Eat more fruits and vegetables. Cut back on salt, saturated fat, and sugar. Switch to whole grains.
Many people know all that and more. But how do you translate those broad strokes into the dozens of diet decisions you make every day? Here are 10 of our favorite tips to get 2018 started.
What to do in your kitchen
1. Cover half your plate with vegetables or fruit. Forget the “side” of veggies. They should occupy more plate real estate than your protein or pasta, rice, or potatoes. The OmniHeart diets—one of the healthiest diets you can eat—have 11 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. A serving is one piece of fruit, a half cup of cooked vegetables, or one cup of raw vegetable (like lettuce), so it’s not that much. Your main-dish salad could easily be four servings.
2. Add veggies to boost potassium and lower salt. Mix a bagged salad kit with a bag of undressed lettuce. Add a pound of steamed broccoli or other veggie to your favorite Chinese or Thai take-out. Add a bed of baby spinach or kale to frozen meals. That way, each mouthful ends up with more potassium and less salt. Or cut sodium in a prepared seasoned grain by mixing it with unseasoned bulgur, quick-cooking brown rice, or farro.
3. Replace your meat (or starchy side dish) with beans. They’re packed with fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium, folate, and iron. That helps explain why beans (and lentils) are so good for you. Beans lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, probably because they’re rich in the gummy, soluble type of fiber. Eating beans regularly also helps lower blood pressure, possibly because they’re a decent source of potassium. Bonus: they’re delicious. Start with one of these recipes from Kate Sherwood, The Healthy Cook.
4. Use nuts instead of croutons. Nuts and seeds offer a little plant protein and plenty of heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat. So sprinkle them on salads instead of croutons (which are typically salty white-flour bread). Or add them to yogurt, cereal, fruit, and vegetable dishes.
5. Eat plain yogurt or mix plain with sweetened yogurt. Unsweetened yogurt provides the most nutrient bang for your calorie buck. For extra protein, try creamy low-fat plain greek yogurt. If plain is too tart for you, mix plain and sweetened. Or add peaches, bananas, berries, or other fruit.
6. Cook with canola or olive oil. Replacing saturated fats (in meat and dairy) with unsaturated fats lowers LDL. Most people get plenty of polyunsaturated-rich soybean oil in restaurants and prepared foods, including mayonnaise and salad dressing. So you’ll probably end up with a good mix of unsaturated fats if you use canola oil or olive oil (when you want its flavor) for cooking.
7. Snack on fruits or vegetables. What better way to tide you over to your next meal than a low-calorie, light-yet-filling orange, half cantaloupe, peach, plum, banana, or bowl of cherries, berries, or grapes? Try baby carrots, grape tomatoes, or slices of bell pepper, cucumber, or jicama with a few tablespoons of hummus or yogurt tzatziki. Yum.
Healthier restaurant resolutions
8. Start with a side salad for your appetizer…or just wait for your entrée. At many restaurants, appetizers mean cheese plus white flour or other fried fare. Quesadillas, spinach and cheese dip, nachos, Buffalo wings, and most other apps hover around 1,000 calories. Who needs ‘em?
9. Order smart. Check out our tips for what to put on your bagel or smoothie or pizza, what to stuff in your sub or burrito or bowl of Chinese food, what to order for breakfast or lunch, and how to eat well almost anywhere. You won’t just cut calories. You’ll also boost the nutrients in your meal.
10. Take home half your meal. When researchers analyzed main dishes at independent and small-chain restaurants in Boston, the average entrée (with sides) had roughly 1,300 calories. That’s with no drink, appetizer, or dessert. And they looked at more than half a dozen cuisines, including Greek, Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, and Italian.
How do you plan to stay healthy in the New Year? Let us know in the comments.
Photos: Jennifer Urban/CSPI (plate), © FomaA/fotolia.com (beans), © manaemedia/fotolia.com (yogurt), © baibaz/fotolia.com (fruit).