For some, eating healthy may seem like an insurmountable task, but in reality, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, anyone can do it with a little guidance and a dash of determination.
Gina Thayer, a registered dietitian, helps patients with dietary needs in Northern Colorado. She has good news for anyone doubting how easy making the switch to healthy eating can be.
“Nutrition is often made much more complicated than it needs to be,” she said. “As a registered dietitian, I love to see my patients’ faces light up with the realization that eating healthy does not require a bunch of fancy supplements or expensive foods.”
1. Make small changes.
Thayer recommends small changes at first because you are more likely to stick with something by making one or two small changes at a time. Instead of deciding to trying to change your entire diet overnight, perhaps consider cutting back the amount of sugar you consume or watching your portion sizes.
Thayer noted you can still gain weight if you’re eating too much – even if it’s healthy. Remember, you can use the top view of your fist to measure protein portions and the side view of your fist to measure sides.
2. Make sure it’s affordable.
Diets with expensive supplements or shakes can be hard to stick to and may not be the right option for you or your budget. Instead, Thayer recommends looking at other methods of improving your diet, such as reducing the amount you consume of the following:
- Added sugars. Thayer says we should reduce sugar intake: white sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar and organic evaporated cane juice.
- Saturated fats. These fats are the ones that are solid at room temperature. Think of butter, coconut oil and meat with lots of visible fat or marbling. You’ll want to eat less than 15 grams of saturated fat per day with a 2,000-calorie diet. Trans fats should be removed from the diet completely, if possible.
- Sodium. Thayer suggests staying away from sodium (added salt) you find in processed foods, such as snack foods, frozen foods with sauces, lunch meats, cheeses and condiments. Ideally, you should aim for 1,500 to 2,000 mg of sodium per day to keep your heart healthy.
3. Make sure it is sustainable.
“Can you see yourself eating this way for the rest of your life? Consider it a ‘lifestyle change’ instead of a ‘diet,’” Thayer said.
A registered dietitian nutritionist, like Thayer, can help. They will evaluate your current diet, make personalized suggestions and provide resources, such as websites, books and recipes, to help you meet your goals.
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Among the things a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you with is looking at adding some things to your diet:
- Fruits and vegetables. The USDA My Plate Program recommends eating 2 ½ cups vegetables and 2 cups of fruit every day, and Thayer sees no downside to increasing your fruit and vegetable intake. It’s easy to add some spinach to your morning smoothie or throw a banana in your work bag for a snack.
- Whole grains. Thayer noted you want look for 100% whole grain on packaging. Also, 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day is recommended in a 2,000 calorie diet
- Heart healthy fats. Olive oil, avocado oil or canola oil are easy to swap out when cooking on the stove. “Don’t forget nuts and seeds. They are great sources of heart healthy fats, as well,” Thayer said. “Just be mindful of portion sizes.”
4. Enlist your family.
You don’t have to make separate meals just for you. Why not let your whole family benefit from a healthier diet?
Choosing to eat healthy can benefit everyone in your home. Plus it could provide a fantastic opportunity to teach your children responsible – and healthy – eating habits.
5. Watch the processed foods.
Thayer said, “Look at how much processed food you eat. Processed foods are where we get a majority of our added sugar and sodium. Even organic or all natural processed foods are very high in sugar and sodium and are usually lacking in other nutrients.”
Paying attention to the nutrition label is important in finding healthy foods. To understand how much sugar you are eating, Thayer said you should look at the nutrition facts for “total sugars” or “added sugars.” Take the total number of grams and divide it by 4 to get the total teaspoons of sugar the food has.
A final piece of advice Thayer has for taking the step to healthy eating is to look at the sources of empty calories. Sodas, coffees with a lot added flavorings and juices do nothing for you, and many people often forget to count those calories.