SALT LAKE CITY — As spring approaches, the sun starts shining a bit longer each day, the grass is looking a tad greener, flower buds start appearing, and people start decluttering their homes and yards.
Spring cleaning is a great way to freshen up your home and life, so why not do a little spring cleaning with your diet as well?
I don’t mean going on some fad diet that’s unrealistic and leads only to temporary results. Instead, I recommend spring cleaning your diet by starting slow, picking one or two of the suggestions below to work on at a time. After you have made one a habit, choose another to work on.
You may be working on these goals longer than springtime lasts, but it will definitely be worth it in the long run. By decreasing some foods in your diet and increasing others, you can set yourself up with healthy habits that will benefit you for a lifetime.
Decrease the sweets
Overconsumption of added sugars has been associated with health problems like dental caries (or cavities), as well as weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Added sugars do not include sugars that are naturally occurring, such as sugars in fruit or milk, and they sneak into our diet in a variety of ways.
Some are pretty obvious, such as treats like cakes, cookies, ice cream, candies, pastries, jams, jellies and other sweets. Other sources might be a little more surprising, like sauces, dressings, marinades, sweetened yogurts, cold cereals, crackers, granola bars and more.
One of the biggest culprits isn’t what we eat, but rather what we drink. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sugar-sweetened beverages are the No. 1 source of added sugars in the American diet. These include, but are not limited to, regular soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, flavored waters and sweetened coffee, tea, and alcoholic beverages. Switching from drinking sugar-sweetened beverages to water is a great way to decrease added sugars in your diet.
You don’t need to go cold turkey and cut all sweets from your diet overnight or altogether. Enjoying a treat every now and then is fine. The main goal is to enjoy them in moderation, keeping added sugars to less than 10% of your total daily calories as recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Eat fats — the healthier kind
Fats have been a controversial topic for decades. Do we eat them or avoid them? Instead of the “all or nothing” approach, the answer depends on the type of fat. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10% of daily calories, and trans fat intake should be as low as possible. These types of fats can raise your LDL “bad” cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart disease.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are naturally found in foods from animal sources such as red meat, poultry and dairy foods. They are also commonly found in other snack and treat foods such as chips, cakes, cookies, pastries, fried foods and ice cream.
Just as important as reducing saturated and trans fats is what you replace them with. Studies have shown that when these less healthy fats are replaced with carbohydrates, the risk of heart disease is not decreased. However, replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats can lower risk of heart disease.
Unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They’re naturally found in many plant foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados, soybeans and oils made from these foods. They are also found in fish and other seafood. Include these healthy fats in your diet by snacking on a small handful of nuts, cooking with avocado or olive oil, incorporating fish into your weekly meal plan, or topping your toast or salad with avocado.
You don’t need to go cold turkey and cut all sweets from your diet overnight or altogether. Enjoying a treat every now and then is fine. The main goal is to enjoy them in moderation.
–Brittany Poulson, registered dietitian
Pile on the veggies
The one food group the majority of people admit to falling short on is vegetables. In fact, according to the CDC, only 1 in 10 Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily. Vegetables are packed with beneficial nutrients and studies continue to show the advantages to consuming them daily. However, they’re still lacking in the average American diet.
The first step to including more veggies in your diet is to have them available in your home. When you bring vegetables home from the store, don’t just shove them in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator to be forgotten about. Make them easily accessible by chopping carrots, broccoli, celery and cauliflower into sticks or bite-size pieces. Then put them in baggies and store them on a shelf in the fridge at eye level.
Keep bags of frozen vegetables in your freezer to easily grab and toss into a soup or casserole, mix into a pasta dish, or heat up as an easy side. Add variety by cooking your vegetables in different ways such as steaming, roasting, grilling, stir-frying or sautéing. Pile the veggies on top of your sandwich, burger, taco and pizza. You can also scramble your eggs with some sautéed vegetables, add roasted vegetables to your whole-grain power bowl, or blend some raw veggies into your morning smoothie.
Not just bananas, but berries, grapes, oranges, apples and more. Including fruit as part of your diet is going to provide you with nutrients like antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Whether fresh, frozen, dried or canned, all fruit can be good for you. If choosing canned, opt for those canned in 100% juice or water. For frozen or dried fruit, make sure the fruit is the only ingredient listed with no added sugars.
Fruit juice can be a sweet addition to your day, but be sure to watch portion sizes (adults should limit to 8 ounces) and always choose 100% juice. I typically recommend eating whole fruit over drinking juice because juice is usually lacking the fiber found in the whole fruit. Eating an orange will help you feel more full and satiated than drinking a glass of orange juice.
Go meatless once a week
High red meat, especially processed meat consumption has been linked to various chronic health concerns, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. While red meat contains several important nutrients — such as essential protein, vitamin B12, iron and zinc — consuming high amounts may be not such a good idea.
The World Cancer Research Fund recommends cutting back on red meats — especially processed meats like salami, hot dogs, ham, bacon, beef jerky, deli meat, and some sausages — to no more than about three portions per week.
Setting a goal to go meatless one day a week will surely help you meet that recommendation. Get your protein needs in by eating plant-based proteins like nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, tofu and whole grains. Choose any day of the week you want for your meatless meals and make it a habit each week. Monday is a popular choice, set off by the Meatless Monday movement.
Try lentil sloppy joes, three sisters chili, crispy baked tofu tacos, or loaded sweet potatoes for a delicious no-meat meal. With all the ways to enjoy plant-based protein, you might not even miss the meat once a week.
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