4 Easy Tips to Help EVERYONE Improve Their Nutrition (Without Following a Diet)

January 1st usually rolls around and has everyone in a panic to take drastic measures to “get healthy.” There’s plenty of diet advice going around, from news sites to social media nutritionists and health experts – it can lead many down the road of wondering whether they should adopt a new diet or which new diet is the best.

With the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans getting released this week, it’s a great time to take a step towards improving your health through nutrition, without subscribing to diet rules, cleanses, detoxes, or all-or-nothing eating plans. 

These four easy tips – working with your current diet (not necessarily following the new trendy diet), making small steps to eat more plants and reduce sugar intake, are easy enough for you to start improving your diet this week. 

Tip 1: Work with your current diet

This is where a lot of fad diets get it wrong – people will jump on a diet bandwagon on the first of the year, and that one-size-fits-all approach to getting healthy doesn’t result in very much success. Instead, it’s recommended for people to take a look at their current diet and see what eating habits they can make small changes to.

Before you even look at the next two tips, it’s important to know your own likes and dislikes – if you don’t eat any vegetables right now, can you add one serving of vegetables per day and work up to more later? It’s all about making small changes in your diet to affect your overall health.

Small steps you can take right now: Move from fruit snacks to whole fruit, white bread to whole grain bread, crackers and dip to vegetables and hummus, sugary snack bars to trail mix with nuts and dried fruit.

Tip 2: Eat more plants

Even if you’re not a big vegetable lover, you probably already know that vegetables are good for you – they’re full of fiber, vitamins and minerals that help reduce inflammation in your body. The Dietary Guidelines are not only continuing to tell us that we need to eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits (the more color/variety, the better!), they are also putting a bigger emphasis on reducing meat proteins and replacing them with plant-based sources of protein.

This doesn’t mean you have to become a vegetarian or vegan – you can start including more plant-based proteins in your meals, even if you’re a meat lover.

If you make the majority of your diet come from plant foods, you have room to eat those other foods you like, even those you know aren’t necessarily “good for you.” Those other foods are good for you if you enjoy eating them, but your whole diet shouldn’t be those foods.

Try adding these foods to your plate instead of your traditional meat proteins:

-Beans and legumes (dried or canned chickpeas, black beans, lentils, kidney beans, peas, etc.)

-Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, etc.)

-Seeds (flax seeds, chia seeds)

Here’s 63 recipes from the Huffington Post to get you started.

Or how about these white bean meatballs (with no meat!) from Dietitian Debbie?

Tip 3: Check your sugar intake

The new recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines are to limit added sugars to less than 10% of your daily caloric intake. Sugar intake has been linked to increased inflammation, oxidative stress, and triglyceride levels. Most people know which foods are sweet and contain sugar – desserts, chocolate, candies, and sugary beverages like soda, juice, sports drinks, and coffee drinks. What a lot of people don’t realize how much sugar they’re eating in a day, mostly from processed foods.

Take a look at the nutrition label and ingredients in every day items that may not even necessarily taste sweet or may seem healthy, like cereals/granola, protein and granola bars, yogurt, pasta sauce, flavored soy and almond milk, whole grain bread and crackers, salad dressings, pancake mix, barbecue sauce and ketchup. Every 4 grams of sugar is ~1 teaspoon of sugar.

Some sugar is found naturally – Lactose is naturally found in dairy products, so even plain/unsweetened dairy will have sugar, and Fructose is naturally found in fruit, so any fruit products will naturally have sugar on the nutrition label.

Your ingredient label might use other common names for sugar: brown sugar, corn syrup or corn sweetener, fructose, dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose or syrup.

If you enjoy indulging in sweet treats, make sure you do so “in moderation” and check other sneaky sources of sugar in your regular healthy diet. This isn’t a “sugar detox” or a statement that sugar is toxic etc.- this is a tip to help you reduce added, processed sugar in your diet, especially from foods you eat every day, because most of us are getting too much processed sugar in our diets.

Tips to reduce sugar intake: Buy plain Greek yogurt and add your own blueberries, cinnamon, and a drizzle of honey to sweeten it up. Make your own oatmeal and sweeten it with a banana instead of eating regular breakfast cereal. Choose vinaigrette over creamy, low fat dressings. Choose brands of condiments and tomato sauce that are lower in added sugars. Choose unsweetened soy or almond milk instead of “vanilla” or other flavored milks.

Tip 4: Cook at home more

I’ve hinted at this throughout the post, but when you cook your own food, you know what ingredients go into the food and you get to experiment with ingredients. When you buy pre-made meals or out at restaurants, you’re often getting much larger portions than you would eat at home, which includes larger amounts of fat and sodium.

Try experimenting with new recipes each week (see the link above for vegetarian meals). Typically, recipes with fewer ingredients are going to cost you less money at the grocery store. Sticking to Tip 1, try finding healthier versions of your favorite recipes at home, or add vegetables and substitute ingredients (like beans or whole wheat pasta) to your favorite recipes.

What steps do you take to be healthier through nutrition?

We’ll continue talking about the Dietary Guidelines, with even more tips to help you take steps towards a healthier lifestyle.

Read more:

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 – 2020

The Lean Green Bean || 7 Tips to Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Real Mom Nutrition || What a Day’s Worth of Sugar for Kids Really Looks Like

Mom to Mom Nutrition || 7 Easy and Delicious Ways to Eat More Vegetables

EatRight || 3 Easy Tips for Fueling Your Workout Without Overdoing It

Buzzfeed || Here’s How To Actually Eat Healthier This Year

Greatist || 50 Awesome Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks