We’re a few days into 2012. How’re those resolutions going? If you’re among the many who resolved to eat a healthier diet, you may already feel discouraged. A complete diet overhaul can be overwhelming, especially because the average American has so much room for dietary improvement. It’s hard to know where to begin.
The trick is to make small changes first and build upon them over time. “It’s not realistic to try to take it all on in one day,” says SLUCare dietitian Camille Jones. “You’re going to just set yourself up for failure. So choose one or two things that you can start now, get good at and turn into a habit.”
Jones says one easy diet change you can make today involves eating just one extra serving of fruit and vegetables. Few people eat the recommended amount of produce. By intentionally adding one serving per day, you’ll be consuming more nutrients and fiber. To aid in this process, Jones recommends that people put a bit of advance thought into their meal planning. Consider what to include in the next day’s meals and snacks, looking for opportunities to increase healthful produce options and decrease empty calories, such as those found in soda or junk foods.
Dr. Kate Lichtenberg of Mercy Clinic Family Medicine agrees that nixing soda is one of the most straightforward improvements one can make toward a better diet, although she notes that for some people, this simple change may be difficult at first. A fan of food labels as a key information source, Lichtenberg steers clear of foods with trans-fat or saturated fats, which are a known contributor to cardiovascular and other health problems.
While on the topic of what to avoid, Jeff Brockes of Brockes BodyWorks, a certified fitness trainer and holistic lifestyle coach, counsels clients to beware the “four white devils: flour, sugar, table salt and dairy. On top of that, I’m not a big proponent of grain,” he says. “Grains have a lot of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and a lot of people don’t know that they oxidize in the body and can actually increase the aging process.” Instead, Brockes recommends organic produce and grass-fed, pasture-raised meats.
“You want to make sure the food you’re eating is actually giving you life as opposed to taking life away from you,” he says. “When you eat cookies and things like that, you don’t typically feel great for very long afterward. But if you eat a good, hearty salad or some good vegetables, you typically feel good for a long while.”
Lichtenberg adds that everyone can benefit from a substantial breakfast containing some type of healthy protein, such as eggs, cheese, low-fat yogurt or skim milk. Fast-food breakfasts are not among her recommendations, however, due to their high fat content.
Pick just one of these recommendations and give it a try. When that first positive change is firmly entrenched into your lifestyle, look for the next opportunity to make a healthy improvement in your diet. Your body will thank you for years to come.