Each year in March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics helps to sponsor a national nutrition education campaign. This year’s theme for National Nutrition Month is “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle.” To help promote better nutrition and greater awareness about how diet can affect your overall health, Meritage Medical Network has put together a list of simple ways to improve your diet and nutrition. Read on!
Most people know that improving your diet can drastically improve your overall health. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet can reduce your risk for heart disease, reduce your risk for many types of cancer, and can help you experience a better quality of life and even live a longer life. Unfortunately, when many people think of improving their diet, they think of “going on a diet.” They imagine something similar to a New Year’s resolution where they cut back on everything and make sweeping changes to their lifestyle. And while it is definitely a good idea to want to change your lifestyle and eating habits, most of us realize that “going on a diet,” as we tend to think about it, is really difficult and can even make us feel worse about ourselves if we fail.
Instead, those drastic, sweeping changes should be thought of as an end-goal of a healthy nutrition plan, and instead of changing everything about your diet all at once, it’s much more manageable to make small improvements along the way to help reach that end goal of a healthier diet.
Tip #1 – Start phasing out unhealthy snacks
If you look in your cupboard and your fridge – what do you see? For many of us, there might be potato chips, soda, and maybe even some sugary treats like cookies. And while all of these things are okay to eat once in a while, the simple fact is that we tend to eat what’s convenient, and if the most convenient snacks in our home are not healthy options, it’s going to be hard to make the right nutritional choices on a day-to-day basis.
So, start taking some of those high-calorie, high-fat snack options off your grocery list and start replacing them with healthier alternatives. If it’s a crunch you crave, add some dehydrated apple crisps or your favorite veggie to your shopping list instead of chips or try making your own air-popped popcorn so you can control – and see – how much butter and salt you’re adding. If it’s a sugary drink you need, try shopping for low-calorie 100% juice drinks for a more nutritious option – you can even get some unsweetened carbonated water to add to your juice if it’s the bubbles you love. If you really need that sweet snack to satisfy a craving, try eating (and savoring) a mini candy bar or a piece of dark chocolate – remember that it’s okay to eat a little; just don’t let your afternoon chocolate nibble turn into a full-blown chocolate meal.
Tip #2 – Cook more meals at home (and with healthier ingredients).
We’ve all been there: you’ve had a long day (or week!) and the last thing you want to do is cook a meal, so you swing through the drive-through, call in a pizza for delivery, or nosh on the first food you see in your kitchen (remember tip #1?). There’s no doubt that going out to eat or getting “fast” food of any kind seems easier than cooking for yourself. But when you get convenient food, you’re almost always sacrificing good nutrition for saving time.
But how much time are you really saving? On average, one study found that a home cooked meal prepared entirely from raw ingredients takes 34 minutes of hands-on time and a total of approximately 52 minutes to make ready for the table. Of course, that average time can be reduced by getting things like ingredients and utensils ready ahead of time. By the time you drive to a fast food joint during rush hour, wait in line, order your food, and then drive home – did it take less than 34 minutes of your time to get your food? From the moment you call in that pizza and wait for it to get delivered, did it take less than 52 minutes of waiting around? Even if fast food may seem faster, it’s almost never substantially faster than making your own meals.
Plus, the great thing about making your own meals is that you know what’s going into them. And for every recipe you find, there are almost certainly ways to make it healthier. Use less salt or look for low-sodium ingredients. Substitute the ground beef in a dish with ground turkey. Use whole wheat flour instead of white flour. Cook up some whole grain pasta instead of regular. You could be more adventurous and substitute in unsweetened applesauce for sugar; you can even use fruit puree – like applesauce or mashed bananas – in place of oil or butter in most recipes. There are loads of more nutritious (and more cost-effective) ways to make your own meals healthier and more nutritious; plus, you might even find out that you enjoy cooking.
Tip #3 – Stay curious
Ultimately, no magical number of tips we provide can make you stay healthy and make you reach your goal of improving your diet and nutrition. It’s your health, and you’ll be making your own choices and decisions after you’re done reading this. That’s why it’s so important to stay curious – try new things, look up new recipes, read the labels on the food you eat, ask about healthier options when you do go out, and find out more things you can do to improve your nutrition and wellness. Each small change and each positive decision you make as you continue to think about diet and nutrition helps build a healthier you, so start improving your diet today!