With so much conflicting advice, healthy eating can feel overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You don’t have to cut all of a certain food out of your diet, or drink nothing but protein shakes, or any of the other fad diets that friends and family try to convince you are the key to weight loss.
In fact, you shouldn’t diet at all. Dieting, if it isn’t accompanied by lifestyle changes, nearly always results in the dieter returning to his or her previous eating habits and gaining back any weight lost.
Instead, you want to make small changes to your daily diet (in this instance, “diet” means your regular eating habits). These lifestyle changes accumulate over time, helping you build a strong, healthy body.
Cut Processed Foods from Your Diet
The most detrimental thing most Americans eat is processed foods. This includes most prepackaged foods, such as cookies and chips, but also boxed meals like macaroni and cheese.
Processed foods are fast and convenient. However, they’re also loaded with added sugar and preservatives, making them not only unhealthy but also highly addictive. Studies show that sugar is as addictive as heroin! Food manufacturers know this; that’s why they add it to nearly everything.
Of course, it may not look like sugar on the packaging. Look for words like “sucrose” and “glucose” to determine whether the manufacturer added sugar to your favorite processed foods.
Now, we know that cutting processed foods from your diet entirely goes against our advice of making small changes. Instead, we recommend replacing processed food choices with whole choices a little bit at a time. What does this look like? It may be a dish of fruit and berries instead of a piece of pie, or some homemade mac and cheese instead of the stuff out of the box.
Filling Your Plate the Healthy Eating Way
This tip is probably the easiest small change you can make to achieve the greatest result: Change the order in which you add food to your plate.
The average person adds food to his or her plate in this order:
- Protein/main dish
- Vegetable dish
Don’t believe us? Spend a few minutes watching diners in a buffet. Nearly all of them head first to the protein choices. It’s so common that many buffets are arranged that way.
Mixing up this order forces you to change the focus of your meals from protein and starches to fruits and vegetables. The new order is this:
- Fill half of your plate with vegetables and/or fruits.
- Add a serving of lean protein.
- Add a serving of whole grains.
It is also important to understand what constitutes a serving size. The links above take you to Choose My Plate, the USDA guidelines on serving sizes, nutrition, and so much more. For most Americans, the information on serving sizes is an eye-opener.
For example, we can almost guarantee that what you think is a serving size is significantly larger than the recommended serving size. A serving of protein is 4 to 6 ounces, smaller than a deck of playing cards. A serving of whole grains is a single slice of bread, not the two slices commonly used to make a sandwich.
By filling half of your plate with vegetables and fruits before adding protein and starches, eating the proper serving size is much easier. You’ll be eating more healthily without putting forth much effort by taking this single step.
Add a Fruit or Veg to Every Meal and Snack
The goal is increased fruit and vegetable consumption, working toward five to seven servings each day. Achieving this is easier if you simply make sure to eat at least one serving every time you eat a meal or a snack.
This doesn’t require eating nothing but fresh fruits and vegetables. Frozen varieties are a fabulous alternative, as they have all of the same nutritional value, and typically cost less. What’s more, you have much less waste, as you simply portion out the amount for your meal and then toss the rest back into the freezer. If you choose canned fruits and vegetables, choose types packed in water instead of oil or sugary syrups.
Overall, frozen varieties are the better choice, because they cut down on waste and have no added preservatives, sodium, or sugar.
That reduced waste benefit is huge. Americans waste approximately 90 BILLION pounds of food each year. Not only does this create overflowing landfills, this waste adds up to millions of dollars. The majority of this waste comes in the form of fresh produce. Cut back your own wasted food by including frozen or canned varieties, and only buy fresh produce when it’s in season, or if you plan to definitely include it in a recipe that week.
Plan Your Menu Ahead of Time
You may be looking at some of this advice and thinking it sounds a lot more expensive than your processed food diet. It is. However…there are factors that lower or mitigate the higher cost of whole foods.
- Takeout, fast food, and eating out are much more expensive than cooking your own meals. The cost of a single fast food value meal is about the same as the cost of cooking dinner for a family of four. Now that you cook more of your meals, you can apply those savings to your groceries.
- The same is true for processed foods; apply the money saved on buying processed foods toward your healthier choices.
- Take advantage of frozen alternatives, which cost much less than fresh produce.
- Plan your menu for the week before going grocery shopping. Fill your shopping list with only those items you need for your menu. This keeps you from wasting money on food that winds up in the garbage because it went bad before you could eat it.
Talk to Your Doctor
If you’re looking at making healthy eating choices but aren’t sure where to begin, make an appointment with your primary physician. He or she should understand any special dietary requirements you have. Your doctor can also offer guidelines on serving sizes and your nutritional needs.