It’s July, and the year 2016 is half over! If in January you promised yourself that you’d eat healthier, it’s not too late! In fact, summer is a great time to fine tune and upgrade your diet. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a good roadmap.
Here’s how you can get started.
Establish a healthy eating pattern
Rather than focus on nutrients, percentages, or grams, let’s eat real, whole food.
- Vegetables are the go-to food. Most are low in calories, high in fiber, and full of nutrients
- Fruit, especially whole fruits, are also key players in eating healthfully. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals and are a great way to feed that sweet urge at the end of a meal
- Go grains, specifically whole grains since they can pack a punch of fiber along with B vitamins and other key nutrients
- Nuts and seeds are a great way to include healthy fats in your plan. Adding these great tasting nuggets to salads, hot cereals, sauces, and yogurt can take them to the next level of inspired.
Plan meals wisely
Consider these simple steps to help you put together healthy and satisfying meals, particularly breakfasts and lunches.
Lean protein. There is plenty to choose from including heart-healthy omega-3 rich seafood, poultry, and eggs! Don’t forget plant-based proteins (legumes, beans, and nuts). This trio is very popular in healthful cuisines around the world along with vegetarian and vegan meal plans.
Low-fat dairy including milk, yogurt, and cheese helps to round out the plate and offer a great source of calcium for all ages
For variety, think color! The more the better. If you typically like buying just a few types of fruits and vegetables, that’s fine. Keep it up! But you can make eating new varieties fun by trying your local farmer’s market, CSA, weekly specials, or buying what’s in season. This provides a variety of healthful nutrients and also helps you keep within your budget. If you can’t go fresh, frozen and canned (without added sodium) are fine too.
Have fun in the kitchen
Eating away from home can be a source of extra calories (due to large portions) as well as added sugar and sodium. Start small by setting a goal of cooking once or twice a week. Be adventuresome. Try a new vegetable or a different type of fish. Get your family and friends involved. Make extra so you have some for the next day’s meal.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Stock your pantry with the basics. Here are a few starters: healthy oils (olive, canola, peanut), seasonings (basil, oregano, ginger, cumin, etc.), grains and legumes (brown rice, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, black-eyed peas, whole grain flour), nuts and seeds, and canned tomatoes and tomato paste
- Equip your kitchen with a few equipment essentials, for example a paring knife, Chef’s knife, grater, cutting board, skillet, pots, measuring spoons and cups, strainer, vegetable peeler, whisk
- Start with a simple recipe that includes ingredients you like!
The scoop on sugar and fat
The two main sources of added sugar in the U.S. diet are sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks and sweets. Eating natural sugars, such as those found in fruit, starchy vegetables and milk, are part of a healthy plate. The added sugars are the ones to watch. These have many names such as cane sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, glucose, fructose, honey, molasses, raw sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and malt syrup – to name a few.
Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, flavored coffee drinks, sweetened teas, and sport and energy drinks are usually loaded with added sugar. If you drink any of these beverages try to limit to no more than 1 per day. After you meet that goal – aim for reducing further to 3 times a week and then once a week. Eventually indulge only as the occasional treat.
What is your favorite sweet? Cake, pie, cookies, candy?? Try to limit to 1 or 2 servings a few times a week. Buy the best you can and savor the indulgence – make it special. Don’t forget to splurge on fresh fruit in a variety of tastes and colors!
Dietary fat is not the enemy. In fact, some is good for you. Do limit your intake of the unhealthy saturated fats (fatty red meats, cheese, butter, and whole milk dairy products) and avoid trans fats (foods with “partially hydrogenated oils,” found in some margarines and many processed foods). Replace these with healthy fats – oils, nuts, nut butters, avocado, and fatty fish. For example,
- Spread peanut butter on whole grain toast or crackers or with celery or an apple
- Add avocado slices to your sandwich or salad; make fresh guacamole
- Make your own trail mix with your favorite nuts, seeds, and dried fruits
- Choose oil-based dressings for your salad instead of creamy or fat free dressings
- Add canned or foil-packaged salmon or tuna to your salad or crackers. The goal is 2 or more servings of fatty fish per week
- Add ground flaxseed to hot or cold cereal, yogurt, bread, pancakes, or baked goods.