Too often, we put off until tomorrow what we should start today. That’s true of adopting healthy eating habits too! It’s easy to talk and even plan on changing how and what you eat, but it’s even easier to fall back into old dietary patterns and habits. You drive past a Ben and Jerry’s and the site of the black-and-white cow beckons you to pull over for a pint of ice cream. Suddenly, those good intentions are out the window. Sound familiar?
Why are dietary changes so frustrating? One reason may be that you’re trying to take on too much and change your dietary habits too fast. It’s easier to take small steps and do things incrementally. Over time, those small steps add up to big returns. If you’re ready to move toward a healthier diet, here are five less painful steps you can take on your journey to better health and a more nutritious diet.
Stop Drinking Your Sugar
If you’ve always eaten a high-sugar diet, going cold turkey and dropping everything with sugar from your diet is too drastic. No need to do that! Instead, take the smaller step of not drinking your sugar. Switch soft drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages for unsweetened tea, coffee, or water. Once you’ve tackled the sugar in beverages, you can move on to reducing sugar in the food you eat. One step at a time, but sodas are a good place to start.
There’s more than one reason to drop soft drinks. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health links drinking sodas with shorter telomeres, a marker for increased mortality. So, don’t make soft drinks your go-to way to hydrate.
If you don’t like the plainness of water, infuse your water with fruit slices overnight. If you need a hint of sweetness, use a sugar-free, natural sweetener such as Stevia or monk fruit, and gradually taper back the quantity of all sweeteners that you use. As you scale back, your taste buds will adapt and become satisfied with less.
Replace Starchy Foods with Non-Starchy Vegetables
Depriving yourself or drastically reducing how much you eat can backfire and create frustration and food cravings. Don’t change the volume of your meals unless you’re eating huge portions. Instead, change the composition of what’s on your plate. Replace starchy foods, like potatoes, rice, and pasta, with fiber-rich, nutrient-dense vegetables. You’ll reduce the calories you take in and the impact on your blood sugar while still enjoying a big plate of food. Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories but high in nutrition.
Adding more vegetables to your diet will pay off in multiple ways. Vegetables and fruits contain fiber and antioxidants, two components you won’t get from animal-based foods. Studies show Americans only get half the recommended amount of fiber each day, 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Ultra-processed foods are usually low in fiber too, and they make up 60% of the American diet. We can do better!
Try a New Healthy Eating Recipe Each Week
Part of the challenge of eating healthier is changing the type of food you enjoy. If you force a complete diet overhaul and eat nothing but healthy fare, your taste buds will rebel and crave the sugary foods you gave up. Instead, challenge yourself to try one new healthy recipe each week. The next week, try another and keep expanding your healthy dietary horizons.
How to get started? Buy a cookbook or magazine with recipes made with whole foods and try a new one per week. You can also get inspired through Instagram and Pinterest accounts too. Be prepared to be wowed by the beautiful recipes you see on these sites, and if you choose wisely, they’re also nutritious.
Change How You Snack
What’s your favorite snack? Many people enjoy munching on chips, but you can still get a dose of crunch healthily by substituting nuts for chips. Nuts are nutrient-dense and easy on the blood glucose. The fiber and protein also make them more satisfying. Studies link nuts with a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and reduced mortality.
Plus, research even shows nuts may lower inflammatory markers, a marker of a higher risk of health problems, like cardiovascular disease. You won’t get a reduction in inflammatory markers when you munch on chips! All tree nuts are a healthy snack. Peanuts are not technically a nut, but they offer the same cardiovascular benefits as tree nuts. So choose your favorite!
Add More Protein to Your Diet
Protein is the most satiating of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates, fats, and protein, meaning you’ll feel more satisfied when you eat it. Adding more protein to your diet also helps stabilize blood sugar and reduce cravings for less healthy foods. Studies also link a higher protein diet with weight control. So, add more high-quality protein sources to your diet. Eggs are a good option since they’re the gold standard for high-quality protein sources. Research shows that eating eggs for breakfast as opposed to a croissant, a rapidly absorbed carbohydrate leads to reduced calorie intake later in the day. Quality protein sources, like eggs, activate satiety hormones more than carbohydrates or fat.
Don’t forget about plant-based protein sources; these have the advantage of also containing appetite-suppressing fiber. Good sources of plant-based protein include edamame, lentils, beans, chia seeds, hemp seeds, peanuts, tempeh, chia seeds, and whole grains. Enjoy these foods in abundance too, to help manage your appetite.
The Bottom Line
Don’t try to take on too much too fast. Instead, ease into eating healthy by making manageable changes that won’t disrupt your lifestyle and make you feel frustrated. Once you’re comfortable with one small step, take another one, but not until you’re comfortable with the first one. By making moving toward a healthy diet in small steps, you’ll encounter less frustration and be more successful. It works!
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