Setting goals or making resolutions to live healthier can be overwhelming. Try these 5 Simple Diet Changes to start getting healthy today!
As a Registered Dietitian, people often ask me for advice about changes they should make to their diet. I’m a firm believer that nutrition is very individualized and that everyone has different needs, but I do believe there are a few simple diet changes that most people could benefit from. Here they are:
1) Start reading the ingredient list
I try to limit the amount of processed foods I buy and try to make some of my favorite snacks and basic items like Whole Wheat Tortillas, bread, etc from scratch…but let’s be honest, I do still buy them. That’s not wrong, it’s realistic. When I do buy packaged food, I do my best to make the best choices possible. Before I even look at the numbers on the nutrition label, I look at the ingredient list.
Basically, the golden rule is: Simple is best. The fewer and/or more recognizable the ingredients the better!
Look for ingredient lists that are short and made up of ingredients you recognize and can pronounce. Remember that ingredients are listed in descending order by amount used, so if sugar is listed first, there’s probably a lot of sugar in the product.
If you don’t typically pay attention to ingredient lists, you might be in for a bit of a shock. However, once you take the time to start going through the labels on the foods you typically buy, you’ll be able to make healthier choices in the future.
2) Eat more healthy fats
If I could wave my magic wand and make one diet trend go away, it would be the low-fat craze. Every since the 1980’s when people were encouraged to start reducing their saturated fat intake, low-fat products have been all the rage. Here’s the thing: low-fat isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Most do not taste as good as their full-fat counterparts on their own. This means that other things, namely sugar & salt, have to be added to the low-fat versions to make consumers want to eat them. And since obesity rates have continued to climb over the past 30 years, it’s becoming more and more clear that fat may not be totally to blame for our nutrition problems.
In fact, I’m a huge advocate of making sure your diet includes healthy fats! They’re super filling, full of nutrients and in many cases, increasing your healthy fat intake can help you decrease your intake of refined carbs and added sugars, which many believe cause more healthy problems than fat. In addition, full-fat products are often made with minimal ingredients and not a lot of added junk. (See #1- check the ingredient list!)
For most of my clients, some of the first changes we make involve cutting back on processed foods- I’m a huge fan of replacing store-bought favorites with homemade versions made with real ingredients- and adding healthy fats. Just a reminder that fats are higher in calories, even healthy fats, so portion size is important.
Here are five of my favorite healthy fats with some suggestions how you can add them to your day, no matter what meal you’re eating:
- Breakfast: Smash and spread on toast, top with fried eggs.
- Lunch: Add a smear or a few slices to your sandwich.
- Dinner: Chop and add to your salad.
- Snack: Smash some into your tuna salad and eat with whole wheat crackers
- Breakfast: Make an omelet stuffed with veggies.
- Lunch: Enjoy a giant chop salad with veggies, lean meat and hardboiled eggs.
- Diner: Whip up a stir fry, add a couple of scrambled eggs and serve over rice.
- Snack: Grab a few hardboiled eggs to eat on the run!
Nuts and Seeds:
- Breakfast: Use as a topping for your oatmeal or blend into a smoothie.
- Lunch: Add to baked goods like bars or muffins for an extra dose of nutrients.
- Dinner: Make a nut butter sauce to add flavor or crush and use as a breading for chicken or fish.
- Snack: Make a big batch of trail mix and portion into snack packs for the week.
- Breakfast: Add to your smoothie for a breakfast on the run!
- Lunch: Make tzatziki sauce to add to your pita or try a homemade ranch dip for your veggies.
- Dinner: Add to your favorite recipe for burgers or meatloaf to add moisture or use it in a marinade.
- Snack: Mix with fruit, nuts etc and freeze for a frozen treat.
- Breakfast: Combine some leftover salmon, a couple scrambled eggs and cheese to make a breakfast quesadilla.
- Lunch: Use as a topping for your nachos to change things up from traditional chicken or beef.
- Dinner: Try topping with lemon slices and grilling on a cedar plank.
- Snack: Make a batch of sliders to have ready for a high-protein post workout snack
If you’re interested in more of the science behind eating more fat, check out this great blog post my friend and fellow RD Anne wrote.
3) Choose your produce wisely
If you want to take things a bit farther than just getting the recommended servings of fruits and veggies each day, be smart about the produce you’re buying. When it comes to fruits and veggies, it’s often said that fresh is best. My opinion is that you should consider the options in your area and make the best choice based on what’s available to you. Local produce is about as fresh as it gets. Available at farmer’s markets, in CSA’s or sometimes in the grocery stores, it travels short distances and is often picked very shortly before being sold. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where local produce is available year-round, definitely take advantage of it if you can. If not, there are other options for those months when most produce is not in season.
When you see produce on the grocery store shelves, it’s often not as fresh as you think. You have to factor in the time between picking and shipping, plus travel time- often across the country, the time it sits on the shelves in the store and the time it sits in your fridge at home. During all of that time, it’s losing valuable nutrients. For this reason, considering frozen or canned veggies can be a great option. These veggies are picked at the peak of freshness and then frozen or canned to lock in the nutrients! If you choose canned fruits, look for those canned in their own juices, not syrup. For veggies, look for no-salt-added or low sodium options and give them a good rinse before using! Since cans can be a source of BPA, I tend to favor frozen. They’re especially great in the winter months for throwing into soups, casseroles, stirfries and more!
As far as buying organic, everyone has to make a decision about what works for their family. Organic has its benefits, but it also usually comes with a higher price tag. If you’re looking for a starting point about what to consider buying organic, check out the Dirty Dozen.
4) Cut back on added sugars
Like I mentioned above, there is more and more research coming out that indicates sugar is a huge part of the obesity problem we’re facing today. So many foods are filled with added sugars.
When I graduated from college and needed to lose some weight after a party-filled semester studying abroad, one of the first things I did was cut back on added sugars. I started experimenting with using less sugar when baking and I studied nutrition labels (and ingredient lists!) to see just how much sugar was in the foods I was eating. To give you a visual, remember that 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar….so if you’re eating a product that has 12 grams of sugar per serving, you’re consuming 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving.
Once you start looking, you’ll notice added sugars in things like peanut butter, flavored yogurt, sauces, bread, cereals, processed foods and much more. Learn some of the alternate names for sugar such as words ending in -ose, syrups, etc. Nutrition labels are currently in the process of being revamped and one of the proposed changes is to add a line for added sugars so consumers can easily tell how much of the sugar occurs naturally in a product and how much is added sugar. Until those changes occur, use the ingredient list to check for added sugars and remember the closer it is to the beginning of the list, the more sugar there is in the product!
I always recommend making things yourself when possible so you can control the ingredients. If you like to bake, slowly start cutting back on the sugar you add to your cookies, make the switch from sugary peanut butters to those just make with peanuts, etc. It may take some time, but your body will adjust and the extra sweetness will no longer be necessary. You can also experiment with replacing refined sugars with more natural sources like fruit (bananas, applesauce, dates). Just remember that these are still sources of sugar, even if they’re natural.
As far as artificial sweeteners go, do your research and make the choices that’s best for you. I personally choose to avoid them as much as possible.
5) Start Doing Sunday Food Prep
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know how I feel about food prep. Just a little bit of time in the kitchen on the weekend (or your day off) can play a huge role in keeping you on track during a busy week. I do my best to prep food every Sunday. I’ve written previously about my Top 10 Foods For Sunday Food Prep and 10 Foods That Freeze Well, Plus every Sunday I post a food prep inspiration post sharing my food prep as well as food prep photos submitted by readers. CLICK HERE to check out some of these posts for ideas!
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Whew…ok so this got a little long, sorry about that…but hopefully it gives you some ideas and inspiration for a few healthy diet changes that anyone can make!
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GiGi Eats says
I couldn’t agree with you more, especially on the consuming more HEALTHY fats! People should not fear saturated fats anymore! Instead they should embrace it, as they should the omega-3 fatty acids in fish! 🙂 I also completely agree with reading ingredients labels! As I have mentioned in some of my videos, there are some extremely sneaky ingredients in foods that essentially are masking their true identities under names we just cannot say or pronounce! I hate that the world of eating/food has to be so dang complicated! However, it really doesn’t – as long as we stick to whole foods 🙂
yep! whole foods are where it’s at!
Kaylin @ Enticing Healthy Eating says
Wow, this is a very valuable resource to health and nutrition coaches! Thank you! I will definitely be using this as a reference with my future holistic health coaching clients. This is what I already tell them, but summarized very nicely and in a pretty form.
thanks so much for sharing! glad you like it!
Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table says
Great tips! I remember when I started reading labels… I couldn’t believe how much sodium and sugar was added to everything. Even veggies! It was a big eye-opener.
i know! i’m constantly finding things packed with unnecessary sodium! so annoying!
Arman @ thebigmansworld says
Awesome tips buddy! I actually remember buying a loaf of ‘100% whole wheat bread’ in America thinking it was as stipulated…the second ingredient was HFCS and there was also sugars in it too!
Thanks for this! I’ve really been thinking about cutting sugar and processed foods out of my diet, and I found it very interesting how highly you regard frozen veggies. I never thought about the freshness factor before.
They’re a great option for sure!
This is an awesome post for people getting started out on the road to a healthy diet 🙂
I think people can get overwhelmed when they start out and this list is an amazing start 🙂
it’s definitely easy to get overwhelmed…that’s why i like people to start with just a few changes at a time!
Angela @ Happy Fit Mama says
I think once people start REALLY learning labels and seeing what is in their food, something clicks. Who wants to eat something that has words you can’t pronounce?
exactly! it’s eye opening!
Thanks for sharing these. One thing I’ve tried hard to work on is cutting back on the refined and extra sugars. I’ve always felt better when I do…it’s just getting to be motivated enough to do it, you know?
definitely! motivation can be tricky for a lot of people!
Great tips. I am a label reader, but need to cut back on that sugar!
one of the hardest things to do!
Some great tips. Thank you. x
my sixth would be the added SALT.
that would be next on my list as well!
you know i love when you talk nutrition to me… hehe
Brittany @ Delights and Delectables says
YES!! So simple but GREAT advice!
Laura @ Mommy Run Fast says
I love that you started with read labels- it’s amazing how many people have no idea what they’re putting in their bodies!
i remember how shocked i was, and still am, when i started reading labels!
Kim @ FITsique says
Great tips! I think reading the food labels and preparing your food ahead of time are two of the biggest changers for people. If they start to understand nutritional value and PLAN AHEAD they do a lot better than someone given a “diet” to follow!
yes! i’m all about giving people the tools to help them instead of just doing it for them!
Melissa @ Freeing Imperfections says
I love all of these! They are so doable. I think I get really overwhelmed about diet a lot and think that it has to be complicated or hard to be healthy, but it’s so much simpler than that. Thanks for this post!
yep! definitely some simple things you can do to ease into it!
Heather (Where's the Beach) says
Great tips! I think label reading is really important and the fewer the ingredients the better. I’m also with you on food prep (though I’m hit or miss with it) but at least laying out a meal plan for the week certainly helps.
i agree! a meal plan is just as helpful for some as doing the actual food prep!
Beth @ Running with the Sunrise says
Thank you so much for this fantastic list and for writing it scientifically and encouraging to make their own choices on things like organic produce and artificial sweeteners. It’s nice to read a post about healthy eating without any spin on it. I’ve been working on cleaning up my diet lately which has had a huge, positive impact on my running, so I’ll definitely be incorporating your tips as I continue to eat better and cleaner. Thanks again!
great tips! sometimes i get so freaked out by ingredient lists…
Jaclyn @ BumpSweat says
Excellent tips! I used to be such a calorie-counter, only checking the label to see how many of those and fat grams were in each serving. Not anymore; now I pay much less attention to that and focus instead on the ingredients. And my body does so much better fueled with several of the healthy fats you mentioned. Awesome post!
Holly @ EatGreatBEGreat says
All fabulous ideas! I think the biggest one for me is reading the labels. Companies sneak in so many unhealthy ingredients that it’s SO important to do your research and pay attention to what’s in your food products.
Dietitian Jess says
Love this post and as a fellow RD I definitely agree on every one. Ingredients list is definitely one thing I really stress… people should know and care about what they are putting directly into their bodies! Your food prep posts have inspired me to start doing more food prep over the last year, but mine is not quite as elaborate as yours!
Stephanie @ My Freckled Life says
Such a great post! While moat of these are ideas moat of us have probably heard before, you did a great job of putting them together in such a simple manner. It’s hard to argue with the simple truth! This is such a great resource for anyone new to making healthier food choice, and a great reminder to anyone who has been doing this for awhile!
Jody - Fit at 56 says
Nothing to add – I so agree. I am a MAJOR label reader! Hubby hates to shop with me. 🙂
Jody - Fit at 56 says
Did not read my most recent post…
Hannah @ CleanEatingVeggieGirl says
I definitely need to look into buying more frozen veggies. Not only do they tend to be cheaper, but they are often times easier to prepare too!
for sure! my freezer is overflowing bc they were just on sale 🙂
Haley @ Running with Diapers says
Lindsay, I couldn’t agree with you more on each and every one of these changes. I feel like I go around preaching these to family and friends all the time. Glad to hear it come from someone else for a change.
I’m blasting this on Facebook and Twitter right now!!!
Thanks so much Haley!
Becca from It's Yummi! says
I absolutely LOVE these tips, Lindsay! Thanks so much for pulling together such helpful info <3
you’re welcome! glad you enjoyed!
Laura @FitMamaLove says
This is a great list that shows how simple it is to make the switch to healthier eating.
It’s so important to check labels! I once grabbed a can of tomatoes not even thinking to check something like that and found high fructose corn syrup on the label after I got home. It was a good reminder that I need to always check even the simplest things.
definitely been there! i’m constantly reminding myself to check things!
Susie @ SuzLyfe says
It’s amazing how simple it is to eat healthfully, if you just pay attention and take a deep breath. We just like to over complicate things, don’t we!
yes we do indeed!
She Rocks Fitness says
Sugar I think is the biggest culprit…Once you start taking a closer look at the ingredients, the sugar can add up so so so quickly! Oh and all those delicious healthy fats…I love fats! 🙂
fats rock 🙂
Erin @ Her Heartland Soul says
Great tips! I’m really working on cutting back my sugar intake. It’s everywhere!
it is! such a challenge!
Dana P. says
Such great tips!! I especially love your suggestions for including more healthy fats at every meal. I tend to get in the habit of certain foods for certain meals, but I love the idea of salmon for breakfast or Greek yogurt at dinnertime.
i agree. it’s fun to change things up every once and a while and have “dinner” foods at breakfast or vice versa!
Kirtley [email protected] Gist of Fit says
LOVE this post. Super real, super true, super helpful!
My family is obsessed with the low fat stuff…if it’s low fat, they think they can have lots of it bc they won’t be affected by it.
I’m a huge fan of 100% fat for dairy–and all those healthy fats you mentioned. Awesome.
thanks so much Kirtley!
You should add one more tips- forget about highly processed products like ready to eat frozen meals or fast food and buy only unprepared, fresh and whole grain products.
definitely another great tip!
Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner says
Great small tips that make a huge difference
GREAT post! All those Sunday prep photos look so cool together! (:
Amanda @ .running with spoons. says
Love the tips, lady! And I especially love how simple they all are. I feel like sometimes people get overwhelmed and discouraged by healthy living because of how complicated some people can make it out to be, when it really is so simple!
i agree. trying to spread the word that it doesn’t have to be that hard!
Running Hutch says
yes, yes, yes, yes, and YES! Although my food prep day is Tuesday. 😉
nothin’ wrong with that!
Dixya @ Food, Pleasure, and Health says
you nailed it dear..im so glad i have walked away from sugar-free, fat-free stuff because before I was all about that. Healthy Living is really all about going back to basics and rejoicing food and health rather than starving and pumping chemicals.
so, so true!
Diana @sosmallsostrong says
These are super helpful tips, great reminders too! I just started incorporating regular yogurt into my diet and honestly, I’m loving it!
Thanks lady. 🙂
woohoo! glad to hear it!
Great list! Totally agree with you on the fats and reducing sugars! I try to reduce sugars as much as possible and I obviously love fats 🙂 Avocado on everything is my motto 🙂
I think that’s a great motto 🙂
Heather @ FITaspire says
I absolutely love this – great tips to help focus on some healthy changes!
Thanks so much Heather!
These are amazing tips – definitely agree with all of them!! Great job, Lindsay!!
Thanks so much Cassie!
Great post, Lindsay!
Lindsay, this is great! Such simple & actionable steps…that definitely make all the difference. I’d also add switch up your beverages + add more water!
yes! that’s a great one as well!
Karey @ Nutty About Health says
I really LOVE this list!!! Great post Lindsey! Definitely going to spread this around – I couldn’t agree more with all 5 things! 🙂
Linz @ Itz Linz says
i’m pretty sure healthy fats are my favorite foods ever
what’s not to love ?!
Handmade by Lorna says
Great post and some really great advice – It is nice to see that I am doing some things right – will never get a taste for avocado tho 🙁 I really enjoyed this post, thank you.
good news is there’s plenty more healthy fats out there to try!
Whole 30 taught me a lot about reading food labels! I found sugar in my salts and in foods where it had NO business being. It was a real eye opener into the fact that most of us assume table salt is JUST table salt and it’s not. There are adders and fillers in most everything we eat now. I stick to the basics. Great tips!
so true! so many fillers!!!
Kaila @healthyhelperblog! says
Such a great post Lindsay! It just goes to show that healthy eating isn’t as hard as some people think! Just a few simple changes make a big difference!
yes they do!
Great tips, I’m going to save/bookmark this somehow and use it as a reference page as there is some seriously great info here. The “freshness” of food was a real eye opener for me.
Great post! In addition to following your great tips, I follow the ‘eat seasonally’ approach. I’m loading up on cucs, zucs, etc. now and will switch to all things squash soon!
always a great approach!
Lauren @ Sassy Molassy says
Tortillas is one of the areas that really aggravates me when I grocery shop! They are all filled with crap. Only a few local brands have just a minimal number of ingredients in them, so it always requires lots of label checking. And we recently subscribed to a local organic CSA and we get a TON of awesome veggies weekly for only $18!
i agree. so many unnecessary ingredients in tortillas! that’s why i started making my own!
Sugar is definitely my weak spot and an area in which I need to focus on! Crazy how companies pack it in their products.