Many Americans struggle with trying to establish and maintain a healthy diet. Sure, you’ve probably heard basic tips like counting your calories or replacing unhealthy foods with more nutritious choices, maybe you’ve even tried a series of fad diets or “cleanses”, only to fall off the wagon and revert back to your old habits again. But, improving your diet doesn’t have to be difficult! By making simple changes to your everyday food choices, you can keep your body in great shape without having to resort to any restrictive meal plans or crash diets.
Prepare Meals at Home
Eating at a restaurant is often a quicker and more convenient option than cooking a meal yourself. However, between common restaurant staples like huge portion sizes, free bread, and unlimited refills, eating out can easily lead to excess calories and added pounds.
According to research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, calories from restaurant meals make up over half of the average American’s daily calorie intake requirement. Just one meal from a restaurant can contain 1,200 calories—and that’s excluding calories from drinks, bread, appetizers, or desserts. Restaurant meals also often contain high levels of saturated fat, sugar and salt, which can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
By eating at home, you can save not only your money, but approximately 450 calories per meal. You can make eating home-cooked meals more convenient by planning dinners ahead of time, stocking up on pantry items that are healthy and quick to prepare, and using your free time to prepare and freeze nutritious meals in advance that can be easily reheated in the future.
Ditch the Distractions, Eat Mindfully
Paying attention to your body’s cues for hunger and fullness can help you eat 30% less food during the day. Harvard nutrition professor Teresa Fung explains that our constant exposure to devices like smartphones and tablets can cause distracted eating, leading to the mindless consumption of excess calories. When distracted, our brains cannot recognize when we are full, making us prone to overeating. Next time you sit down to dinner, put your phone away and eat slowly and mindfully– your waistline will thank you.
Similarly, Fung recommends pausing for a moment next time you are experiencing a craving. Sometimes, a food craving can actually indicate that the body is lacking certain nutrients. Craving chocolate, for example, could be a sign that your body is low in magnesium. Fung also says that many people tend to mistake thirst for hunger, and end up eating when they are actually dehydrated. Next time you feel like you’re starving, try drinking a large glass of water before eating, and then reevaluate your hunger level. Small tricks like this can be a huge help in adopting not only a healthier diet, but a healthier mindset towards the way you eat.
Cut Down on Red Meat
The American Institute of Cancer Research has found that diets high in red meat are linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. Researchers at the institute recommend eating no more than eighteen ounces of red meat per week to minimize this risk. Cutting down on red meat consumption can also be beneficial to your health as red meats tend to be high in saturated fat, a known factor in causing heart disease as well as related conditions such as obesity and high cholesterol.
To lower your risk for these diseases, swap out red meat for heart-healthy alternatives. Fatty fish such as salmon can boost brain function and heart health, and plant proteins from beans and legumes can aid in lowering heart disease risk as well as mortality risk.
Trade Sugary, High-Fat Dairy Products for Plain Yogurt
With more protein and less carbohydrates than traditional yogurt, plain Greek yogurt is a nutritious alternative to the sugar-filled dairy mainstay. Plain Greek yogurt without any added sugar or flavor is best, and the high protein content promotes satiety, keeping you fuller and less prone to mindless snacking.
Greek yogurt is also a suitable choice for those with type 2 diabetes, due to its low sugar content. Starting your day with Greek yogurt can help manage blood sugar throughout the day, since eating foods with a low glycemic index for breakfast helps prevent blood sugar spikes later on.
Say No To Sugary Drinks
The average American diet contains more “hidden” sugars than most people realize. Recently, the American Heart Association Nutritional Committee has found that just one sugary drink a day can lead to visceral fat buildup. Visceral fat is the deep abdominal fat that surrounds organs, and in excess can lead to higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. High sugar content is not found only in sodas—sweetened teas, coffees, juices, and energy drinks all have excess sugar as well.
“Diet” Drinks? Think Again
Nutrition experts refer to foods that are not included in the five food groups as discretionary foods, as they are unnecessary for a healthy diet. Examples include fries, doughnuts, candy– essentially any calorie-dense, nutrient-absent food choices. Nutritionists have found that diet beverages make people feel less guilty about eating discretionary foods, believing that they can splurge on extra calories if consuming a diet drink. Despite their name, “diet” drinks do not help with weight control, and should be avoided if you intend on pursuing a healthier lifestyle.
Increase Your Water Intake
Drinking an extra cup of water each day can lead to consuming fewer calories throughout the day, as well as consuming lower amounts of saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and cholesterol. According to a study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, subjects who increased their water intake by one to two glasses per day (eight to sixteen ounces of water) consumed 70 to 200 fewer calories.
Not to mention, staying well-hydrated aids in digestion and helps all of the body’s functions run more smoothly. Keep a refillable water bottle with you at all times to make sure you stay hydrated all day.
These simple changes are relatively easy to incorporate into your everyday life, and can make a huge difference. By making small yet significant alterations to your diet, you begin your journey to being a healthier you!