Aiming to “eat better” this year? Here are some top expert tips to help you meet your goals this year:
Be specific. Aiming to eat a healthier diet is a step in the right direction, but how do you plan to do it? One of the reasons SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) work is because you know when you cross the line. For example, “I will cut down on desserts” isn’t a concrete goal — how much is too much? Instead, “I will only eat dessert twice a week” gives you a specific limit.
Start small. Unless a medical concern is prompting a diet overhaul, experts warn not to take on too much at once. Juggling numerous goals and denying yourself too many of your favourite foods can lead to decision fatigue. Try changing one or two things as a start, and let those new behaviours — such as cutting back on salt — become habits. Next, build on your success by making another change.
Go slow. If you’re cutting down on added sugar and salt, experts recommend doing so gradually to give your taste buds time to adjust. Likewise, mixing whole grains with refined grains may help you adapt to new flavours.
Keep it simple. Ever notice how foods that are closest to their natural form win out on experts’ lists? Not only will you avoid added sugars, sodium and fat of prepared foods, you’ll also get more fibre – which helps us feel satisfied and contributes to good digestive health.
Think whole grains instead of refined, whole fruit instead of juice and meat you prepare at home rather than processed options.
When you are shopping for prepared or processed foods, experts also recommend looking at the ingredient lists. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient and you don’t know what it’s for, experts warn to limit your consumption.
Try smaller portions. We’re eating good foods — but sometimes we eat too much of them. Experts recommend reviewing how many servings of certain food groups we need each day, and then get to know serving sizes. For example, you may be eating two servings of meat at dinner without knowing it, and some calorie-dense grain products like bagels are equivalent to 3-4 servings of grains.
Use smaller dishes. Smaller portions will look bigger if they’re in smaller dishes, prompting some experts to suggest we downsize our dinnerware and aim for tall, skinny glasses instead of short and stout.
Did you know that colour makes a difference too? The greater the contrast between food and the dish, the less food we’ll put on it. Try a dark dish for yoghurt, for example, or a white plate for a colourful pasta meal.
Put vegetables centre stage. If counting food group servings isn’t your thing, think of the portioned plate of the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov. By volume, experts say that 50 per cent of our meals should be fruits and vegetables — leaning towards more vegetables, of course. That leaves 30 per cent for grains and 20 for meat. Low-fat dairy products should also be a part of our daily intake.
Enjoy a variety of colours. You’ve heard it said before: overall habits make the difference, not loading up on super foods that could leave gaps in your nutritional needs. An easy rule of thumb is to enjoy colour.
The substances that give foods their rich hues often contain the phytonutrients our bodies need.
Switch up your protein. We know to stick to lean sources of protein as much as possible, but we need variety too. Nutrition experts recommend we enjoy more plant-based proteins like nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and tofu in place of meat at least three times a week. Two of our meat servings should be fish — and at least one of these servings should be an oily fish such as salmon.
Limit sweetened beverages. Beverages can pile on the fat and calories, but offer little nutrition. You don’t have to give up your favourite drinks, but do be mindful of how they fit into your diet. Try drinking more water to satisfy your thirst and stay hydrated — especially when you’re distracted and more likely to mindlessly sip. Unsweetened teas and naturally flavoured waters can satisfy a craving for flavour.
Don’t skip meals — especially breakfast. Skipping meals and snacks seems like a good way to cut calories, but people often end up eating even more at their next meal. How you space your meals and snacks is up to you, but experts warn to divvy up your calorie limit accordingly.
Allow yourself treats. Remember how we said to go slow? We’re more likely to stick to our goals if we don’t outright ban certain foods. (Nothing is ever so attractive as when it’s forbidden!) Instead, we can enjoy them less often and eat a smaller serving.
A word of caution: Just as we shouldn’t waste our money on things that don’t bring us value, we shouldn’t waste calories on mediocre treats. We’re loath to waste food, but make those calories count.
A final word of advice: accept there is no such thing as a perfect diet. You can have treats. You can indulge occasionally. There are going to be ups and downs, and you can get yourself back on track after a setback.
Remember, it’s your overall diet that matters — and even small changes can make a big difference.