Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family and Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension of Union County
Is losing weight or improving overall health one of your New Year's resolutions? Following a quick weight loss diet or cutting out meals will not help you achieve these goals. Good habits established at the beginning of the New Year will make the difference. Americans are still eating way too much fat, salt, and sugar. So why haven't we changed? One reason is that translating dietary recommendations into everyday meals is difficult with all the conflicting news reports about what we should eat.
Below are ten simple steps to a healthier diet. Each step is grounded in survey results about what Americans eat, research on what they should be eating, and recommendations from nutrition experts. Try these suggestions, one small step at a time, to improve your health in 2007.
1. Fill your plate with Vegetables
Vegetables, especially the bright colored and dark green leafy ones, are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. They are also high in fiber and very filling. In addition, they are low in calories and the best foods to eat to maintain your waistline. When you fill up with veggies, you increase your fiber intake and will less likely feel the urge to binge on meats and other desserts later on.
2. Consume Adequate Fiber Daily
Fiber, not only promotes good health, but helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticulosis. The average American consumes 12 grams of fiber a day which is much less than the 20 to 30 grams recommended by the National Cancer Institute. What to do? If you eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, along with at least 6 servings of grain products (at least 3 of which are whole grains), you are very likely to meet the fiber requirements.
3. Snack on Fruits
An example of a healthy snack would be a piece of fruit instead of chips or cookies. Fruits are high in antioxidants and fiber and low in calories. To make the snack more nutritionally balanced, add a low-fat yogurt dip with apple slices, berries or grapes. This adds calcium, protein and fiber.
4. Drink Water instead of Sweet Beverages
Drinking water instead of carbonated pop, juice, coffee or other drinks saves calories. Even the zero-calorie diet soft drinks offer no nutritional benefit, only reduced calories. Carrying a bottle of water with you will encourage you to sip it instead of reaching for sweetened beverages. Unfortunately, Americans drink 50 gallons of soft drinks per person each year. Every 12 ounce can of regular soft drink contains 10 or more teaspoons of sugar. Americans waste 160 calories per day on soft drinks instead of drinking low-fat milk that can help to prevent osteoporosis or juices.
5. Consume Soy Products for Their Health Benefits
Soy products contain phytochemicals and have been shown to promote heart health and healthy bones, along with preventing cancer and alleviating menopausal symptoms. Try soy-based veggie burgers, breads, or cereals. Use tofu based salad dressings and entrees or drink soy milk as a substitute for low-fat milk. Soy is a versatile and healthy addition to your diet.
6. Eat Breakfast to “Break the Fast” from the Night Before
Many people mistakenly skip breakfast to control their weight. Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast regularly are better able to control their weight than those who skip breakfast. Skipping a meal may result in an increase in total caloric intake. Eating smaller, more frequent, meals and snacks will keep hunger and calories to a minimum.
7. Consume Less Cheese
Cheese is one of the top three sources of saturated fat in the average American's diet. The other two sources are beef and milk. Americans have doubled their cheese intake, from 11 to 27 pounds per person per since the mid 1990s. That's a consumption of over 8 ounces per week. Cutting back to two ounces of cheese per week is a smart thing to do. Some suggestions to limit cheese are ordering sandwiches, burgers, and salads without cheese and ordering pizza with half the cheese and adding mushrooms and other veggies instead. Try cheeses that are reduced in fat. For example, buy “light” mozzarella which has half the fat of regular.
8. Choose a Low Fat Margarine to Replace Butter or Stick Margarine
Avoid saturated fat and trans fat by choosing a tub margarine made from unsaturated “good” oil. About 65 percent of the margarine and butter used at home ends up on bread. What could be simpler than dipping your knife into a soft tub of margarine? Four grams of saturated fat per tablespoon will be saved using tub margarine instead of stick margarine.
9. Choose Lean Protein rather than Hot Dogs, Sausages, Deli Meats
Americans eat lots of processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, ham, and bacon. These food items are the second leading source of fats in the average American's diet along with being rich sources of sodium and saturated fat. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a ham sandwich (with mayo) from a typical deli has 670 calories, more than half a day's fat (40 grams) and saturated fat (12 grams), and nearly a whole day's sodium (2,200 mg) intake. When you go food shopping in your local supermarket, look for lower fat processed meats. Check the product nutrition labels for fat content before purchasing. Saving fat means saving calories and improving your heart health.
10. Limit Foods High in Sodium
Cutting sodium from 5,000 mg to 2,000 mg a day would lower the average American’s blood pressure enough to save more than 10,000 lives a year from heart attacks and strokes. About seventy-five percent of sodium is consumed from restaurant foods and processed foods like soups, frozen dinners, lunch meats, hot dogs, and ham. The "Nutrition Facts" food label tells you how much of a day's sodium intake a serving contains. Limit foods with more than 480 mg sodium (20 percent of the Daily Value) per serving to just once a day to keep sodium levels in a heart-healthy range and buy "healthy" versions of salt-laden foods like soups, pasta sauces, and lunch meats. The word "healthy' can't appear on the label if a food contains more than 480 mg of sodium per serving.
Follow these ten tips for a healthier 2007. Remember, small steps each day will improve your health over time. For more information, see http://www.cspinet.org/nah/janfeb98.htm. Best wishes for a happy, healthy New Year!