The road to better health can sometimes seem like an uphill battle. But with every small step you take and each healthy decision you make, you do get closer to your goal of improved health, and one of the most effective ways to do this is by eating a balanced, healthy diet.
Think of streamlining your nutrition profile in stages. These three diet changes will not only set you on a healthier path, but will also create incentive to make further adjustments — and before you know it, you’ll feel confident that you can make the right food choices to maintain good health.
How Small Diet Changes Make a Difference
Being fit and healthy doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge in a slice of birthday cake or bowl of ice cream. It just means that you don’t do it every day.
“I always say as long as you do the right thing most of the time, you will be successful in being healthy,” says Tara Harwood, RD, a dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “Doing the right thing most of the time means implementing simple dietary changes, which will add up by the end of the week.”
Diet Change No. 1: Cut Back on the Booze
It’s amazing how quickly calories add up, especially those you drink. And the empty calories in alcoholic beverages can be the first place to start cutting back.
Limiting alcohol consumption can improve both your diet and your overall health. “While drinking in moderation has been found to have a few beneficial effects, drinking more than this amount can have negative effects on health,” says Harwood. “It’s recommended that men drink no more than two drinks per day, and women drink up to one glass per day.” Alcohol consumption — even just one drink — can weaken your diet discipline and lead to overeating, eating unhealthy food, and drinking more than the recommended amount.
To avoid these poor-health pitfalls, set guidelines that make it easier to stick to your alcohol limit. “Make a rule not to drink during the week or buy just enough for one serving per evening,” Harwood suggests. “Remember, alcohol has calories, and if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s best to opt for water instead.”
Diet Change No. 2: Opt for More Vegetarian Meals
You may love hamburgers and barbecue, but aim for at least a couple of vegetarian meals each week. A vegetarian meal can be delicious, filling, and less expensive than a meat-based meal.
“A vegetarian meal that isn’t cheese-based is lower in calories and packed with disease-fighting benefits from the additional fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that are all found naturally in vegetables,” says Harwood. “A diet high in vegetables can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and certain types of cancer.”
If you don’t feel satisfied with an all-vegetable dish, opt for vegetarian recipes with meat-free protein choices, such as beans — garbanzo beans, pinto beans, black beans, and more — and lentils, suggests Debora Robinett, RD, a registered dietitian in Tacoma, Wash.
“Beans, split peas, soybeans, and lentils offer low-glycemic carbohydrates with fiber and quality protein,” explains Robinett. They also stabilize blood sugar, fill you up, and improve energy levels. Robinett suggests trying a lentil soup packed with vegetables for a hearty, healthy vegetarian meal.
Diet Change No. 3: Pack Healthy Snacks
When mid-afternoon hits and you’re starting to get hungry again, you may be tempted to visit the vending machine. Avoid this unhealthy food habit by packing your own healthy snacks to bring with you.
Here are a few healthy snack ideas that are easy to pack for work or when you’re on the road:
- Fresh vegetables with hummus dip
- Fresh fruit
- Seeds and nuts — make your own mix of choices such as sunflower seeds, walnuts, pecans, and almonds
- A container of yogurt
- A few whole-grain crackers
- A hard-boiled egg
- Vegetable juice
- A packet of instant oatmeal
- Popcorn (without added salt)
- Low-fat cheese
- Homemade trail mix with whole-grain cereal and dried fruit
Keep a stash in your desk or bag so that you can grab a quick and healthy snack as soon as you feel your belly start to rumble. And make snacking a regularly scheduled activity, says Robinett. “Eating about every three to four hours allows you to maintain energy and focus, as well as lose weight or maintain ideal body composition,” she says.
All it takes to start changing your life is a few basic first steps. Before you know it, you’ll be in the habit of making healthier choices for every decision you face.