With so much nutrition information floating around, it can be tough to figure out the best way to make healthier choices in the New Year. Our advice is to start small and remember the basics of healthy nutrition.
Lose weight, eat less junk food — they top many lists of New Year’s resolutions. But sticking with those good intentions is just not easy.
A new year often signifies a fresh start for many people. For some, this means setting health goals, such as losing weight, following a healthier diet, and starting an exercise routine.
However, more often than not, the health and wellness resolutions chosen are highly restrictive and unsustainable, leading most people to break their resolutions within a few weeks. This is why many people make the same resolutions year after year.
Set Your Goals
Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to be able to run up and down the stairs without getting winded? Do you want to reduce cholesterol or lower your blood pressure? Decide what you want to achieve over the next month and over the next year.
One possible goal for your first month could be a resolution to take your lunch to work four days per week for each week this month instead of eating lunch in restaurants every day. Another example of a monthly goal would be to walk for 30 minutes four days per week this month.
Start with your statistics. Take body composition measurements and make your goals. Then write down your goals in a notebook or in the food diary you are going to create in step seven.
Review Your Year
Take a look at what your diet and health have been like for the last 12 months. Think about these questions and write down your answers in a notebook so that you can look back at them again a year from now:
- How does your weight compare with a year ago?
- Do you feel healthy and have a lot of energy, or are you tired all the time?
- Do you take vitamins or other nutritional supplements?
- Do you eat at home most of the time? If so, what types of foods? Whole fresh foods, boxed foods, or TV dinners?
- Do you dine out frequently? What types of restaurants do you like and what kinds of foods do you choose?
- How physically active are you? Do you exercise regularly?
- Do you eat healthy portions, or do you stuff yourself with every meal?
- Do you smoke?
- How much alcohol do you drink each week?
It’s important to take an honest look at your health and dietary habits so you can set goals for the next year.
Determine Your Dietary Needs
Here are some ideas you might want to consider:
- Do you have high blood pressure? If so you may wish to reduce sodium in your diet by avoiding canned and packaged foods.
- Are you overweight? You need to decrease your calorie intake or increase your amount of physical exercise. You can choose a low-carb diet or a low-fat diet, just be sure to watch your calories and portion sizes.
- Do you have diabetes? If so, then you need to reduce your sugar intake.
- Do you have high cholesterol? Increase your intake of soluble fiber, like the fiber found in oatmeal. It will help lower your cholesterol levels.
Reduce your intake of saturated fats and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fish, flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil.
Consider Dietary SupplementsA healthy diet should give you all of the vitamins and minerals you need, but many people take vitamins just to make sure. There are several formulations available, but most people take a simple multivitamin and multi-mineral supplement. Speak with your health care provider before you take any additional supplements or if you have any health conditions.
Design Your Healthy New Diet
Here’s what you need to know to design your new diet:
- How many calories do you need to eat each day to reach your weight gain or weight loss goal?
- How do your eating patterns fit your lifestyle?
- Do you feel better with three large meals per day or five smaller meals per day?
- Will you continue to eat in restaurants often?
- What types of fruits and vegetables do you like?
A healthy diet should give you 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day, 28 grams of fiber per day for adult women and nearly 34 grams for adult men, 1.6 ounces of protein per day for women and 2 ounces for men, and a small amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids.
To stick with your new diet, you’ll want to include foods you enjoy. If you love hamburgers, that’s OK. Make them at home with whole grain rolls and cut down the size of the burger patty, or use ground turkey. Add lots of lettuce, onion, and tomato. Serve your burger with a salad instead of fries.
Here are some more swaps to make for a healthier diet:
- Choose crunchy raw green beans instead of chips, and serve them with a little of your favorite dip.
- Replace high-fat hot dogs with soy dogs.
- Choose whole grain bread and pasta instead of white bread and white pasta.
- Skip the sugary desserts and have a small dish of fresh berries with a dab of whipped cream or non-fat whipped topping, then add a sprinkling of chopped walnuts.
- Use lemon juice instead of oil for a salad dressing.
- Choose low-fat ground turkey instead of high-fat ground beef to cut back on saturated fat. (But remember to read the label—not all ground turkey is low in fat.)
Shop and Cook
Make a grocery list before you go shopping. Stay away from the snack food aisles and the prepackaged foods aisles when you shop. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, lean meats, fish, and legumes. Avoid foods high in saturated fats, sodium, trans-fats, and sugar.
The best cooking methods are essential for healthy nutrition, too:
- Sautéing is better than deep-frying. Frying foods adds fats and calories and doesn’t add any nutrition.
- Steam your vegetables instead of boiling them to mush. Steaming will preserve the vitamins found in the vegetables.
- When you cook your healthy meals at home, be sure to make extra to take to work or school the next day.
Keep a Food Diary
If you’re serious about making changes and improving your health, keep a simple food and exercise diary. It will help keep you motivated and help you get back on your diet if you have a temporary setback.
Be sure to note the portion sizes and write down the calories you eat every day. Add up the number of calories per day and your total for the week. If you need to lose weight, one long-term strategy is to decrease the number of calories you need to eat each day by about 500.
You can make your own food diary or keep track of your healthy new diet online.
Good nutrition is just one part of a healthy lifestyle. Another component of health and fitness is exercise. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you need to get out and get moving. If you want to lose weight, it is important to increase aerobic activities like walking or running. If you need to increase your strength, then you need to start resistance training such as lifting weights.
There are health clubs, gyms, and personal trainers, as well as at-home equipment to get you fit and healthy.
Do you smoke? If so, you’ll do yourself a favor by quitting. Smoking has been connected to many chronic diseases, plus you will save a lot of money over the next year if you quit smoking.
How much alcohol do you drink? Some studies have linked light or moderate drinking to reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease (although other studies dispute these findings).
“Moderate drinking” is an average of one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. Drinking more than this can be detrimental to your health. If you find yourself drinking an average of more than 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor, or 12 ounces of beer each day, then you may need to decrease your consumption of alcohol.
Reduce Your Stress
Stress is detrimental to your health. Stress includes daily events like constant deadlines at work; long drive times with excess traffic; more activities than time to do them; and emotional trauma like death or divorce.
Try these simple stress reducers you can make to live a happier, healthier life.
Sometimes getting started with a new healthy diet and fitness plan is the easy part. Many of us hit occasional roadblocks due to busy schedules, loss of motivation, or weight loss plateaus.Those are the times when we feel like we do everything right, but the scale doesn’t seem to budge. When this happens, don’t give up. Think back to why you made the goal in the first place and find the inspiration you need to get back on track. Be sure to celebrate your small successes too!
Some simple tips for a healthier new year
Swap white bread for whole-grain bread.Whole grains are full of fiber and healthy carbohydrates that provide lasting energy. When a food is made with a whole grain, that means it includes all parts of the original grain, including a fibrous outer layer, energizing inner layer, and a vitamin and mineral-dense pocket called the germ. Look for the word “whole” as the first ingredient on a nutrition facts label to know if a bread is a whole grain. Food companies get creative with labeling their products: bread labeled “wheat” or “multigrain” is not always a true whole grain, so make sure to double-check the label.
Use olive oil instead of butter when cooking.If you are focused on improving your heart health this year, replacing a saturated fat such as butter with an unsaturated fat such as olive oil will go a long way. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), replacing one teaspoon of butter or margarine with olive oil can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by 5% and coronary heart disease by 7%. According to a study done by the AHA, those who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil each day had a 15% lower risk of having any kind of cardiovascular disease. Olive oil and other unsaturated fats are the best for heart health and can be used during the cooking process or sprinkled on top of a salad or dish before eating.
Add more beans and legumes into your diet.Beans and legumes, including kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, and soybeans, are rich in protein, fiber, iron, zinc, potassium, and folate. They provide a lot of protein and fiber, with less fat than other protein sources such as meat. Fiber-filled foods such as beans and legumes are healthy for the digestive system. They help to lower cholesterol in the body, feed the helpful bacteria in your gut, and can help prevent colon cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends getting enough fiber from whole plant foods to reduce the risk of colon cancer. If you are new to beans or legumes, try replacing half of the meat in your recipe with beans!
Start out your morning with a piece of whole fruit instead of a glass of juice.When eating a whole fruit, the natural sugars are digested slowly because they are accompanied by fiber found in the fruit. Whole fruits such as berries and citrus fruits are extremely nutrient-dense and are full of antioxidants and vitamins. Choosing a whole piece of fruit with a meal or as a snack also helps to sustain your body between meals. Fruit juice, on the other hand, is a highly concentrated version of the fruit, so it is much higher in sugar and lacks fiber. Try a juicy orange, berries, or a banana with breakfast for a more nutrient-dense start to your day.
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Eat more veggies!This one is plain and simple. Adding just one more serving of vegetables into your day will go a long way for your health. Vegetables are nutritional powerhouses that contain many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help to reduce the risk of chronic disease. They are also full of fiber and are very versatile in cooking. The USDA’s dietary guidelines for Americans recommend that adults eat a minimum of five servings of vegetables daily.
Snack on yogurt.Yogurt is a good source of gut-friendly probiotics. New research shows that the bacteria in our gut impact our health like we never knew before. Gut bacteria act as the first line of defense for our immune system, help to digest the fiber in our food and create healthy molecules for our body to use. Having abundant and diverse gut bacteria is linked to better health outcomes and even improved mood status in adults. The probiotics in yogurt help to replenish and grow these helpful bacteria in your colon. Not all yogurts are the same, though. Look for a yogurt that lists specific probiotic strains on the label and a variety that is higher in protein and low in added sugar.
Have a serving of nuts or seeds during the day.A handful of nuts is more than just a crunchy and delicious snack. Nuts and seeds contain many important nutrients such as omega-3 fats, fiber, vitamin E, and plant sterols which help to reduce cholesterol. This combination of nutrients and protein help to keep you full and sustained in between meals, making them a healthy and balanced snack. Choose low-sodium varieties, and sprinkle on top of salads, smoothies, or oatmeal!
Try meatless Monday.Going meatless once weekly helps to increase plant foods in the diet, such as beans, legumes, whole grains, and vegetables. Focusing on these foods even one day a week can help develop healthier habits over the year. Additionally, meals made with beans and legumes instead of meat are not only more environmentally friendly, but can also be much cheaper than their meat counterparts, making it a healthy swap for your health, the planet, and your wallet! Check out the Poe website for some delicious meatless meals!
Eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies during the week.
Research shows that, although people in the US are consuming more fruits and vegetables compared to previous years, the variety among types is low. Fruits and veggies contain powerful molecules called phytochemicals that contribute to the rich color in plants and have incredible health benefits to the body. These phytochemicals include lycopene in red foods which helps reduce the risk of heart disease, chlorophyllin in green foods which helps to reduce the risk of cancer, beta-carotene in orange foods which helps reduce cell damage, and anthocyanins in purple foods which helps with memory and cognitive performance. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables from each color group during the week ensures that you are getting the full variety of phytochemicals and antioxidants to keep your body healthy year-round.
Think twice about taking a supplement.The nutrients that our bodies need are best absorbed when we eat real food. Taking high levels of specific supplements can be expensive and ineffective for your health. Overall, it is recommended to get vitamins and minerals through real food, and an overall healthy and balanced diet is the best way to stay healthy, rather than just focusing on getting large amounts of one nutrient in particular. Always consult a doctor before starting any supplement regimen.
Though most New Year’s resolutions are only kept for a short period, the healthy resolutions listed above are sustainable ways to improve your physical and emotional health that can be followed for life.
Creating a healthier relationship with food and taking better care of your body and mind can drastically improve your health in various ways.
This New Year, try out a few of the resolutions in this article to help make this year — and the years that follow — the healthiest and happiest possible.