BY ANA G REISDORF, MS, RD
When contemplating living healthier, it's easy to get caught up in all-or-nothing thinking.
You might think better nutrition means giving up sweets, french fries and red meat forever for a life of green juice, but creating space for better nutrition doesn't necessarily require a total overhaul or abandonment of your favorites. Just a few food swaps in your daily choices may help you lower your risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Swap Out the Sugary Drinks
A simple way to improve your health immediately is to switch out what you drink. Soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweet teas, energy drinks, coffee drinks and other beverages sweetened with sugar are high-calorie and provide little nutrition. Swapping them in favor of healthier alternatives may decrease your risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
Ditching the soda doesn't mean you have to stick with plain water, though. Sugar-free options can still taste great with fewer calories. Give these options a try:
- Fruit-infused water.
- Homemade, unsweetened sun tea.
- Sparkling waters.
Swap In the Veggies
Low in calories and full of vitamins, phytonutrients and fiber, vegetables are among the healthiest foods. Vegetable intake has been associated with improved digestive health and decreased risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, according to the International Journal of Epidemiology. Despite these benefits, some people still have a hard time meeting the daily recommendation.
Ramp up your nutrition and health by sneaking vegetables in or swapping out typical meals with options that include veggies. With some creativity and planning, you can fit more veggies into your daily diet, including:
- Instead of a morning bagel, for example, try adding some spinach to a smoothie.
- Make it a habit to top a sandwich with as many veggies as you can pile on.
- Nutrient-dense leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and avocado can add delicious nutrition to your usual sandwich.
- Even sneak pureed veggies into meatloaf or hamburgers before cooking.
Bump Up the Protein
Protein is a part of every cell in your body. It's used to build hormones, enzymes, blood and antibodies, as well as skin, bones and muscles.
But recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from researchers at Abbott and the Ohio State University found that more than 1 in 3 of adults over 50 years old are not getting the daily recommended amount of protein they need.
That may explain why close to 50 percent of older adults have an advanced form of muscle loss, called sarcopenia, that can decrease their strength and mobility while increasing their chances of illness and falling.
One way to ensure you're getting enough protein is to incorporate a carefully planned protein-packed snack, like a Ensure® Max Protein drink, into your day. It's a quick and simple way to eat right, especially when you're on the go or don't have time for a full meal.
Eat at Home
When life gets busy, a drive-thru or takeout meal may seem like a more appealing option than cooking at home.
But opting for prepared food means you can't control what's in it. Portions may be much larger than you would normally eat. Eating out regularly has been associated with a higher intake of calories, fat and sodium, according to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which can spell heart health trouble.
Make a habit to eat at home more often. Take a few minutes to plan a few simple meals per week with the necessary ingredients on hand. You can also schedule meal-prep time once a week to cook grab-and-go meals all at once. Knowing you have a plan and the ingredients for a healthy, easy meal can help mitigate the temptation for takeout.
With the right mix of vegetables and proteins, improving your diet doesn't need to be overwhelming. To help you get started, here are eight protein-inspired breakfast and snack ideas you can make at home. And living healthier doesn't have to stop when you're cooking for the holidays.
A few simple food swaps can turn up the volume on your current eating habits to make a big impact on your health and well-being.