25 realistic ways to improve your diet in 2013
Many New Year’s resolutions fail because they’re too vague or too drastic. This year, instead of just promising yourself to be “healthier” or “lose weight,” make a commitment to a healthier you by sticking to one of these 25 ways to give your eating habits a fresh (and attainable) makeover.
1. Swap most of your grains for whole grains.
Whole grains contain more good-for-you nutrients since they haven’t had their bran and germ removed through processing. A diet high in whole grains is associated with better weight management and has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer. Plus, all that fiber helps keep you regular and is associated with lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
If you’re not sure how to identify which products contain whole grains, check out our guide to navigating the bread aisle for better insight. Another helpful tip: Look for the white whole-grain checkmark on cereal boxes to ensure you’re buying a cereal that contains more whole grains than any other single ingredient.
2. Drink more water.
It doesn’t have to be eight glasses a day. Just drink more than you’re drinking now, and choose water over sodas and other beverages more frequently. Not only will it help you stay hydrated and healthy, but it can also help you feel full more often. Feel like snacking? Try drinking a glass of water instead.
We understand if you feel like water is boring, but it doesn’t have to be! Make it more exciting with these nine tips.
3. Start actually following the MyPlate rule and make 50% of each meal fruits and vegetables.
Don’t panic. It’s not as difficult as you would imagine. Check out our guide to getting the recommended amount of fruits and veggies. (Spoiler alert: It does not involve shoveling ridiculous amounts of raw veggies down your throat every day.)
4. Limit your alcohol consumption.
This New Year’s resolution is mainly for those drinking excessively or those who want to lose weight in 2013. Determining the healthiest amount and frequency to drink is becoming increasingly complicated as more studies are revealing health benefits and other studies are revealing potential risks of drinking as little as one drink a day. Generally, though, heavy drinking is defined as drinking more than one drink per day on average for women and more than two drinks per day on average for men. Long term, heavy drinking has been associated with many health risks, ranging from neurological and psychiatric problems to cardiovascular and liver problems, as well as cancer.
If you drink moderately but are aiming to lose weight next year, keep in mind that liquids can have calories too. One Cosmo contains approximately 213 calories, and one rum-and-coke contains 203. For weight-loss purposes, try limiting your alcohol intake to a certain number of drinks when you go out and only a certain number of days each week. To find out how many calories, carbohydrates, fats and sugars are in your favorite cocktails, check out our Periodic Table of Cocktails infographic.
5. Bake, grill, boil & steam more — sauté less.
If 2013 is going to be the year of thin and fit for you, try adding this resolution to your weight-loss plan. Judy Weitzman, a diet coach who has worked in the weight-loss industry for 30 years, told HellaWella that one of the biggest mistakes people make while trying to cook and eat healthily is using too much oil in the pan. We suggest eliminating the oil altogether to cut the extra calories and fat from your daily intake.
Make a decision to only allow sautéing once a week, or just less frequently in general. Bake, grill, boil and steam instead — none of these techniques involves adding anything to your food for it to cook. And don’t forget the slow cooker! Try these 6 healthy slow-cooker recipes to help you toward your goal.
6. Commit to participating in Meatless Mondays.
Curbing your carnivorous cravings one day a week could help lower your cancer risk, reduce heart disease, fight diabetes, curb obesity and promote longevity — not to mention it reduces your carbon footprint, minimizes water usage and helps reduce fossil fuel dependence, so you’re helping not only yourself but also the environment. This is the rationale behind Meatless Monday, a nonprofit initiative promoting healthy, environmentally friendly meat-free alternatives one day a week.
If one day of vegetarianism sounds painful to you, let us ask you something: Do spinach- and artichoke-stuffed portabellas sound terrible to you? What about a French tomato tart or a wild mushroom risotto? Butternut squash soup? There’s an infinite number of delicious meatless recipes for you to choose from — and we guarantee you’ll find the challenge easier than you expected. Check out these 6 meatless dinner recipes and 8 vegetarian soup recipes to get started.
7. Cook and eat at home more often.
You’re more likely to eat less and eat healthier if you eat at home. To be specific, you’re actually consuming 50% more calories, fat and sodium, on average, when you order out or eat at a restaurant. The reason behind those stubborn 5 pounds is becoming clear now, isn’t it?
Besides being beneficial to your waistline, eating home-cooked meals will also benefit your overall health. According to Medical Daily, Harvard University research found that families that ate together every day or most days had a higher intake of good-for-you nutrients, such as calcium, fiber, iron and vitamins B6, B12, C and E, as well as less overall saturated fat intake.
It can be difficult to come home from a rough day at work and find the energy to cook, but there are myriad tricks to make this easier! We highly recommend picking up Judy Weitzman’s "How to Eat When Life Gets in the Way," which provides tips on how to organize your fridge so you’re more likely to eat the healthier foods and how to prep for the week to make weeknight cooking easier and quicker, plus easy, nutritious snack ideas.
Don’t want to give up your weekly pad Thai or chicken Marsala? Check out our article on how to make your 10 favorite takeout meals at home.
8. Eat more sustainably.
We’re not saying become a vegan farmer and live off the land — just make a few easy changes to your usual food-shopping and eating routines. First, aim for local and seasonal foods, and start shopping at your local farmers market. In addition to reducing your carbon footprint — the food doesn’t have to travel as far — you’re also supporting the community’s economy. Plus, your food is fresher. Check out this infographic to get a better idea of when various fruits and vegetables are in season.
Secondly, reduce the amount of meat and animal-related products you consume throughout the week. Check out No. 6 to learn more about Meatless Mondays and how you can participate.
For more ways to make simple, more sustainable adjustments to your diet, click here.
9. Give up the fad diets and try a healthy one, like Weight Watchers.
Please, oh, please, oh, PLEASE don’t be one of the many dieters who embark on an overly restrictive, nutrient-depriving fad diet. 1. They’re not good for your body. 2. Even if you lose weight, you will gain it back. Fad diets are not an effective way to shed pounds and keep them off.
If you want to drop down to a healthier size, check out U.S. News & World Report’s 2012 list of the best overall weight-loss diets. Spoiler: Weight Watchers ranks at No. 1. The program, known for its point system, was found to effectively help dieters lose weight and keep it off, and it didn’t deprive dieters of critical vitamins and minerals.
If you want to follow a diet to simply improve your overall health, check out the 2012 list for best diets for healthy eating.
10. Stop skipping breakfast.
Your mom was right all along. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, and you could be hindering your weight-loss efforts and hurting your health by missing it. According to WebMD, skipping breakfast is strongly associated with the development of obesity.
Additionally, calories = energy. Heading to school or work without eating something first can leave you feeling lethargic and less focused.
11. Cut back on the soda — even if it’s diet.
If you’re reading this, there’s a 50% chance you’re a soda drinker. That’s because a recent Gallup poll found that nearly half of Americans drink soda on a daily basis. That controversial habit has been linked with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, kidney stones and other health conditions.
Diet soda drinkers: You’re not necessarily in the clear. A 2008 study found that those who consume diet soda have a 34% increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, and other research has linked diet soda consumption with obesity. (To learn more about recent diet soda research, click here.)
For 2013, try swapping your sodas — regular or diet — to tea, which can benefit your health in many ways. Learn about the different kinds of tea and their respective health benefits here. Not a tea drinker? Perhaps you should invest in a soda machine, so you can carbonate from the comfort of your casa and reduce the sugar or artificial sweeteners you usually consume in store-bought soda.
Or, you know, there’s always water — that stuff that keeps you hydrated and makes up about 57% of your body weight.
12. Lose the juice cleanse routine.
We’re big fans of juice, but we’re also big fans of the “everything in moderation” rule. When you embark on strict, lengthy juice-only diet, you could be depriving your body of some critical nutrients it needs to function properly.
Thinking of doing it as a quick, all-or-nothing way to drop some pounds? Unfortunately, like most fad diets, juice fasts are not an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Click here for more details on the pros and cons of juicing, and here to learn more about why a juice cleanse is a waste of your time and money.
13. Commit to Fishy Friday … or Seafood Sunday or whatever.
OK, so there’s no such thing as Fishy Friday. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines recommend eating seafood twice a week, stating that “consumption of about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood, which provide an average consumption of 250 milligrams per day of EPA and DHA, is associated with reduced cardiac deaths among individuals with and without pre-existing cardiovascular disease.” The American Heart Association says the same thing.
If you think twice a week is reasonable for you, try committing to a Fishy Friday AND a Seafood Sunday — or, you know, whatever day(s) of the week you prefer. If you currently don’t even eat seafood once a week, let’s start small and commit to one day every week in which you eat a seafood-containing meal.
That DHA mentioned by the Dietary Guidelines is one of the nutrients in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fatty acids found in fish and shellfish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, shrimp, scallops and herring. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to a reduction in triglyceride levels, a lower risk of heart disease, lower levels of depression and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, among others.
14. Switch to healthier snacks.
Look, we know that vending machine in the office is tempting. The Crunch bar taunts us every day. But if you’re going to snack, make it something nutritious and relatively low-calorie. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests grabbing a 200- to 300-calorie snack. Try packing air-popped popcorn, spreadable cheese on cucumber slices or trail mix.
No time to pack? Choose sensible prepackaged snacks for when you’re on the go, like part-skim string cheese or Emerald 100-calorie nut packs.
15. Try a food journal to help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Most people don’t realize how many calories they’re consuming throughout the day, and simply becoming more aware of your daily calorie intake can be eye-opening — thereby helping you change your eating habits. Research confirms this: A 2008 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that keeping a food diary can actually DOUBLE a person’s weight loss.
So if weight loss is your goal for next year, try tracking your meals. You don’t need to carry a notebook around with you at all times. Try these 5 food diary apps for your smartphone instead.
16. Try new (and healthy) foods!
Eating a variety of foods ensures we meet all of our nutritional requirements and aren’t missing any essential vitamins and minerals by eating the same things every day. And who wants to eat the same thing every day anyway?
Next year, add more variety to your diet and try new, healthy foods to add to your nutritious food options. Make a list of foods and dishes you haven’t tried before, and cross each of them off as you try them throughout the year.
17. Cut back on the caffeine.
You have a cup in the morning to help you wake up, another at noon with lunch, another when you get “that 2 o’clock feeling” and another when you realize it’s 4 and you still have two more hours of work left. A little coffee won’t hurt, but when you reach four or more cups a day, it’s excessive — and that excessive caffeine take can take a toll on your general health. Possible side effects of heavy daily caffeine use include insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, stomach upset, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you’re drinking four cups or more a day, a serious reduction in caffeine intake might be the perfect New Year’s resolution for you. Make a commitment to swapping your coffee for water, tea or seltzer water. For a better idea of how much caffeine is in various drinks — including energy shots, energy drinks, coffee, tea and soda — check out our infographic.
18. Eat more of the foods that could help improve your mood.
Our overall emotional well-being is just as important as our physical health. Lucky for you, there are foods you can eat to improve both. If you struggled with depression or mood swings in 2012, make 2013 the year you work toward happiness — you can start with eating well.
Certain healthy foods have been shown to improve mood, including omega-3s, thiamine, vitamin B12 and tryptophan. Perhaps combining this resolution with No. 13 — eating fish or seafood once or twice a week — would be the perfect medicine for your psyche (as well as your body).
And just as there are foods that benefit your mood, there are also foods that hurt it — alcohol and excess caffeine and sugar can worsen your mood. And dehydration can cause irritability and loss of concentration, so stay hydrated!
19. Work on portion control.
Americans have a portion problem — and you’re not going to hit a weight-loss goal without keeping your portions in check. Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, giving yourself a lesson in portion control is beneficial to your health.
To follow through with this 2013 goal, try these 10 mind tricks to fool yourself into eating less. For starters, they include using smaller plates and bowls, not eating in front of the computer or TV and cutting food into smaller pieces. Also take a gander at our list of serving-size comparisons so you can better acquaint yourself with what a healthy serving size looks like (e.g., a serving of fruit is the size of a baseball and a serving of chicken, beef or pork is the size of a deck of cards).
20. Eat more slowly.
This may sound like an insignificant New Year’s resolution, but it’s not — and it’s more difficult than you think. Recent research has shown that overweight men and women consumed fewer calories when they slowed their normal eating pace, according to WebMD. Another study showed that eating food more slowly caused participants to feel full sooner and therefore eat less.
It’s going to take some serious concentration to get the hang of this one at first, but it’s an extremely helpful habit to acquire and will help you maintain a healthy weight now and in the future. Plus, you’ll re-learn how to truly savor your food.
21. Eat in color.
There’s a reason produce comes in different colors — and it often has something to do with their healthy nutrients. Thus, the bigger the variety in colors on your plate, the bigger the variety of nutrients you’re consuming. To maximize the nutritional value of your meals in 2013, make color a priority when grocery shopping and cooking.
22. Drink a full glass of water (or two) before each meal.
You can’t go wrong with this New Year’s resolution. By drinking one or two glasses of water before eating a meal, you can help keep yourself hydrated and eat less. A 2010 study published in the journal Obesity followed a group of overweight people on low-calorie diets, half of which were instructed to drink two cups of water before every meal. According to the New York Times, the water group lost an average of 15.5 pounds by the end of the three months, while the other group lost 11 pounds.
NYT did suggest that this effect is more prominent in people ages 35 years and older, but it couldn’t hurt to try it even if you’re younger. What’s the worst that could happen? You'll be more hydrated than you were in 2012.
23. Make the majority of your protein sources lean proteins.
Red meat isn’t the enemy. Even if you have low cholesterol, it can be part of a well-balanced, healthy diet — but you can’t eat rib eyes every day. Many of us get too much of our protein from high-fat sources, and all that fat can add up over time and put our heart health at risk.
Next year, make the majority of your protein sources come from lean proteins. This means your ground meat should be 90% lean or higher; you should choose lean cuts of beef, such as round, chuck, sirloin and tenderloin; and you should learn to make some yummy meals with chicken breasts with no skin. When you do opt for high-fat protein, choose foods like peanuts and fatty fish like salmon, which contain “good” unsaturated fats.
24. Stop allowing weekends to ruin your diet.
It’s not uncommon for people to let themselves go on the weekends. Weekday eating and workout habits go out the door, and we overindulge on food, snacking, alcohol or a combination of the three. If you’re serious about losing weight and/or eating healthily, you’ll need to add a little more structure to your weekends.
"Many dieters feels as though they're dieting all the time but not losing weight, when, in fact, they're creating a calorie deficit Monday through Friday but filling it — and more — during the weekend," said dietitian and exercise physiologist Kim Gorman to MSNBC.
Set some rules for yourself for 2013 weekends so you don’t undo all of the hard work you accomplished during the week. Try these tips from MSNBC on how to treat the weekend like a Wednesday, at least as far as your eating habits are concerned.