The remedy for eating better isn’t deprivation, blandness, or a rigid diet―it’s incorporating good habits into your life. The key to eating right and maintaining weight is a plan that fits your life. Consider these points…
1. Know Yourself
Some people revel in the art of food preparation. For others, the microwave is a lifesaver. What matters is that you find a healthy way to cook and eat that works for you. If you love a large, sit-down dinner, for example, ignore conventional wisdom that says it's best to eat lots of small meals (just be sure not to snack all day if you plan to feast at night).
2. Mix It Up
It's easy to say "Eat more vegetables," but what about people who don't like spinach and broccoli? With a little attention to food prep, even vegephobes should be able to find greens (and oranges and reds) that are appealing.
"People, when they cook, focus on the recipe for meat," says Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Then they serve plain steamed broccoli on the side. And that's boring. You need to put the same care into vegetables." Wootan suggests dipping Brussels sprouts in Dijon mustard or sautéing spinach, collards, or Swiss chard with garlic―or bacon.
Think about using leftover or fresh vegetables in risottos, soups, casseroles, and stews and putting leftovers in breakfast frittatas or pureeing them with olive oil to make a spread or a dip for a sandwich or an appetizer, suggests Laura Pensiero, who co-wrote The Strang Cancer Prevention Cookbook.
3. Eat Less Meat
The mainstays of a healthy diet should be grains, nuts, and seeds, as well as non-starchy vegetables and fruits, rather than meat. Whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat bread) provide fiber, which aids the digestive system and makes you feel fuller, and B vitamins, which can boost energy and aid metabolism. Nuts and seeds contain nutrients, such as vitamin E in almonds and sunflower seeds, that are otherwise hard to come by. Legumes―including beans, soybeans, peanuts, and lentils―provide fiber, too, along with protein, iron, folate, and other nutrients. Replacing meat with legumes as a protein source is a good strategy for reducing saturated-fat intake.
4. Eat Less Meat
When it comes to fats, there's perhaps no other area of nutrition in which researchers have learned so much and confused so many consumers in the process. What you need to know is this: Fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein, so if you're trying to maintain or lose weight, limit the amount of fat you eat.
That said, not all fats affect the body equally. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the "good" fats; they're found in nut and vegetable oils and oily fish, such as salmon, trout, and herring. They don't raise blood cholesterol levels and may even reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems. According to the American Heart Association, eating seafood with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines, twice a week may reduce the risk of certain forms of heart disease.
Saturated and trans fats, also known as the "bad" fats, are found in dairy and beef products and palm and coconut oils. The more of them you eat, the higher your risk of cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are also found in French fries and many commercially baked products, such as cookies and crackers, but are becoming less common.
5. Watch Those Portions...
Even as you try to eat foods that are loaded with nutrients, pay attention to the overall amount you consume. Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University, explains that people have three measures of satiety: starving, could eat more, and full.
"Most of the time, we're in the middle," he says. "We're neither hungry nor full, but if something is put in front of us, we'll eat it." He suggests announcing out loud, "I'm not really hungry, but I'm going to eat this anyway." This could be enough to deter you, or to inspire you to eat less.
6. Eat, Don't Drink, Your Calories
Beverages don't fill you up in the same way that foods do: Studies have shown that people eat the same amount whether or not they wash down their food with a 150-calorie drink. And most beverages don't contribute many nutrients.
In fact, all you really need is water, says Barry Popkin, head of the division of nutrition epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. "In a historical context," says Popkin, aside from breast milk, "we drank only water in the first 190,000 years of our existence.
7. Cut-Out Packaged Foods and Read Labels
Be aware that three-quarters of the sodium and most of the trans fats and added sugar Americans ingest come from packaged foods.
The trick is to turn a blind eye to all the enticing claims on the fronts of packages―low-fat, low-net-carbs, zero trans fats!―as some are empty, some are unregulated, and some are misleading. Instead, cast a critical eye over the nutrition-facts box. Look first at calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.