Simple Diet Changes

6 Simple Diet Game-Changers
healthy_eating

Modifying your diet to "eat healthfully" doesn't require dramatic changes. In fact, it may only call for some minor tweaks. Certain small changes serve up huge, lifelong benefits that can help you lose weight, ward off disease, and feel more upbeat and energetic all day long.

"It's all about self-care," says Beth Reardon of Duke Integrative Medicine and Caring.com's senior food and nutrition editor. "You have to ask, 'Am I worth a little extra effort to think about what I'm putting in my body?' You -- and the body that you rely on -- deserve nothing less."

Start with these six simple diet game-changers:

Why Eating More (Healthy) Fat Can Help You Lose Weight

Why? Many adults, especially baby boomers, have been brainwashed into thinking fats equal calories and should be avoided. But the body needs fat to function. (After all, 60 percent of the brain is fat.) Not all fat is alike, and not all fat calories -- researchers increasingly believe -- are alike either. "The body metabolizes some fats better than others," Reardon says.

Healthy fats include those found in many nuts, seeds, avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, and canola oil. "Eating nuts and avocados doesn't make you fat -- but not eating them might," Reardon says. Unlike calories from saturated (bad) fats, healthy fat calories are essential to the body's metabolism. They keep you performing well, and they satisfy hunger better.

How? Use extra-virgin olive oil and canola for much of your cooking. Don't be shy about adding a small amount of olive oil, with flavored vinegar, if it makes it taste better and encourages you to eat more salad. (Another bonus: This type of dressing delivers less sodium and sugar than processed bottled dressings.) Mash avocado and spread it on your sandwich in place of mayonnaise. Snack on raw almonds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, and walnuts -- four kinds of nuts and seeds with great lipid-lowering ability -- or add them as toppings or ingredients to cereal, vegetable dishes, or foods.

Tip: Buy a flaxseed grinder (or coffee grinder) and add freshly-ground flaxseed to anything from cereal and baked goods to vegetables and smoothies. Flax is a rich source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as well as antioxidants and fiber, and it's been shown to reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol. Because whole flaxseed tends to be less well used by the body, grinding the seeds before use provides more benefit.

How Drinking Water and Green Tea Can Help You Lose Weight

Why? Water is sugar-free, junk-free, and guilt-free. Juice and soda, in contrast, contain unproductive calories (150 calories per cup of grape juice, 150 in a regular 12-ounce can of soda) made up mostly of sugar and few nutrients.

Don't fool yourself with diet sodas and sugar-free juices, either. They may have few or no calories, but the artificial sweeteners in them work in the body the same way sugary drinks do: They cause the brain to signal to the pancreas that "sweets are coming!" This causes the pancreas to start pumping insulin. Insulin, in turn, triggers carbohydrate cravings and fatigue. "It's a cheating game," says Reardon, "that backfires on us."

Drinks like soda and juice are also habit-forming. The brain tends to associate them with certain foods (chips, fries, hamburgers) or with expecting to eat at certain times. What's more, liquid calories take up stomach space, making us less likely to eat more satisfying and nutrient-rich foods, so overall nutrition suffers.

Water is less filling and hydrates the body, flushing out toxins, transporting nutrients, and keeping tissues such as the nose and mouth moist and better able to defend against viruses.

How? Aim for 48 ounces of water a day (that's six eight-ounce glasses), plus two to four cups of antioxidant-rich green or white tea (as a better-for-you coffee replacement). To build the water-drinking habit, pour glasses of water when you set the table, and set out a carafe for easy refills. Get in the habit of carrying a portable water bottle with you throughout the day. Whenever you would ordinarily reach for another drink, pour water instead. Reach for water whenever you're thirsty and after activity that makes you sweat.

Tip: "I drop a flavored white- or green-tea bag, like mandarin orange, into my water bottle as a quick, amazing-tasting alternative to hot brewed tea," Reardon says. "You get the antioxidant benefits of tea without the additives, calories, or artificial flavorings of mixes like Propel or Crystal Lite." The polyphenols in green tea also have mild metabolism-boosting properties.

How Eating Whole Grains Can Help You Lose Weight

Why? Whole grains are a critical part of a plant-based diet because they provide essential B vitamins and fiber. But Americans tend to be overly dependent on simple grains, usually white wheat, as well as white rice and white potatoes. "We tend to fall into habits and serve what our mothers did, but there's a huge world of whole grain variety out there," Reardon says.

Greater grain variety exposes the body to more nutrients and makes it easier to hit the targeted 45 grams per day of fiber adults need. (Most Americans eat a paltry 15 grams a day.) Another potential plus to weaning from wheat: undiagnosed celiac disease, a wheat intolerance caused by the body's inability to absorb gluten. The rates of celiac disease have increased 400 percent since the 1950s, according to a 2009 Mayo Clinic study in the journal Gastroenterology. And for every case diagnosed, there are thought to be 30 others not yet detected.

How? Start once a week by swapping out your usual white potatoes, white rice, or white bread with a serving of a new-to-you wheat alternative. Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa," it cooks like rice), for example, which is a grain-like plant, contains up to 50 percent more protein than many grains, as well as higher fat, calcium, and B vitamins. Other options include millet, barley, spelt, amaranth, wheat berries, buckwheat, and wild rice. Even food superstores, like Target, often now stock these wheat alternatives.

Tip: If you're nervous about cooking an unfamiliar grain, look for semiprepared mixes or ready-made dishes. (Reardon's local Whole Foods sells a quinoa mixed with pumpkin, pomegranate, and pine nuts, for example.) "Packaged mixes are higher in sodium but a good alternative if you're paralyzed by fear of failure," she says.

How Eating Breakfast Can Help You Lose Weight

Why? Many people postpone the first meal of the day as long as possible because they're convinced that once they start eating, they can't stop. "The reason they can't stop once they get going isn't that they've eaten but what they've eaten," Reardon says. "If you just grab a bagel or a piece of fruit, it's a simple carb that's burned quickly, and you're soon ravenous with a need to feed a glucose low." This sets you up for a roller-coaster of blood-sugar highs and lows all day.

By eating a more complex breakfast soon after you get up, however, your body actually remains sated longer -- and you'll ultimately eat less.

How? Break your overnight fast within an hour of awakening with a balance of four items: a slow-burning whole grain (oatmeal, muesli, whole-grain English muffin, whole-grain cereal), some protein (yogurt, low-fat milk, tofu with scrambled eggs, nut butter, fish, lean meat), healthy fat (almond butter, cashew butter, nuts, ground flaxseed, canola oil -- found in some cereals), and a fruit/vegetable (raisins, frozen berries, grapefruit half, grilled vegetables, banana).

Avoid two food categories that contain most "classic" American breakfast foods:

  • Simple carbs (frozen waffle, pastry, muffins, sugary cereal, pancakes made with white flour, breakfast bars)

  • Fatty foods high in saturated fats (fried eggs and bacon, cheesy omelets, bagels with cream cheese, fast-food breakfast sandwiches)

Tip: For an easy, sustaining, one-bowl solution, microwave plain oatmeal (not flavored) and low-fat milk with walnuts or almonds and dried fruit (apricots, dates, raisins, etc.). Add ground flaxseed and top with fresh berries, a little cinnamon, and you're good to go. Even better: Make a batch to get you through a few days; refrigerate and heat up individual servings day by day.

How Skipping Sandwiches Can Help Can Help You Lose Weight

Why? "Most American are inclined to think of lunch as two pieces of bread and a filling," Reardon says. Too often, this bread is a simple-carb, processed white wheat -- and the filling tends to be fatty meats and cheeses. Net result: a midday waste of calories. Better: Move away from the stereotype sandwich for lunch.

How? Most other cultures don't rely on sandwiches for lunch, Reardon says. Instead, they eat what we traditionally consider "breakfast food" (whole-grain cereal with yogurt and fruit, eggs) or "dinner food" (fish, brown rice with veggies, soup, yesterday's leftovers).

No microwave available to heat up a meal? Pack a salad topped with canned salmon, chickpeas, tuna, or deli turkey. Roll up veggies and low-fat cheese in a whole-grain tortilla. Munch fruit and nuts.

Tip: Go to a recipe finder such as epicurious.com to experiment with new dishes built around whole grains, soy protein (tempeh and tofu, for example), or squashes or other vegetables. Pay attention to the recipe reviews to find ones that match your tastes and prep-time preferences. Making enough to brown-bag for lunch saves money -- and spares the stressing over "what will I eat?" that too often leads to quick, calorie-stuffed, nutrient-hungry choices.

How a "Protein Rotation" Can Help You Lose Weight

Why? Americans eat too much protein, on average, and too much of it comes from animal sources. A meat-heavy diet is linked to a higher risk of heart disease and cancer. Better: a diet that's primarily plant-based. That's why introducing more vegetarian meals, ideally three to four times a week, is an easy way to boost overall nutrition -- and save money.

How? Shoot for a mix like this: Red meat once a week, poultry one to two times a week, seafood or vegetarian three to four times a week. Eventually, your goal should be to have red meat twice a month or less.

Tip: Train yourself to think of protein as a side dish to the vegetables and grains, not as a main dish. Thomas Jefferson recommended reserving meat for a flavoring -- a "condiment for the vegetables," Michael Pollan writes in In Defense of Food.


over 2 years ago, said...

Thanks for the nice and informative article. Yes, Eating meat and more junk food iwill not get digested within the regular time and most likely cause indigestion and accumalation fat in the body which results in over weight uneasiness, etc.,


over 2 years ago, said...

I have been eating the way I eat for over 60 years. You provide B.S. solutions for eating that you might as well suggest that I move to Southeast Asia or an island in the Pacific. Think about some realistic changes in choices for eating. Oh and I am male and that may have something to do with seeing your rabbit food diet as unappealing. Better suggestions would be thinking about some flavored nuts instead of sweets to snack on. There is a ton of items that spark the flavor of water to make it more interesting to drink than H2O. Coffee and tea makes a great substitute for water with additional health benefits. Most fruits also contain water and fiber, more appealing than floating a battleship. Whole grains can be substituted for the most common carbs that are consumed except at Mac's Deli. We may have an energy crisis more than an over consumption of food crisis. We use to work for a living and needed nutrition. Eat and then do something to burn the calories. Find a balance for what goes in needs to get used and not stored.


over 2 years ago, said...

Renewing knowledge already known and a reminder to follow advice given.


about 3 years ago, said...

Provided several alternative foods to help with weight loss. Also provided some of the data to support early morning breakfast. And clued me in about Epricurious. Thanks


over 3 years ago, said...

I appreciate your links to appropriate articles, very much.


over 3 years ago, said...

Superb advice and alot of it I already know.I just don'timplement it. I end to eat healthily all day and then in the evening I totally loose it and eat a bunch of biscuits or chocolate and I am 2 stone over weight and gaining.


over 3 years ago, said...

You have to cut calories by 500 per day of your maintenance level RDA or 3000 to lose a pound. Don't short it by more than 1000 or your body will rebell....There are no shortcuts. Avocado's and all there BS isn't going to help if you eat too much. Excersize can help, but not if your pounding down pounds and pounds of food each day.


almost 4 years ago, said...

I have been using flax seeds fpr the past year and I feel wonderful, my hair is shining and my colesterol has drrop. I recommend it along with quinoa and fish oil (Nature's Made) burpless.


almost 4 years ago, said...

Looks like a great diet, close to what I'm doing!


about 4 years ago, said...

LOL @ demonizing diet sodas outright with what reads like a lot of bogus gobbledygook. What someone who's actually qualified to speak about these days said during an interview about this subject is that diet sodas are fine to consume during meals, but that if you drink them by themselves, it confuses the body because it's expecting to get calories but because it isn't, it automatically triggers receptors in the stomach that signal that your body needs food. So the trick is to not drink diet sodas by themselves but with a meal. Besides, what the hell are people supposed to drink in warm weather climates to get their caffeine fix? Asking us to drink coffee when the temperature outside is over 85 degrees (as it is for at least half the year) is laughable, and a well-known geopolitical author stated that when he's at home (in Boston) he lives on coffee but that when he's in places such as sub-Saharan Africa he relies on soda because coffee destabilizes the stomach when it's very warm or hot outside (which, as per my experiences, is true). So please stop demonizing diet sodas because they're a great way of getting caffeine for people who don't get to live where winter exists as a real season, esp the people who are concerned about developing or who already have diabetes.


about 4 years ago, said...

The whole article. Very informative.


about 4 years ago, said...

I find these lists of game changers humorous at best. It blends of science and nutritional folklore as fact. Kudos on recommending cutting sugar and simple, refined carbs. Sound science here. High sugar leads to high triglycerides and low HDL, and high simple carbs leads to insulin resistance. But then Caring.Com stumbles by demonstrating complete ignorance by making villains out of protein and fat. Folklore claim saturated fats as bad without the scientific support, because it doesn't exist. Eat your eggs, beef and pork. The fat averages 47% MUFAs that raise HDL and lower LDL, and of the 40-some percent of the evil saturated fatty acids, 2/3 is stearic acid, which also raises HDL. Animal fats don't cause heart disease or obesity.


about 4 years ago, said...

love your articles - especially the advice on healthy eating. I have not read such a well-explained article before. Woukd you please ask your web-master to display a user-friendly printed version of these 6 pages -thank you so much


about 4 years ago, said...

Good article and very helpful! If people would only use some common sense!


about 4 years ago, said...

This has helped me make a good grocery list to eat healthy for the family.


about 4 years ago, said...

very useful information for healthy living!


over 4 years ago, said...

The article had the usual tips for eating healthy, but also included some new items, for me, that was very helpful.


over 4 years ago, said...

Understanding that all fats not bad.


over 4 years ago, said...

Thanks this article is just what I need to remind me where I have let myelf down in the past. So many friends have told me about the "changes" I need to make to improve my diet and lifestyle. Now I have read about superfoods and weight loss foods, perhaps I will begin to feel a lot better in myself.


over 4 years ago, said...

Well written, easy to understand information. I especially liked the tip about the one-bowl breakfast solution, and making enough at one time to last several days!


almost 5 years ago, said...

Another thought...Something else I should add I am a firm believer that canola oil is not good as we are led to believe. Olive oil (cold pressed), coconut oil or advocardo oil are the best. Coconut oil is the best for heating as it does not oxidise. My whole family have been doing this, some of them for a while now with great result, their results made me try and I am so pleased I did..


almost 5 years ago, said...

By cutting out all grains and sugar and high carb veges and only eating meat (that includes bacon) and eggs, low carb veges, fruit and full cream milk, I have lost 5 kilos this year and now have stopped two medications (one within a week) that I have needed for years. Feel great and sleeping well and never have hunger feelings..


almost 5 years ago, said...

Having a hard time losing weight esp. in the belly.


almost 5 years ago, said...

This article contridicts the one that said I should eat red meat to lose weight.


almost 5 years ago, said...

It reinforces some changes I have made in my diet and encourages me to make more changes.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Very informative,


almost 5 years ago, said...

THIS ARTICLE JUST CONTRADICTED THE PREVIOUS ONE. Give me a break.


about 5 years ago, said...

The reminder of what is good and the explanation of why it is good was helpful. A chart to print and print on the fridge would have been even better!


about 5 years ago, said...

Lot' s of information, very interesting....


about 5 years ago, said...

Great for anybody


about 5 years ago, said...

very helpful


about 5 years ago, said...

I find the articles very helpful. I have heart disease and Cancer runs in my family.


about 5 years ago, said...

The information about food that I eat without knowing the harm they really do to a person in my condition.


about 5 years ago, said...

This Article helped me by Showing me HEalthful ways to cut my Risk of Developing Dioabetes, which is especially Important for me, since My Family has Diabetes on all 4 sides!


over 5 years ago, said...

I need all the help I can get to loose weight....I need to drop 25 pounds !!!