By Kerri-Ann Jennings
I’m a registered dietitian and associate nutrition editor of EatingWell magazine. When the seasons change, I always feel an urge to “healthify” my diet. Here are 10 healthy eating habits I’m focusing on right now:
1. Cut down on alcohol: Studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol (one drink per day for women, two for men) can have some health benefits – raising “good” HDL cholesterol, “thinning the blood” and possibly warding off Alzheimer’s disease – but there are good reasons to limit your intake. Alcohol takes a toll on your liver, the major organ devoted to “detoxing” your system. It also acts as a diuretic, making it harder to stay hydrated. Looking for an alcohol-free drink at cocktail hour? Try club soda with a splash of juice.
2. Cut down on sugar: On average, Americans swallow 475 calories in added sugars every day (that’s 30 teaspoons), way higher than what’s recommended by the American Heart Association (six teaspoons per day for women, nine for men). High intake of added sugar is linked with risk factors for heart disease. Skip processed foods, which can be loaded with hidden added sugars. For a sweet treat, reach for fruit for a natural sugar fix.
3. Cut down on salt: Americans, on average, eat 3,400 milligrams of sodium in a day, about 1,000 mg more than we should. And if we cut that much out of our daily diets, we’d lower our risk of heart disease by up to 9 percent, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Restaurant foods and processed foods both tend to be very high in sodium, so a key step in lowering your sodium intake is to cook at home using fresh ingredients instead. Boost flavor with herbs and spices rather than salt.
4. Cut down on saturated fat: The kind of fat that’s found in whole milk, cheese, butter and meat that raises your “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can damage arteries. Avoid animal fats and swap them for healthier unsaturated fats from plant foods like nuts, avocados and olive oil.
5. Cut down on refined grains: Refined grains – white flour, white rice – are stripped of beneficial fiber, vitamins and minerals. While they add calories, they don’t provide much in the way of nutrients.
6. Cut down on processed foods: I’m not concerned with minimally processed foods – like plain, unsweetened yogurt or washed bagged greens – that are still essentially healthy whole foods. Rather, I’m talking about prepared food products with loads of ingredients. Go through your cabinets and see which of your foods come in boxes and think of alternatives.
7. Eat more fruits and vegetables: Not only do they add a lot of flavor and color to meals, but they’re also nutrient- and antioxidant-rich, low in calories and can help lower your risk for heart disease.
8. Drink more water: Water really is the best thing to drink. If you’re not a fan of plain water, add a spritz of lemon or lime.
9. Sip more green tea: It boosts immunity and fights cavities.
10. Eat more whole grains: Eating more whole grains could lengthen your life by reducing your risk of cardiovascular, infectious and respiratory diseases. Try eating one new-to-you grain, such as quinoa or wild rice, each week.