With the holidays approaching, many of us will be tempted by an increase in the number of sweets, snacks and goodies all around us. And while it’s fine to indulge in some turkey and mashed potatoes once a year, if we keep eating like it’s the holidays all year long we may end up looking more like a turkey than we would like.
That’s why now is a good time to take stock of your eating habits and start making some healthy changes that can help you achieve optimal health throughout the year.
Tanya Tanzillo, DNP, a nurse practitioner and a functional medicine practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says when it comes to changing your diet, you should first evaluate what you’re currently eating and then modify your meals in a way that is manageable for a long period of time. “I generally hate the word diet because it means changing eating for a period of time to achieve a goal,” Tanzillo says. “For example, if your goal is weight loss, if the loss is slow and steady and with moderate modification to your diet, then it is likely it will be maintained.”
Eating more healthy sounds easy, but with so many fad diets and different theories out there, it can be confusing to know where to begin. Here are the nine easiest changes you can make to start having a healthier diet.
- Keep a Food Journal
Before you even change anything, one of the first steps to eating more healthy is to take a look at what you’re currently eating. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of how much we’re snacking or eating until we start taking the time to write it down each day. Plus, Dr. Kelsie Lazzell, DC, a licensed chiropractor and naturopathic practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says keeping a food journal can also help identify which foods you may have intollerances or sensitivities to that may be causing issues such as digestive problems, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety and more.
- Drink More Water
“Drinking water is essential,” says Tanzillo, who recommends that you drink about 8 cups of water a day. Our body is made up of 60% water, and when we don’t get enough of it, it can affect your digestion, absorption and transportation of nutrients, muscle fatigue and more. Not to mention the fact that replacing juices or sugary drinks with water can help you cut down on calories, too.
- Chew Your Food
Another super simple change you make to help you have a healthier diet? Chew your food. “If you actually chew your food to liquid before you swallow it, it will end up tasting better and your digestion will be better. Plus, by slowing down, you’ll feel fuller so you will eat less,” explains Dr. Jerry Gore, MD, clinical director of the Center for Holistic Medicine. He recommends that you avoid eating on the go or eating standing up, but instead sit down and create a nice atmosphere for your meal so that you can slow down and be more mindful of what you’re eating. “If you bring consciousness to the situation, it changes everything,” he says.
- Cook At Least One Meal a Day
Did you know that, according to a recent survey, only a third of Americans cook something at home every day? That means a lot of people are doing things like grabbing a protein bar on their way out the door or stopping by the Starbuck’s drive-thru for breakfast, eating fast food, ordering take-out or eating at a restaurant the rest of the time. Not only are all of these habits expensive, but they also can add up to lots of extra, unhealthy calories as well.
In order to eat a healthier diet, it’s important that you know exactly what you’re putting into your body, and the best way to do that is by cooking it yourself.
If you don’t cook at all now, you can start by making just one homemade meal a day. You can try to save time by making a big batch of oatmeal for the week and reheating it each morning, or making your breakfast the night before. And you can try preparing food on the weekends, putting it in the freezer and heating it up again during the week. The little bit of extra effort will be worth it!
- Avoid Refined Sugar
Sugar is one of the worst parts of the modern American diet. Not only does sugar pack on the pounds, but it can also cause inflammation, which can lead to everything from heart disease to diabetes and more. Unfortunately, sugar is added to almost all types of processed foods from canned soup to salad dressing to pasta sauce. That’s why Dr. Lazzell says you should start by reading food labels and limiting added sugars to no more than 5 grams per serving. She also recommends switching from refined sugar to natural sweeteners such as honey or molasses whenever possible and trying to limit your sweet treats to one or fewer a day. “Save it for the weekends if you can,” she says.
- Eat Good Fats, Not Bad Fats
Another key component of a healthy diet is knowing which types of fats to eat and which to avoid. As a rule, polyunsaturated fats and trans fats are bad, while saturated fats and monounsaturated fats are good.
Polyunsaturated fats – such as vegetable oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, and soy oil — are often used to make fried foods such as French fries, potato chips, crackers and more. Trans fats — such as hydrogenated palm, soybean and cottonseed oil – are often found in chips, cakes, frostings, cookies, desserts, artificial cheeses, margarine and shortening. Both can cause heart disease and cancer.
Instead, opt for the good fats that come from olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Make sure to read food labels, and if possible, eat whole foods that aren’t processed.
- Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
We all know that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is an important part of a healthy diet. But exactly how many vegetables do you need to eat a day? Dr. Lazzell says you should have at least one to two fistfuls of fruits or vegetables at every meal. And when you look down at your plate, your vegetables should take up about half of the portion (with your protein taking up about one quarter and carbs taking up another quarter). “Focus on your vegetables first, then your protein and carbs,” Dr. Lazzell says.
- Eat More Fish
Both Dr. Gore and Dr. Lazzell say eating more fish is another healthy change you can make in your diet, especially cold water, oily fish such as North Atlantic wild-caught salmon, sardines and mackerel. “These types of fish support a healthy inflammatory response, a healthy immune response and improve cardiovascular health and liver health,” Dr. Lazzell says. Plus, fish are a good source of vitamin D, which can support your immune system, especially during the winter months when we get less sunlight.
- Eat Whole Grains
Although some fad diets call for cutting out carbs, Tanzillo and Dr. Lazzell agree that keeping carbs in your diet is important, as long as they are whole grains. To know whether something is whole grain or not, look for the whole grains stamp on the packaging (it looks like a bushel of wheat), or words such as whole grain, whole wheat, oats, or brown rice on the label. If it says enriched flour or wheat flour on the label, that means that the grains have been refined, which takes away its nutrients.