Each January, countless people vow to eat healthier as part of their New Year’s resolutions. And for good reason: A healthy diet protects against many diseases and helps with weight maintenance, among offering many other benefits.
As you’re considering adopting healthy eating habits, you’ll likely have more success if you start with a few specific goals. To get you started, Allison Hatley, a Health Coach with ThedaCare HealthWorks, recommends small changes that can offer big benefits.
1. Eat more fruits and veggies
From a young age, we hear that we should eat fruits and vegetables. Most of us understand the importance of eating these foods, but overhauling your diet to include more requires intentional steps.
“It’s not enough just to buy it,” Hatley says. “It’s important to make a plan for how you’re going to incorporate them into your diet.”
To take in more fruits and veggies, try these tips:
- At breakfast: Add fruit to cereal or oatmeal, or throw some onions, peppers, and spinach into your eggs.
- At lunch: Replace chips with carrots or an apple. Toss a fresh salad, or add veggies to your sandwich.
- At dinner: Top pizza with veggies, or add them to your pasta sauce or soup. Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
2. Reduce added sugar
“Sugar can cause inflammation, and it also adds a lot of calories to our diet,” Hatley says.
To put a dent in your sugar intake, consider these steps:
- Get good at reading food labels. Sugar can appear in sneaky ways, so you might be consuming more than you think — even if you don’t think of yourself as having a sweet tooth. Food labels must list the amount of added sugars. Recommendations for added sugar intake vary. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day, and women no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams).
- Focus on eating whole foods so you can reduce your intake of processed food — a prime place for added sugar to hide.
- Make smart swaps. Switch out soda for flavored seltzer or infused water. If you’re hankering for something sweet after a meal, try something like plain yogurt with fruit or frozen banana slices.
3. Rethink snacks
“Snacking can add a lot of extra calories to your diet,” Hatley says. “To combat this, I tell people to get good at having a filling breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Additional snacking strategies include:
- If you’re famished before dinner, consider having a healthy snack such as an apple with peanut butter in the late afternoon.
- Have go-to healthy snack items at the ready. These could include air-popped popcorn, small portions of unsalted nuts, hard-boiled eggs, or veggies and hummus.
- If you give into a snacking temptation, do so in moderation. For example, portion out the recommended serving size of chips and put them in a bowl versus eating directly from the bag.
4. Up your fiber intake
“Fiber is often overlooked when it comes to weight loss, but it’s so important,” Hatley says. “It helps us control our appetite and feel fuller longer.”
Whole grains and fiber also help with digestion, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and keeping blood sugar in check. Recommendations call for getting between 25 and 38 grams of fiber per day, depending on age and gender. If you’re upping your fiber intake, experts recommend doing so gradually to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort.
Consider adding more fiber into your diet through:
- Opting for whole grain over white breads.
- Selecting whole grain pastas and brown rice. If the texture bothers you, you could start with a 50-50 mix of whole grain and traditional pasta or brown and white rice. You can also explore alternatives to rice such as riced cauliflower, quinoa, barley, or farro.
- Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal. Add some fruit and a small serving of nuts for an extra fiber boost.
5. Prioritize protein
Like fiber, protein can help you manage your appetite and feel fuller longer.
“If you can, try to get protein from plant sources as much as possible,” Hatley says. “If you’re going to get protein from animal sources, choose leaner options such as chicken, turkey, or low-fat dairy products.”
Plant-based sources of protein include:
- Nuts and seeds
“As you begin to adopt healthy eating habits, remember it’s about progress, not perfection,” Hatley says. “If you slip up one day, get back on track the next. With intentional, incremental steps, you’ll work toward meeting your goals.”
The ThedaCare Lifestyle Intervention Program offers comprehensive support and resources for those looking to transform their health.
To learn more or register, please call (920) 454-7912 or email LifestyleMedicinePrograms@thedacare.org.