10 Small Changes to Eat Healthier Forever
These easy tips can set you up for long-term success.
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Yes, You Can Eat Healthier Forever
Nobody has the perfect diet — and making dramatic eating habits to your diet in order to eat healthier won't work. Big changes don't stick. Research shows that making small changes to your current eating plan tends to work much better in the long run. We asked registered dietitians from around the country weigh in on small changes you make now to eat healthier long-term.
Focus on Fiber
Julie Lee, MS, RD, CDN, campus dietitian at Binghamton University recommends having at least two servings of fiber-rich foods at each meal and one for a snack each day. By focusing on how much fiber you eat, Lee says you’ll naturally increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods and likely hit several other nutrition goals (like eating less sodium and less sugar). "Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, and whole grains, like oatmeal and brown rice," says Lee. "Not only does fiber help with bowel regularity, it keeps us full between meals and stabilizes blood sugars to provide a steady stream of energy throughout the day."
Start Your Day With a Glass of Water
"Start your day with at least one cup of water and continue to aim for at least half your weight in ounces of water throughout the day," says Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND author of My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes. Sheth explains that most folks wake up slightly dehydrated and having a cup of water first thing in the morning can give you a jump start. Even minor dehydration can affect your energy levels and mood. It is a goal that Sheth works on with most of her clients.
Start Thinking About Food As Your Friend, Not Foe
"Diet culture has wired our brains to think about singular foods as good or bad, carb or protein, clean or dirty. When you stop thinking this way and you realize that food is meant to nourish your body, you start thinking about how nutritious food is working to keep your skin healthy, your bones strong, and to give you energy," explains Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, owner of Sarah Pflugradt Nutrition. "Food can also make you feel good, and that's okay — I mean, who doesn't love sprinkles? Quality of diet is always important, but food is not your enemy."
Eat One Vegetable At Every Meal
When her clients want to eat healthier, Brynn McDowell, RDN at The Domestic Dietitian, recommends they eat one vegetable at every meal. Vegetables many health benefits including antioxidants and fiber that can lead to better blood pressure, blood sugar management and improved cholesterol levels. "Being focused on trying to add them to every meal really helps you realize how little vegetables we often eat daily," she says.
Don't Forget Snacks
Snacks are mini-meals that can help bridge the gap between meals. If you find yourself going more than five hours without food it's a good time to insert a snack. "Snacks help us meet our nutritional needs, keep us satisfied between meals, and provide fuel for sustained energy," explains Alexa Schmidt, RD at Binghamton University Dining Services. For the most filling combination, Schmidt recommends choosing a fiber-filled food like fruit, veggies, or whole grains and combining it with a protein and/or healthy fats like hard-boiled egg, Greek yogurt, string cheese, avocado, nuts, or nut butter.
Include a Protein With All Meals
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD owner, Sound Bites Nutrition suggests making your goal to include some form of protein with all meals such as eggs, Greek yogurt, lean meat, fish, beans, or nuts. "Protein foods provide better satiety (feeling of fullness) between meals than carbohydrates," she says. Plus, they "use more calories to metabolize and digest than carbs or fat." Most of Andrew’s clients want to lose weight or improve their energy, and they find adding protein at every meal a simple goal to meet.
Replace Soda With More Healthful Beverages
"One of the best things you can do for your health is to either eliminate or seriously cut back on your soda intake," Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert based in New York City and Florida Orange Juice Partner. Cassetty explains that soda and other sweetened drinks are the leading sources of added sugar in our diets, and added sugar is a factor in so many different health problems from type two diabetes to mood disorders. Instead of soda, Cassetty recommends reaching for an 100% fruit juice with no added sugars.
Check In With Your Hunger Cues
"One recommendation I often suggest to my clients is: Ask yourself, are you hungry or is this a habit?" says Elizabeth Beil RD, LD. Beil explains that especially when it comes to snacking, many times you may fall into the trap of eating a snack at 3:00 pm because it is 3:00 pm and consistency is good, but what if you are not hungry? "Listening to your hunger cues are important to have the best relationship you can with food."
Display Your Colorful Produce in a Visible Location
A favorite tip from many dietitians, including Emily Rubin RD, LDN Director of Clinical Dietetics in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital is to always keep colorful fresh fruit or veggies in a glass bowl out on the kitchen table as a centerpiece or in the refrigerator to tempt cravings of sweet and salty snacks. "Placing this bowl in a visible, easy-to-reach location will entice your family to make healthier choices throughout the day," explains Rubin. The long-term benefit of consuming these vegetables and fruits may includes lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, preventing some types of cancer, preventing constipation and digestive problems, and weight control.
Get Enough Sleep
Although it’s not a direct goal that deals with food, getting enough sleep can influence eating habits. Jonathan Valdez, MBA, RDN, CSG, CDN, CCM, CDCES, ACE-CPT owner and founder of Genki Nutrition recommends getting at least 8 to 9 hours of sleep every night. "Getting good quality sleep each night not only makes you feel rested and more energizing but can also bring many health benefits," explains Valdez. "Studies show that poor sleep affects the appetite hormone and people who get enough sleep tend to eat fewer calories and have a lower risk for weight gain. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep also improves the immune system and help against the common cold and inflammation."