One of the reasons why the majority of people fail to achieve their New Year’s resolution of getting healthy is because it involves changing eating habits.
The older people get, the more stubborn they become and the harder it is to turn an adjustment into a lifestyle. What makes the process even more frustrating is the abundance of information out there about food.
Marketing professionals are experts at masking certain bad foods. For example, some protein bars are “glorified candies,” as Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, says. Also, while plain Greek yogurt is good for you, the flavored versions are not.
People have individual preferences and very different schedules. What works for some may have the opposite effect on others. Eating better is not rocket science; a lot of factors need to be considered. The nutrition tips on the following list can guide you in the right direction.
“If I weren't in a survival situation, I would never eat a Twinkie or something that will never go bad because it has many preservatives,” Joe Bauer, nutritionist and personal trainer in Seattle, says. A potential, but seriously harmful, effect of preservatives in foods is their ability to transform into carcinogens when digested.
Sugar is usually the first thing nutritionists cut from people’s diets. You can’t go cold turkey and make a lot of sudden changes, Malkoff says. Foods that are high in refined sugar go first. Bauer advises his clients to absolutely stay away from it as well. “The only exception to that rule is my athletes who are depleting large amounts of muscle glycogen during workouts.”
Keep this in mind from now on when you go shopping. “Eat meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar,” Bauer says. Packaged foods – even soups – are devious sources of unhealthy fats, sugar, salt, and extra calories you don’t want in your body. That’s why, Susan Engle, registered nutritionists at Nutrition Matters, recommends eating foods that don’t have labels at all.”
No matter what you call them, have one cheat day once a week, nutritionists recommend. “There are definitely great tasting things that you should not be eating with regularity,” Bauer says. “Cheat days are a good way to indulge in these things without breaking your diet.” Alcohol, dessert and salty snacks are among them, he adds.
“The best thing people can do is eat a well-rounded diet of meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, little starch and no sugar,” Bauer says. “And lots of water, of course.” That doesn’t mean eating all of these every single day. Write down a weekly plan if that’ll help. A balanced diet provides the body with the minerals and vitamins it needs to maintain weight, prevent all kinds of diseases, and keep you energized.
“Fast food chains have some products that they market as healthy but really contain lots of artiﬁcial chemicals, fat, sugar, and sodium,” Monica Moore, owner and registered dietitian nutritionist at Body by Monica, says. “Even their salads are high in sodium! McDonald’s four salad options, for example, have between 790-1,120 mg of sodium and 11-29 g of fat! For salad!! Not so healthy.”
“If you get too restrictive, cut out food groups, or resist all of your favorite foods, you will likely overeat those items when temptation hits, and go overboard,” Moore says. “Or you will do wonderfully losing weight in ‘diet mode’ but quickly gain it back after when you return to your old ways.”
“Trans fats, such as lard and many fried foods are not good for heart health,” Moore says. They increase your bad cholesterol while lower the levels of the good kind. The primary dietary source for trans fats in processed food is “partially hydrogenated oils," according to the American Heart Association. Look for that on the labels.
High sodium foods such as bacon, sausage, pickles, ham, ramen, processed deli meats (salami, ham, pastrami) should be avoided, Moore says. These high sodium foods can quickly add up to more than your days’ worth of sodium, which is should be no more than 2,300 mg. “They are not only poor for heart health, but cause ﬂuid retention and swelling, making a person feel bloated.”
“The items on the outside tend to be fresher and usually healthier,” Moore says. This is especially true for produce, meat, ﬁsh, cheese and dairy. “The items on the inside aisles tend to be more processed and not as healthy, although there are always exceptions hidden in there,” she adds.
“Marketers place products that they want to sell quicker purposely on end caps and at eye levels in store aisles,” Moore says. “Make sure you read the labels and not trust the marketing slogans and claims on the front of the packages.”
Cooking your own meals is the only way you can be absolutely certain what your body will be consuming. Also, when you cook, you tend to use less processed foods and more natural foods, Moore says.
“You’re eating food that’s not food anymore,” Malkoff says. Break this "healthy" habit. Fat-free products have too many artificial chemical agents added to make [the food] taste good,” she adds. Also, the truth is that such “better” products can have almost as many calories as their original versions. Diet sodas are one of the worst products; they are slowly killing you.
“Skipping meals never works,” Malkoff says. The chance of overeating later and gaining weight is too high. “It’s like a yo-yo going back and forth,” she adds. There are plenty of fulfilling foods that help you drop pounds. Some of the more immediate bad effects of skipping meals include irregular blood sugar levels, slower metabolism and fatigue.
This is a very divisive topic in the nutrition industry. “Most people that don't exercise regularly have no business eating large amounts of carbs,” Bauer says. “Carbs are fuel for muscles, and if muscles aren't being used, there's no need for many carbs.”
Malkoff and Engle add that some people with medical conditions such as diabetes will benefit from staying on low-carb diets.
But in general, Moore says, the body needs some carbs. Some can help you lose weight. Most people feel like they can’t eat carbs when dieting or trying to eat healthier. “Carbohydrates, when consumed in healthier ways and not in excess, like whole grains and fruits, are great for you and provide nutrients, vitamins, minerals and ﬁber that you may be missing otherwise,” she adds.
Beware of big prints on labels. “They are likely overblowing an attribute,” Engle says. Also, some labels say “no cholesterol,” but still have a lot of trans fats, she adds.
“You don’t want foods that have more than 5-7 ingredients,” Malkoff says. You also want to understand everything written on the label. “Non-dairy milk is very popular these days but it has a lot of added things that no one knows what they are.” They can affect your digestion and you can be allergic.
Check the portion size, sodium and sugar. “Divide the grams of sugar by 4 and this is how many teaspoons of sugar there are in the product.”
You don’t have to never eat chips and other snacks you like (some can lead to weight loss). You can make your own. “This way you control how much salt and oil is added,” Malkoff says. Just slice some potatoes, rinse, add water and a little salt. Let them soak for a few minutes and drain. You can also add a drop of oil and bake at 365 degrees.
Many people don’t like plain ol’ water but you can diversify it in many ways, Malkoff says. Add lemon, cucumber, oranges, strawberries or tea leaves at the bottom for flavor. “Just don’t flavor water artificially,” she adds.
Nutritionists agree – eat what you enjoy but be mindful of the portions and frequency (start now to get in shape by summer). “Practicing moderation and balance helps you start routines and strategies, like smaller portions that are more likely to last a lifetime and maintain hard earned weight loss and healthy weights,” according to Moore.
“Keeping a food journal is very important because it helps clients become accountable when it comes to their meals,” Marcus Carter from New Beginnings Nutrition says. “It helps them to keep track of what they are eating, how much of it […] and it helps us as trainers to monitor their progress, and gives us a better idea on what necessary changes might be needed.”
While nutrition experts point out that drinking in moderation has been proven to have some health benefits, most agree it should be cut if you’re trying to lose weight. The empty calories add up. “A regular Pina Colada has 570 calories,” Malkoff says. “Add that with other drinks and you can end the day with extra 3,000 calories.”
“If you want the best results possible, alcohol should not even be a thought,” Carter adds.