Improving your diet long-term takes commitment and determination. But it doesn’t necessarily take drastic measures. We’ve listed five tips that can help you form healthy eating habits and get you on the right nutritional track without a ton of effort.
1. Make half your grains whole. Thanks to added fiber and nutrients, whole grains have a laundry list of health benefits. They help you feel full, which combats overeating. They break down slowly in your system, which keeps your blood sugar steady and stable. And they may lower your risk factor for heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. Switching just half your grain intake to whole grains boosts your nutrition and gives you options—if you can’t stand brown rice, for example, you can eat regular rice but choose whole grain pasta and bread varieties.
2. Add vegetables and fruits everywhere possible. Skip the meat pizza toppings and load your slice with veggies. Top your cereal or yogurt with fresh or canned fruit, or make yourself a fresh or frozen fruit smoothie each day. Substitute half the pasta in your normal spaghetti recipe with your favorite sautéed or steamed veggie varieties. Start your dinner with a tossed salad (skip the fat-laden dressings!) and end it with sliced fruit. Double up on the beans in your chili. Top your baked potato with a heap of spinach sautéed in fresh garlic. Experiment with vegetable soups. With just a little added effort, you’ll increase your fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, iron, potassium, flavonoid and antioxidant intake with only a bare minimum increase in your calorie intake.
3. Practice moderation. Putting yourself on a stringent diet of foods you don’t particularly enjoy could very well set you up to fail. Opt for moderation and balance instead. If you want to have ice cream after dinner, have it, but skip the huge helping of mashed potatoes and double up on your veggie side portion instead. Have cheese or mayo on your sandwich, but not both. At restaurants, eat just half of your portion and save the rest for the following day. Follow up a heavy pasta lunch with a light dinner of vegetable soup and a salad.
4. Curb mindless eating. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Period. Eating because you’re bored, because you have a craving, or because your hands need something to do while the game is on is a surefire way to add loads of unintended calories to your diet. And let’s face it; when we want to eat something “just because,” it’s not likely we’ll choose a handful of carrots or granola. If you’re feeling restless, stay out of the fridge and take a quick jog around the block instead. If you’re craving something, wait it out. Most cravings pass within half an hour. If your hands need something to do with your hands, take up a hobby. While the game’s on, build a model airplane, put together a 1000-piece puzzle or Google all your work buddies.
5. Limit your alcohol intake. Considering the average beer has about 150 calories, the average vodka martini has about 210, and the average whiskey sour has about 170, a night of drinking with the guys can easily rack up hundreds of unwanted calories. And trust us, those calories are about as nutritionally empty as they come. Plus, alcohol lowers your inhibitions, and you may end up eating more than you intended as well, especially if you’re drinking somewhere where tasty but nutritionally disastrous food is abundant. Stick to wine, which has only about 100 calories a glass, or light beer, and limit yourself to just a couple of drinks.