Modifying your diet to "eat healthfully" doesn't require dramatic changes. In fact, it may only call for some minor tweaks. Certain small changes serve up huge, lifelong benefits that can help you lose weight, ward off disease, and feel more upbeat and energetic all day long.
"It's all about self-care," says Beth Reardon of Duke Integrative Medicine and Caring.com's senior food and nutrition editor. "You have to ask, 'Am I worth a little extra effort to think about what I'm putting in my body?' You -- and the body that you rely on -- deserve nothing less."
Start with these six simple diet game-changers:1. Add more fat -- healthy fat -- to your diet.
Healthy fats include those found in many nuts, seeds, avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, and canola oil. "Eating nuts and avocados doesn't make you fat -- but not eating them might," Reardon says. Unlike calories from saturated (bad) fats, healthy fat calories are essential to the body's metabolism. They keep you performing well, and they satisfy hunger better.
Don't fool yourself with diet sodas and sugar-free juices, either. They may have few or no calories, but the artificial sweeteners in them work in the body the same way sugary drinks do: They cause the brain to signal to the pancreas that "sweets are coming!" This causes the pancreas to start pumping insulin. Insulin, in turn, triggers carbohydrate cravings and fatigue. "It's a cheating game," says Reardon, "that backfires on us."
Drinks like soda and juice are also habit-forming. The brain tends to associate them with certain foods (chips, fries, hamburgers) or with expecting to eat at certain times. What's more, liquid calories take up stomach space, making us less likely to eat more satisfying and nutrient-rich foods, so overall nutrition suffers.
Water is less filling and hydrates the body, flushing out toxins, transporting nutrients, and keeping tissues such as the nose and mouth moist and better able to defend against viruses.
Greater grain variety exposes the body to more nutrients and makes it easier to hit the targeted 45 grams per day of fiber adults need. (Most Americans eat a paltry 15 grams a day.) Another potential plus to weaning from wheat: undiagnosed celiac disease, a wheat intolerance caused by the body's inability to absorb gluten. The rates of celiac disease have increased 400 percent since the 1950s, according to a 2009 Mayo Clinic study in the journal Gastroenterology. And for every case diagnosed, there are thought to be 30 others not yet detected.
By eating a more complex breakfast soon after you get up, however, your body actually remains sated longer -- and you'll ultimately eat less.
Avoid two food categories that contain most "classic" American breakfast foods:
Simple carbs (frozen waffle, pastry, muffins, sugary cereal, pancakes made with white flour, breakfast bars)
Fatty foods high in saturated fats (fried eggs and bacon, cheesy omelets, bagels with cream cheese, fast-food breakfast sandwiches)
No microwave available to heat up a meal? Pack a salad topped with canned salmon, chickpeas, tuna, or deli turkey. Roll up veggies and low-fat cheese in a whole-grain tortilla. Munch fruit and nuts.