- Dr. Eric Carlsen
Eight Small Changes for Healthier Eating in the New Year
2023 has begun, meaning the challenge of keeping up with those New Year’s resolutions has begun as well. While it may have been difficult for many people to focus on eating well during what was a tumultuous 2022, the start of a new year can be a good time to refocus on health and wellness. One of the most common health-related resolutions is to simply eat better. “Better” can mean different things to different people, but one thing is for certain: it’s not always easy to make changes to what you eat! Too often, people make wholesale changes all at once, whether it’s completely cutting out sugar or giving up all of their favorite treats. While these changes are made with good intentions, making drastic changes so quickly can lead to “diet fatigue” and burnout, which can then lead to a return to prior eating habits. Instead, you should focus on making small changes at first — they’ll make a big difference over time, and gradual change makes it less likely that you’ll get burnt out. If healthier eating is at the top of your list of 2021 resolutions, the tips below will help get you on the right track.
1. Boost your vegetable intake.
Ideally, we should be eating anywhere from 2 to 4 cups of non-starchy vegetables per day. If you’re not there yet, a great place to start your healthier eating habits would be to see where you can boost your veggies.
Things to include: Bulking up the number of vegetables in your sandwich or wrap Swapping out chips for carrot sticks or other cut-up, non-starchy vegetables Having cut-up peppers with hummus as a snack For lunch and dinner, try making half of your plate vegetables. Along with upping your veggie intake, this also helps with portion control because you will be filling up on fewer calories. Also, remember that taste buds change. Vegetables that you may have disliked as a child might taste different now — don’t be afraid to try something new!
To keep things interesting, you should try to get creative with how you cook vegetables! Try roasting vegetables and topping them with a bit of Parmesan cheese, or experiment with different spices.
2. Commit to eating 1-2 fruits daily.
Fruits are loaded with health-boosting phytonutrients. Don’t fear the sugar in fruit — two servings of fruit daily will not give you too much sugar! The sugar found in fruit is naturally occurring, and fruit also offers vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
3. Plan ahead when you go to the grocery store.
Most people are familiar with the rule “don’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry.” After all, those trips always seem to lead to impulse buys! However, it’s also important to be prepared when you head out to do your shopping. Make a list and stick to it! When making that list, think about what meals you will make. While some variety is important, you don’t have to eat a different breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. Relying on leftovers can be really helpful with meal planning. Also, if you aren’t sure about how busy your week will be, skip the fresh vegetables and stick with frozen. Frozen vegetables take less time to prepare and won’t spoil if your weekends up getting a little crazy.
4. When it comes to meal planning, keep it simple!
Meal planning can be a great way to save time during the work week and to avoid splurging on last-minute take-out or fast food on those busy nights. However, you don’t need to go crazy with your meal prep. Instead, focus on keeping things simple. A good rule of thumb is to include a vegetable, a fiber-containing starch, and a lean protein.
There are several easy ways to get those three food types in each of your meals:
Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh, and are easier to prepare.
You can include easy-to-cook lean protein like pre-portioned chicken, cans of tuna, frozen edamame, or cans of black beans (or whichever beans you’d prefer).
Sweet potatoes are fiber-rich starch that can be cooked in the microwave.
You can cook brown rice or quinoa in larger amounts so that you have leftovers.
5. Swap out refined grains for whole grains.
Refined grains like white bread and white pasta are lacking fiber, which helps with digestion but also helps with blood sugar regulation and satiety (the feeling of being full). Instead, choose whole-grain bread, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta. You can also try different whole grains like farro, bulgur, and quinoa (which is technically a seed).
6. Switch up your proteins.
It’s good to include some protein at each meal, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be meat! Beans and soy are excellent plant-based sources of protein.
You should also aim to eat more lean proteins and less high-fat proteins. Chicken, fish, beans, and soy are great lean proteins to include eat less cheese, beef, and fried or processed meats.
7. Stay away from juice cleanses.
Adopting an extremely restrictive diet isn’t a good way to meet your health goals, and juice cleanses definitely fall into that category. While they seem to be all the rage right now, juice cleanses aren’t a good way to jumpstart weight loss and aren’t going to help you adopt healthier eating habits. Juice cleanses lack nutrients and adequate calories, and often the weight lost on these diets is just water weight. Also, restricting caloric intake as low as juice cleanses call for will typically cause people to overeat once they resume eating normally.
8. Start keeping a food log.
A food log can be a great way to start modifying your eating habits. Track everything you eat for 3-4 days and then review by asking yourself these questions:
How often did you eat out of boredom?
How many servings of fruit and vegetables did you include?
How many snacks did you have throughout the day?
This will give you a better idea of what, how, and why you’re eating. Once you have that baseline, you can identify what changes need to be made. While the suggestions above are great places to start, meeting with a registered dietitian can help fine-tune your goals. Healthy eating is not always a one-size-fits-all solution, and a one-on-one meeting with a registered dietitian can help you come up with an individual eating plan that works for you.
Credit: Emily McPhee, RD, LDN