5 Foundation Habits For A Well Balanced Diet
We live in a culture where diet, nutrition, and wellness are ever popular topics, even more so during the first of the year when individuals are making New Year’s resolutions. With all of the excitement around “New Year new you,” you might be wondering what you can do to improve your eating habits, and there is no shortage of opinions circulating out there. Unfortunately, there is a lot of inaccurate nutrition information which can be overwhelming and confusing. To give you a place to start, here are 5 foundational habits to tackle in the New Year from a registered dietitian. These recommendations might be different from the typical rigid diets that are promoted, but rest assured these habits will be valuable and set you up for success. Remember, building a strong foundation with nutrition requires long term effort towards improving your diet in sustainable ways. See these foundational habits on the following pages.
Don’t Make Food an Afterthought – Practice Meal Planning
One of the most common barriers to healthy eating is time. Oftentimes, individuals end up grabbing fast food, putting in a frozen pizza, or grabbing something from the vending machine because they don’t have time to prepare a healthy meal. This scenario can be avoided with a little planning and preparing ahead! Sitting down and making a meal plan for the week might take 15 minutes but have a substantial impact on diet quality. Take time to glance at the week ahead, plan meals needed, and grocery shop accordingly. If a fast meal is needed during a busy weeknight, put a meal in the slow cooker. If meetings are going to take over the lunch hour, pack a whole grain wrap with deli meat and veggies for a well-balanced lunch. If 3:00pm always leads to a trip to the vending machine, plan a high protein snack and bring it to work. Preparing for these scenarios does not have to take a ton of time, but it can make a huge difference in setting you up for success. Food shouldn’t dominate our thoughts, but it has to be given some thought and planning. Otherwise, we end up grabbing convenience foods which don’t always support our health goals.
Eat Protein at Every Meal
This is a foundational habit that is important for several reasons. Including protein with every meal and snack is going to set you up for success by increasing your satiety after eating. Additionally, including a protein source is key to keep your blood sugar from spiking and falling after a meal. If you were to have a meal with mostly carbs alone, you might find yourself hungry a couple hours later and/or feel sleepy throughout the day. This scenario can be avoided if you always pair carbs with protein. Lastly, protein is essential to build and maintain lean body mass – which can help improve your metabolism! Here are some great protein sources to include:
- Lean animal protein such as chicken, turkey, or lean beef
- Ancient grains like quinoa
- Greek yogurt
Drink Plenty of Water
Staying hydrated is vital for the body to function optimally. Adequate water is needed for digestive health, temperature regulation, cushioning joints, and so much more. Not only is drinking enough water important for our overall health, but it can also be beneficial in helping us decrease sugary beverages in the diet. If we are focusing on drinking more water, that means ideally we are avoiding (or reducing) other beverages that might not align with our health goals. Beverages such as sweetened coffees, sports drinks, teas, and soda can include significant amounts of calories and sugar that we might not realize. Aim to drink mostly non-caloric beverages such as water, sparkling water, and herbal teas. If you do want to order a beverage from a coffee shop, cafe, or gas station, take a glance at the nutrition label before purchasing.
Eat a Fruit or Vegetable with Every Meal and Snack
Fruits and veggies are an essential part of a healthy diet. Including fruits and vegetables might seem like a simple habit, but it is often one that is overlooked. It is common to hear diet companies talk about avoiding carbs, using expensive supplements, fasting, etc., but it isn’t as common to hear how important it is to include nutrient rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. There is strong research to support the benefits of eating more of these foods – reduced chronic disease risk, reduced cancer risk, reduced inflammation, better blood sugar control, improved gut health, the list goes on. Fruits and veggies are so important because they are a great source of fiber and phytochemicals, both of which are extremely important when trying to improve your health or avoiding chronic health conditions. When you plan your meals and snacks for the week, choose a variety of fruits and veggies to include. Buying fresh, frozen, and canned (without added ingredients) can ensure that you don’t let a bunch of fresh produce go to waste. Use fruits and veggies as snacks or sneak them into soups, casseroles, and pasta dishes for picky eaters.
Eat a Variety of Foods
Typically when you set a goal to improve your diet, you might automatically think about what you should remove from your diet. However, a different mindset to try would be focusing on what foods you can ADD into your diet. The more variety you include in your diet, the more satisfied you will be. The more satisfied you are with your meal plan, the more likely you are to stick to it! Consider trying to get a combination of your favorite foods in addition to more nutrient dense foods (like the fruits and veggies discussed above). Try to avoid the mindset that you must remove all of your favorite foods in order to be healthy. This might look like purchasing a variety of protein sources versus just sticking to chicken, or allowing yourself to have whole grain pasta instead of only making zucchini noodles.
These are all foundational habits that will help you improve your diet and hopefully are daily practices that you can continue doing for life! Start by assessing your current eating habits and see if you can improve upon any of the habits listed above. Remember that sometimes consistency with small changes can make all the difference!
Want more information about how to improve your diet? Ask your healthcare provider for a referral to see a registered dietitian. Or you can search “dietitian near me” online for local nutrition professionals in your area.
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