As a dietitian with 35 years of experience in the art and science of nutrition, I've learned what works and what doesn't. And I've picked up some truths and strategies along the way. Here are my top 12 healthy-eating tips.
1. Keep a food journal. I've learned, both from research studies and experience, that the most important tool for weight loss or any dietary change is a food diary (in which you keep note of every single thing you eat throughout the day for at least a week). It helps you track what you're eating, makes you accountable and makes it easier for you to identify areas for change.
2. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Even though I've sometimes had to skip it, I always feel more energetic and alert when I have it. My best mornings start with a tall, nonfat latte that I drink in a café after my walk. Back home, I eat either oatmeal (sometimes topped with fresh fruit), whole wheat bread with cheese or with peanut butter, or cottage cheese with fresh fruit. These are healthful choices, and the protein fills me enough to keep me going all morning.
3. Small steps can add up to big permanent changes – whether you are trying to lose weight, lower cholesterol or simply feel better. For instance, I measured the amount of oil I used in several of my recipes and cut it in half. I did this with stir-fry, one of my favourites; it still tastes delicious, and I save about 150 calories each time I eat it – which is about once a week. Over a year, that adds up to 7,800 calories – or a weight loss of two pounds.
4. Eat slowly. It's a wonderful way to savour your food – and to eat less. Slow eating has become second nature for me, and many of my clients have found it helpful. Start by putting your fork down between bites, chewing a bit more or cutting food into smaller pieces.
5. Give in to your love of sweets, but do it with control. I love chocolate (and wish it were one of the food groups), so I still eat it. But now I buy only top-quality chocolate, for its exceptional taste, and eat a small piece, really savouring it. If I need just a little chocolate fix, I sprinkle chocolate on my latte or make myself a sugar-free hot chocolate.
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6. Enjoy festive meals without guilt. We all have our moments of weakness, and that's OK. Just return to your more healthful habits at the next meal.
7. Eat seasonally and you'll enjoy fruit and vegetables at their tastiest, most affordable and most available. In the summer I eat fresh fruit such as peaches, nectarines, cherries and melons. In the fall I make soups with squash, cabbage or tomatoes, and visit country markets, where I can buy directly from farmers. The health value of fruit and vegetables is undisputed. Nature's convenience foods are portable, full of nutrients, low in fat and high in fibre.
8. The path to a wholesome eating style is individual, and should fit your lifestyle and food tastes. There are many experts who can help, but pick someone who listens to you and works with you to make your diet realistic and enjoyable.
9. Try not to get too hungry. It's best to eat something every three to four hours, which usually translates to three meals and one or two snacks daily. Make a list of healthful snacks. Mine include some plain, low-fat yogurt and fruit, popcorn, a cheese string with a few whole wheat crackers or half of a whole wheat pita stuffed with vegetables and tuna.
10. Eat healthful carbs, such as whole grain, low glycemic-index foods, which offer substantial health benefits. My favourites include whole grain breads, oatmeal, barley, buckwheat, bulgur and quinoa. Start by trying a new grain every few weeks in salads, side dishes, pilafs or casseroles.
11. Practise portion control – it's vital to weight management. Measure your cereal, pasta and dessert bowls and your drinking glasses, to see how much they actually hold. When I found out that my pasta bowls held nearly three cups, I changed to a smaller bowl. Psychologically you think you're eating more when you fill a small bowl than when you partially fill a large one.
12. Stay well hydrated. The best hydration comes from non-caffeinated, nonalcoholic beverages, soups and watery foods such as fruit and vegetables. I drink water with every meal and keep a bottle on my desk when I am working. If I want a change from plain water, I add some lemon or lime or a little cranberry juice.
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