As 2009 comes to an end, too many of us are still eating loads of cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats. We’ve made resolutions each year, but daily stressors and our constant time-crunch lifestyles lead to mindless and unhealthy eating. Here are ten simple steps to a healthier diet and lifestyle for 2010–so cross off your list of excuses and start January off on the right foot. Healthy diets don’t require a major overhaul, just a few changes here and there are all you need.
1. Don’t Cut Out, Simply Add In
Instead of depriving yourself of foods you love, start slowly by adding in healthy, wholesome foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables at each meal. Avoiding the foods you can’t live without will only set you up for disaster. Moderation is key when you can’t resist your guilty pleasure foods, so don’t beat yourself up for savoring sweets. Just be sure to keep yourself in check throughout the rest of the day.
2. Watch Where Your Calories are Coming From
If you’re eating a white bagel for breakfast, a smear of Jiff on Wonder bread for lunch, and a frozen entree for dinner, it would be smart to re-consider the source of these processed foods. Aim to eat as close to the natural source as possible, and revamp your pantry with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. For instance, opt for a whole grain bagel with lox, almond butter on whole wheat bread for lunch, and a tofu stir-fry for dinner. You’ll be amazed at the surge in energy these simple swaps will make in your daily life.
3. Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs
Hop off the Lo-Carb bandwagon, which phased out years ago; by now you should know healthy carbs do exist. Enjoy nutrient-rich whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which contain complex carbs and fiber to keep you satiated longer than the nutrient-void simple carbs found in candy, soda, white bread products, and juices. Simple carbs are nothing but empty calories that will leave you unsatisfied with a blood sugar surge and crash, so opt for your whole grain friends in lieu of their white counterparts.
4. Enjoy Heart-Healthy Fats
All fats are not created equal. Forgo the fat phobia and enjoy healthy unsaturated fats from oils, fish, seeds, and nuts in moderation. Steer clear of saturated fats found in whole milk, meats, and cheeses. Make an effort to scan nutrition labels for trans fats, which are unhealthy and found in many products containing hydrogenated oils. Moreover, limit your intake of full-fat dairy and red meat; opt for skim milk or unsweetened soy milk in your morning cereal and swap out the beef in your evening tacos for ground chicken.
5. Increase your Fiber
Since Americans typically don’t get enough fiber in their diets, make it a MUST on your list to increase your fiber intake with whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat in 2010. You get more fiber, vitamin E, B6, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and potassium in whole wheat than in refined “enriched” white flour. Moreover, toss fruits, beans, and vegetables into your morning omelet, afternoon salad, or evening chili to reap the heart-healthy benefits of fiber. Get creative and opt for a yogurt parfait, whole wheat zucchini bread, hummus with vegetables, or bean burgers.
6. Up Your Water Intake
It’s quite easy–and free! Keep bottled water with you all day long; one at your work desk, another in your kitchen fridge, and another on your bedside table to give your body a fluid boost and help flush out toxins. Opt for a glass of water with fresh mint, cucumber slices, oranges, or limes, to give your taste buds a refreshing treat without the calories and sugar of soda or juice. Avoid sodas and sugar-packed juices by slowly transitioning to a mixture of seltzer and freshly-squeezed orange juice.
7. Create a Rainbow
Vary the colors of produce in your meals; try adding a new fruit and vegetable to your diet each week. Toss an apple into your brown bag or whip up a fruit smoothie for breakfast. When making dinner, opt for topping your fish or chicken with vegetable and fruit purees. Keep bags of frozen fruit and vegetables handy in the freezer and create ready-to-eat crudits in your fridge. Need an emergency snack to keep in your gym bag? Why not whip up a mixture of dried apples, apricots, pears, and cherries? Dried fruits are a tasty way to satisfy your sweet craving and add to your fiber quota for the day.
8. Nix Mindless Munchies
Keep yourself busy with a mint or a piece of gum. Moreover, make a habit of brushing your teeth after each meal. Enjoy a hot herbal tea or hot water with lemon while you digest your food and give your brain enough time to register that you are full after eating. Take a walk, call a friend, or journal; make a list of things to do when you are ‘bored,’ post this list on your fridge, and refer to it each time you find yourself mindlessly devouring the pantry.
9. Forgo Temptations
Leave the chips, cookies, and candy in the grocery store, not in your pantry. Unfortunately, these tasty treats seem to creep into our kitchens, and the outcome is never enjoyable. Instead of depriving yourself of sweets, think about what you are craving and what would satisfy your need for sweetness. Perhaps it’s a cup of hot cocoa with skim milk, cinnamon and cocoa powder, or an apple dipped into agave nectar and sprinkled with unsweetened coconut. If you’re a chocolate fan, enjoy a square of rich dark chocolate or a few raw cacao nibs to satisfy your sweet tooth.
10. Enjoy Your Food
Create an appealing dish and sit down in an enjoyable environment while you dine. Many people eat while standing up, only to end up inhaling food out of the fridge. Turn away from the computer at lunch and savor your food; turn off the television at night and focus on your food presentation. Taking the time to prepare a beautiful dish is the name of the game and easier to do than you think. The only way a healthy diet will work is if you enjoy the foods you are eating, so be sure to savor each bite of your meal and concentrate on your hunger and satiety levels before reaching for seconds.
Amie Valpone, HHP, AADP is a culinary nutritionist and author of The Healthy Apple, thehealthyapple.com.