Now that the thrill of the December holiday season is past, the next item on everyone’s agenda is to determine what changes they intend to make for the new year. Like clockwork, people identify at least one goal or well-wish for the year. Many will take the time to map out a plan or even create a vision board as a reminder of their commitment. Without a doubt, there is something magical about the first of January. The fresh start of a new year simply provides the encouragement people need to believe that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to.
The New Year’s resolution to eat healthier is consistently a popular choice, and for great reasons. The goal to become more disciplined in nutrition has significant short- and long-term benefits. Eating a balanced diet contributes to weight loss, strong bones and teeth, improved mood, better sleep and can prevent as well as treat chronic diseases (i.e., diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer). Despite best intentions, most people are unsuccessful in their attempt to eat healthier.
One of the biggest hurdles is the perception that nutrition is complex, and the range of “lose weight fast” diets only adds to the confusion. Though a nutritionist or registered dietitian is well-equipped to develop specialized nutrition plans, the steps to eating healthy are simple.
Start eating healthy by following these five simple tips:
» Eat more fruits and vegetables.
» Decrease salt and sugar consumption.
Drink more waterWater is essential to proper body function, which includes adequate hydration, optimum digestion and temperature regulation. It is important to note that hunger and thirst are regulated by the same area in the brain. As a result, many people misunderstand the message to drink water as a direction to eat. Therefore, the next time you reach for a snack or a sugary beverage, rethink your drink and consider the refreshing option of water as your first choice.
Eat more fruits and vegetablesWhether you choose fresh, canned or frozen, it is important to eat at least five fruits and vegetables per day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes MyPlate (www.choosemyplate.gov) to encourage families during meals to portion half of their plate with fruits and vegetables. Take some time to find your favorite fruits and vegetables and dare to explore varieties you have yet to try. Remember, fresh produce is free of added sugars and salts. However, if you choose frozen or canned options, be sure to select reduced or no added sugar or salt. Also, you should rinse canned products several times before eating. Rinsing canned fruit, vegetables and even beans will remove some of the added salt and sugar.
Decrease salt and sugar consumptionA key contributor to North Carolina’s high rates of chronic disease is the excessive consumption of salt and sugar. The reality remains that added sugar and salt is present in packaged foods and beverages. The American Heart Association recommends that adults should not consume more than 1 teaspoon (2,300 milligrams) of salt daily. Added sugars should be limited to 6 teaspoons (24 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men. Take some time to first track how much sugar and salt you consume in a day and work to gradually decrease this amount over time, for small changes yield big health rewards.
Read food labelsFood and beverage marketing can sometimes be misleading, so don’t fall victim to attractive promotion.
Commit to reading the nutrition facts labels provided on products before purchase. The nutrition facts label will ensure you are aware of all the product’s ingredients, including salt (sodium), sugar and serving size. This difference between serving size and portion size is important to remember. Whereas serving size is the recommended measured amount of food that is noted on the nutrition fact label, portion size is the amount you decide to consume.
Cook meals at homePreparing your meals at home is the best way to ensure you are eating more fruit and vegetables and less sugar and salt. It is also cost-effective and promotes time with family and friends.
Though it may take some extra time at first to plan meals, in the long run it is the best choice. As you begin to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your meals, also consider integrating whole grains, lean meats or other protein supplements such as beans, lentils or tofu to the menu. The Cabarrus Health Alliance provides basic and next level cooking classes to assist residents in exploring new ways to cook healthy meals (www.cabarrushealth.org/CookingClasses).
You can do this. Start 2020 off by making the first step to eating healthy. Pick at least one of the tips provided, and each day become more confident in your ability to succeed at your New Year’s resolution and lifetime commitment to eating a balanced diet. Living healthy and eating well can start today.
For more information about healthy eating and chronic disease prevention/management classes and education provided by the Cabarrus Health Alliance, contact Alicia McDaniel at 704-920-1290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.