. Simply put, taste is the scientific thing going on when you eat and flavor is the enjoyable part. Each person has their own version of flavor that varies with their sense of smell and what happens in their brain when they see something. Something that is delicious to me could be incredibly gross to someone else. This isn’t rocket science, there’s a reason some people really believe brussel sprouts taste good.

It’s no secret trucking is a sedentary job for the most part. It’s difficult to burn off a lumberjack breakfast when you’re sitting all day. It’s also no secret that by the end of a 14-hour day, most drivers don’t feel like hopping out of the truck for a nice little jog. Finding a balance between being able to enjoy food and stay healthy is difficult when you burn so few calories daily.

Almost every restaurant has calorie guides available now. It’s become a lot easier to keep up with what we’re eating by the numbers, but that doesn’t make an egg white omelet taste any better. Actually satisfying what we perceive as hunger is harder than just counting calories, it requires tricking our brains into believing we’re satisfied. Understanding the science of what’s actually happening when we eat is intrinsic to being successful in changing our eating habits for the better.

There are a lot of foods out there that have minimal calories and still taste good. Fruit is an obvious choice, but there’s a lot of sugar in fruit, and it’s almost impossible to peel an orange while driving. The types of food that satisfy hunger without a lot of caloric intake are vast – you just have to find the ones you like.

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As much as I like to make fun of rice cakes, they’re actually a really good choice. They come in tons of flavors now. I even saw salsa flavored in the grocery the other day. They provide the satisfaction of crunchiness and taste while giving your tummy something to do. They’re not just for packing material anymore, and they’re easy to grab and eat while you’re rolling.

I recently discovered something called Snapea Crisps, which are basically baked whole green peas seasoned with salt and baked with a little corn oil. I’m not a huge fan of peas and as gross as these things sound, they’re delicious. One serving (or 22 pieces) contains 130 calories, 6 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, less than 1 gram of sugar and 3 grams of dietary fiber. The ingredient list starts with peas and ends with vitamin C. They not only curb the craving for a crunchy snack, they’re excellent roughage and add to your daily vitamin intake without being detrimental.

Try a couple of olives to stave off the yearning for high-fat meats.Try a couple of olives to stave off the yearning for high-fat meats.

A large olive can have a few as five calories and the texture reminds your brain of meat, which can be very filling. Of course, you have to watch the salt intake with olives, but a handful here or there is the perfect way to end the craving for a steak or pork chop without taking in the calories and fat associated with them.

When the sweet tooth rears its ugly head, there are plenty of options. I mentioned fruit earlier, and fresh fruit is always a good choice but rarely available on the road and hard to keep in the truck. Dried fruits are high in sugars and carbohydrates, so you can’t eat as much of it as you’d think before blowing the diet. It’s also important to be aware of the process used to dry the fruit, a lot of companies use chemicals that negate any benefit to the food at all. Raisins aren’t necessarily nature’s candy anymore.

While on the subject of candy, chocolate is actually a good option. I’m not talking about Snickers bars – I’m talking about good, quality chocolate and the darker the better. Chocolate stimulates the release of endorphins, natural hormones produced by the brain that generate feelings of pleasure and promote a sense of well-being.

A moderate intake of dark chocolate satisfies the body’s need for ‘happy’ food.A moderate intake of dark chocolate satisfies the body’s need for ‘happy’ food.

One of the ingredients in chocolate is tryptophan, an essential amino acid needed by the brain to produce serotonin, which is often referred to as the brain’s ‘happy chemical’. You not only get the benefit of quelling your sweet tooth, you feel less like running over idiots in four-wheelers when you eat it. It’s a win-win situation.

The most important thing to remember is to be aware of what you’re putting into your body. It’s a beautiful machine, but much like a Detroit Diesel engine, it can only give you optimum results with the correct fuel. Take the time to read labels and plan your meals, your health is an investment you can’t go wrong with.

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