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This year, abandon the quick fixes and unproven gimmicks. It's time to get on board with five diet trends that are simple, healthy and have staying power.
1. Read food labels
If weight loss is your goal, start reading the nutrition labels on your groceries. A 2012 study published in Agricultural Economics: The Journal of the International Association of Agricultural Economists found that women who routinely scrutinize nutrition panels on food packages tend to weigh less than women who skip this practice.
Desiree Nielsen, a registered dietitian based in Vancouver, says that you should start with the list of ingredients. ''The first step is to determine whether or not it's a quality food made with quality ingredients,'' she says. ''If the items don't resemble simple things -- such as milk, flour, vegetables, seeds, spices and sugar -- you need to give that food a pass.''
Nielsen cites flavour enhancers and preservatives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed vegetable protein and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) as unhealthy ingredients to avoid. Extra sugars can also be problematic.
''If you see ingredients ending in ‘ose' -- such as fructose or glucose -- that's sugar,'' she explains. ''If they're listed four or five times, it's not a healthful food.''
Found a healthy product? Move on to examine the nutrient details on the label, including calories, fibre and sodium. ''If you like granola, for example, a tiny quarter-cup portion has 240 calories. You could have a 1,000 calorie breakfast before you even leave the house, so it might not be a great choice,'' Nielsen says.
Foods made from grains (cereals, breads, side dishes) should have 5 grams or more of fibre. Look for products with minimal amounts of sugar per serving, ideally 8 grams or less.
It's important to note that ''the healthiest foods don't have nutrition labels,'' says Nielsen. ''Produce, lean proteins, nuts, grains and unprocessed foods -- that's where the basics of your diet should start.''
2. Cook at home
Bored with takeout or processed meals that are loaded with additives, fat and empty calories (and are not help in the weight loss department)? Join the ranks of the cooking-at-home brigade. When you prepare your own snacks and meals you know exactly what you're eating, plus you save money, too.
''It's the easiest way to control the quality of the food that you eat,'' says Nielsen. ''Most takeaways and ‘heat and eat' foods are very high in salt, sugar and the wrong kinds of fat. They may have MSG and they rarely have enough produce, so it sets you up for a pattern of less-healthy eating.''
To switch to home-cooked meals, a little bit of planning is key. ''On the weekend, plan out your meals for the week, make your grocery list and go shopping. It might not be fun, but come Monday, the week will be a breeze,'' says Nielsen.3. Eat more plant-based foods
Including veggies on our plates is hardly a new concept, but 2013 will see a renewed dedication to all things green, leafy and delicious. Studies have found that people who fill up on vegetables have lower obesity rates, as well as reduced risks of high blood pressure and cholesterol.
''Moving toward a more plant-based diet is probably the strongest step that you can take toward better health,'' says Nielsen. ''Every time you look down at your plate, you should see it covered with 50 per cent fruit and/or vegetables.''
This method is easy -- there are no servings to count! -- and you don't have to abandon meat, grains or dairy. ''It works with any eating style, whether you like three square meals a day or to graze all day. Half of every eating opportunity should be produce,'' she says.
4. Embrace good fats
''Fat is your friend,'' says Nielsen. Good fats -- the unsaturated kind found in extra-virgin olive oil, raw nuts, chia, hemp, ground flaxseeds, salmon and avocado -- can actually help raise healthy cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL), lower nasty cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) and decrease inflammation. They also add natural flavour to your food.
''Fat helps carry fat-soluble nutrients, such as vitamin D, [through your body] and it's a concentrated source of energy that your body needs,'' explains Nielsen.
Decrease your intake of the unhealthy saturated fats found in red meat and ice cream and increase the unsaturated variety. If you goal is weight loss, however, remember to keep portion sizes small.
5. Try some old-school slimming foods
Fed up with gimmicky food fads, people are turning to simple old-school diet staples because they work. Low-fat cottage cheese, plain yogurt and grapefruit -- nicknamed ''flashback foods'' -- are all filling, easy to eat, unprocessed and low in calories and sugar.
''Cottage cheese and plain yogurt are high in protein, which helps stabilize blood sugar and makes you less prone to cravings throughout the day,'' says Nielsen. Grapefruit is another winner. ''It's nutrient rich with vitamin C for your immune system and lycopene to help protect the skin from damage.''
Read about six more diet trends and if they're worth exploring for weight loss.