Trying to sneak in some health? Check out this guest post by Sharon Palmer, RD*.
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones,” says an oft quoted Chinese proverb. It’s encouraging to use this analogy when you’re facing a difficult challenge, such as remodeling a home or embarking on a new career. But this strategy is also useful when you’re trying to make positive changes in your diet to achieve better health. Small steps in your diet that may seem to fly under the radar can add up to noticeable benefits.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” says Elisa Zied, M.S, R.D., C.D.N., dietitian and author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips. She adds, “In order to improve food and nutrient intake and overall health, slow and steady more often than not wins the race over the long haul. To change food and nutrient intake, it’s important to make small, gradual changes that are realistic to implement and maintain long term. When you make dramatic changes, you may see results sooner, such as weight loss or improvements in blood cholesterol or blood pressure. But if you overhaul everything all at once or make really dramatic changes in your food or fitness behaviors, it’s hard to maintain those changes over the long term.”
When you make rapid, high-impact diet changes, they can result in making you feel overly restricted or deprived of food. You may even feel that enjoying a meal out with friends or family is off-limits because you no longer eat certain foods. On the other hand, if you make realistic changes in behavior one at a time, it’s likely that these changes will become integrated into your lifestyle, according to Zied.
Thus, a stealth health approach to diet change can be an effective way to achieve your goals for a healthy weight, as well as protection against chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. EN asked top nutrition experts for their best tips—the small stones—for moving that mountain and finding a healthier you.
9 Small Diet Changes that Lead to Big Results
1. Practice portion control. According to Zied, portion control is the most important way to promote weight loss or prevent weight gain. “Most of us overeat from time to time, if not often,” says Zied. She suggests that you prepare smaller amounts of food to begin with, share your meal with a friend when you dine out, and buy smaller packages and bottle sizes when you’re shopping. This strategy can help you curb your total calorie intake while still allowing you to eat your favorite foods. Once you begin to eat more appropriate portion sizes, you can focus on improving the quality of your diet to consume more nutrients and less added sugars and solid fats.
2. Slip more vegetables into your diet. According to Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., dietitian and author of the upcoming book “Diabetes Weight Loss—Week by Week,” we only eat on average 59 percent of the amount of vegetables recommended in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.
“Aim for at least two cups daily to lower your risk of heart disease, some cancers and other chronic diseases, as well as to help control your weight. Make it easy on yourself by adding veggies to the foods you already eat,” she adds. It’s easy: Pack onion, lettuce, sliced mushrooms, spinach, colorful bell peppers and other vegetables into sandwiches. Toss cherry tomatoes, scallions and snow peas into pasta salad. Replace some lasagna noodles with very thin-sliced zucchini. And double your usual vegetable serving at dinner.
3. Be mindful as you eat. “So often, we rush through and multitask during meals and we don’t really taste our food,” says Zied, who reports that becoming a more mindful eater can lead to reduced food intake. How can you be a mindful eater? Try limiting distractions such as television and the Internet while you eat, avoid multitasking during snacks or mealtime, add enjoyment like good conversation and pleasant music to your meals, and pay attention to the delicious taste, aromas and textures on your plate. Chances are you’ll feel more satisfied for a longer period.
4. Use caution with snacks. “Despite common assumptions, research does not show that you need snacks to lose weight or eat healthfully,” says Weisenberger. In fact, snacking is out of control with many adults, who now consume about 500 snack calories per day—up from only 200 daily in the 70s. She suggests that you turn to snacking to satisfy physical hunger, control appetite, fuel an exercise session and to give your body the nutrients it needs. But don’t snack because you think it’s required for weight loss. If you’re fitting in a snack, shoot for one that provides 100 to 200 calories and a good source of both carbohydrate and protein. Try Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, hummus and veggies, almond butter on apple slices, or cottage cheese with raisins and cinnamon.
5. Leave 10 percent of each meal on your plate. “Since 1970, our calorie intakes have crept up by more than 20 percent, which has contributed to the rise in obesity,” says Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., dietitian and author of the book “Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.” For the average American, leaving just 10 percent behind at each meal every single day—about 83,950 calories per year, or the amount in 300 candy bars—is enough to lead to a 10 pound weight loss over a year’s time.
6. Try an oil pump mister to add small amounts of oil into the cooking pan or directly onto your food, suggests Weisenberger. While oils like extra virgin olive oil contain healthy fats and bioactive compounds, a little can go a long way. Every tablespoon of vegetable oil contains about 125 calories; if you glug from an open oil bottle directly into your pan, it’s easy to pour on hundreds of extra calories. “An oil pump mister can dramatically save calories when cooking,” says Weisenberger.
7. Swap some of your meat for mushrooms. “Not only does this swap help you get in more veggies and slash calories without feeling hungrier, but it also ups your intake of vitamin D—mushrooms are the only plant-based source,” says Sass. She suggests that you trade ground meat for chopped mushrooms in tacos or burritos, use two grilled Portabella mushrooms as a “bun” for a smaller turkey burger, or use mushrooms in place of your burger altogether. By trading three ounces of 90 percent lean ground turkey for a half cup of chopped Portabella mushroom once a week, you can save 7,280 calories a year.
8. Eat only while sitting. You’ve all heard the adage that ice cream calories don’t count when you’re eating it out of the carton in front of the open freezer door. Well, unfortunately, those calories do count. “We so often eat while standing. Become aware of how often you eat while running around, cooking, or giving your kids a snack. Make it a rule to sit down whenever you eat, which can potentially reduce snacking or eating when you’re not hungry,” says Zied.
9. Swap butter for ripe avocado. “Butter is loaded with saturated fat, while avocado contains heart healthy monounsaturated fat, the major antioxidant vitamin E, fiber, and the blood pressure controlling nutrient potassium.” Per tablespoon, you’ll save over 75 calories by making the swap, but still get the creamy satisfaction you crave.
How do you sneak better eating habits into your life?
Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition Newsletter, December 2011, by Sharon Palmer, R.D.