Adopt this strategy to seriously upgrade your diet.
Every January, you probably vow to eat less: less junk food, fewer carbs, not as much sugar.
This time around, try something different: Vow to eat more. That is, set a goal to pack more good-for-you foods into every day.
Food experts say that positive nutrition messages, like “eating fruit is good for you,” can be more motivating than negative messages, like “eating candy is bad for you.”
“If you spend more of your time focusing on eating healthy foods, then by default, you will spend less time eating unhealthy foods,” says New York–based nutrition consultant Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet.
You’ll have to do a little legwork to make your new, healthy eating habits stick, but it won’t require anything time-consuming or unreasonable—like many other New Year’s resolutions do. “If your goal is to incorporate more healthy foods, you need to plan, shop, and have access to these foods,” says Angel Planells, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Otherwise, it’s just a noble intention.”
To help you turn that intention into results, we asked nutrition experts to share the top five foods or nutrients they recommend eating more of—and realistic ways to make it happen.
Fruit is rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. And since it’s available fresh or frozen, it’s easy to stock up and have on hand.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables at every meal, but most Americans eat significantly less produce than that.
“The average American consumes one serving of fruit per day, so let’s not say we’re going to eat five to seven servings,” Planells says. Instead, change your habits gradually. Aiming to increase your intake by two or three servings every other day is a reasonable goal.
“By purchasing fruit and having it accessible to you throughout the day, you are setting yourself up for success,” Planells says.
If you have diabetes, have been told you’re prediabetic, or are simply trying to mind your blood sugar, check out our guide to the five best fruits to add to your grocery list. They’re low in carbohydrates and sugar but also contain soluble fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, so you avoid spikes.
If you latched onto the low-fat diet fad of years past, you may instinctively shun nuts. But that’s a mistake. Almonds, walnuts, pecans, and other nuts are rich in healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, and protein, Planells says.
Studies find that eating about an ounce of nuts per day is associated with lower risk of heart disease. And more research has shown that people who eat nuts daily tend to live longer, healthier lives than those who don’t eat nuts.
“Opt for the salt-free options, if possible, to reduce your sodium intake,” Planells says. And remember to watch your portions. It’s great to eat more nuts overall, but limit each serving to one ounce, or about a handful, to keep calories in check. Check out more tips for healthy portions.
Most Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber, so it’s wise to strive for more in your diet. The benefits of a well-functioning bowel aside, a high-fiber diet can also reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, and heart disease. Plus, it keeps you feeling fuller longer, which helps prevent overeating.
“Eat more high-fiber carbohydrates such as quinoa, barley, whole wheat pasta, and oatmeal,” Gans says. And make sure your diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, and legumes like beans and lentils. Just one cup of cooked lentils delivers 15.6 grams of fiber. For reference, the National Academy of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 21 grams of fiber for women 51 and older, and 30 grams for men.
If you haven’t been eating a lot of fiber-rich foods, add them to your diet gradually and drink plenty of water to minimize digestive distress.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can help tame inflammation, arthritis, and high blood pressure, and has been linked to healthy aging of the brain. Omega-3s are necessary for human health, but your body can’t produce them on its own—so you have to get them through food.
“Try eating more fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or mackerel,” Planells says. “Not a fan of fish? You can get omega-3s from walnuts, leafy greens, soybeans, and flaxseed oil.”
Often referred to as “friendly bacteria,” probiotics are live microorganisms that we consume in fermented foods. They’re believed to be beneficial to our health in many ways, although scientists are only beginning to prove how.
Studies have found probiotics can help alleviate irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) symptoms, infectious diarrhea, and eczema. They may also help prevent allergies and colds. The bottom line: It’s worth eating more of them.
A simple way to consume probiotics daily is to eat yogurt containing live cultures and probiotics every morning, Gans suggests. In addition to probiotics, yogurt also contains protein and calcium.
Other probiotic foods to try include: kefir, sauerkraut, or fermented vegetables like kimchi. For more ideas, check out our guide to the best foods for a healthy gut.
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