You don't have to overhaul your entire diet to get a big health boost. Here are five simple changes you can put into action today for high-impact results.
1. Load Up on Fruits and Veggies
You know fruits and vegetables are good for you, but did you know they should fill half your plate at every meal? That's what the the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends, and for good reason: Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, fruits and vegetables make you less likely to get heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers.
Your daily goal: 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of veggies.
Sound like a lot? "Think about eating them all day," says Cheryl Forberg, RD, author of Flavor First: Cut Calories and Boost Flavor.
Top your morning eggs with salsa (yes, it counts!), lunch on vegetable soup or a sandwich topped with sprouts, snack on a strawberry-banana smoothie, and for dinner add chopped-up veggies to your meat loaf or pasta sauce.
2. Choose Better Fats
Saturated and trans fats can raise your bad cholesterol level and your risk of heart disease. By cutting back on animal-based foods like butter, bacon, and untrimmed meats, as well as pantry staples like cookies and crackers, you can keep these at bay.
Eating less bad fats can be as easy as switching from whole milk to fat-free milk, eating a turkey burger instead of a beef burger, and switching from peanut butter to a lower-fat nut butter, Forberg says.
You do need some fat, of course. Plant-based foods like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados contain healthy fats that are essential for energy and cell growth. To add more good fats to your diet, snack on almonds instead of chips, cook with olive oil instead of butter, and top your sandwich with a slice of avocado instead of cheese.
Also, some fish (such as salmon) is high in good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week.
3. Drink Water, Not Lattes
If most of what you're drinking every day isn't plain water (think soda, coffee drinks, sports drinks, and juices), you're probably overloading on added calories and sugar. "People think juice bars are great, but if you're having a jumbo you're not doing yourself a favor," Forberg says.
Water, on the other hand, goes a long way in boosting health. Every cell in your body needs it to work properly. Water also helps your digestion.
Trade sugary drinks for water. Aim for about six to eight glasses a day. To help reach that goal, start and end your day with a tall glass of water and keep a water bottle with you during the day.
Need more flavor? Drop a slice of lemon or lime into your glass.
4. Eat More Fiber
Fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans can also lower your cholesterol and boost digestion. Plus fiber makes you feel fuller longer, which is great for keeping off extra pounds, says Jessica Crandall, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
To get more fiber, replace refined breads with whole-grain breads, choose brown rice instead of white rice, and switch to whole-wheat pasta.
Start your day with a bran muffin or oatmeal. Snack on an apple, a cup of berries, or popcorn.
You can also add fiber to your usual foods. "Sprinkle high-fiber cereal on top of your yogurt or add flaxseeds to your salad to give it a flavor pop as well as a high-fiber benefit," Crandall says.
5. Keep Portions in Check
Reaching for a smaller plate may be the easiest thing you can do for a healthier diet. A study by Cornell University found that people eat less that way.
Why? It's an optical illusion. "Your mind is tricked into eating less by being visually satisfied," Crandall says.
More strategies for keeping your portions in check:
- Eat from a plate (not out of a bag).
- Avoid nibbling in front of the TV.
- Buy single-serve portions.
- Eat slowly, enjoying the flavors and aromas of every bite.