When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, “eating healthier” is at the top of many people’s lists. And while it’s an awesome goal to have, it’s often easier said than done. The reason? It’s too big and vague, says Brooke Scheller, DCN, MS. After all, asking how to eat better leads directly into another question: Where do I even begin?
What does it mean to eat better?
At Freshly, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. There’s loads of information out there about the Standard American Diet which is laden with calorie-full, nutrient-poor foods and how it can lead to weight gain, inflammation, and poor health in general. But we’re still surrounded every day by fast foods that don’t help our overall health, and even seemingly healthy foods (like sugar-packed granola or gluten-free but still highly processed food) that are actually not-so-good for you.
When coming up with Freshly’s food philosophy, we chose to focus on three simple principles, rather than following fad-diets: less sugar, less processed foods and more nutrient-dense ingredients. This way, no matter where the latest noise is coming from we know that we’re fueling ourselves with whole foods that each have their own health benefits at the end of the day. That means whether your health goal is to weigh less or just feel better, you know you’re building the habits that will help you reach it.
When figuring out how to eat better is just too big a task, Scheller suggests setting mini-goals that are smaller and more clear, which will help you reach your bigger goal of eating healthier. To make it happen, check out Scheller’s top tips for eating better in the New Year:
1. Choose whole foods whenever you can
A good rule of thumb is to eat food that’s as close to its natural form as possible. One example of applying this idea to your efforts to eat better would be choosing an apple instead of an apple-flavored granola bar. Processed foods tend to be high in salt, fat, and added sugar and have been linked to higher rates of obesity, so it’s best to avoid them if you can, says Scheller.
2. Cut back on sugar
To do this, start paying attention to nutrition labels so you fully understand how much added sugar is lurking in your favorite foods. Then, be on the lookout for sneaky sugar sources and find ways to make them healthier (aka, trade sugary sodas for sparkling water or swap desserts like cookies for a piece of fruit).
It might be tough at first, but the less sugar you eat, the less you’ll want it, because sugar creates a reward-craving response in the brain, notes Scheller.
If cutting out desserts all together is too big a step, try employing the 80/20 rule. Most of the time (80%) stick with healthful fruits and sparkling water. The other 20% you can have that cookie or cake, or try a healthier version.
3. Add a veggie to every meal you eat
Less than 10 percent of Americans eat the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables each day. That’s not good since veggies are incredibly functional - they provide the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you need to stay healthy.
To up your intake and eat better overall, try adding a veggie to every meal you eat, whether that’s some broccoli to your morning omelette, some spinach to your turkey sandwich, or a side of sweet potatoes with dinner.
Choose a wide variety of veggies and eat the rainbow rather than sticking with your favorites, says Scheller. Beets, cherries, carrots, butternut squash, asparagus, romaine, bananas, cauliflower, blueberries and eggplant all bring their own colors, vitamins and nutrients onto your plate.
4. Go for Meatless Mondays
Speaking of veggies, a great way to incorporate more into your diet is to try Meatless Mondays, a global initiative to help people eat less meat. One day a week, swap meat for plant-based proteins like chickpeas and quinoa, suggests Scheller, this can help to boost your fiber and nutrient intake for the day.
More vegetables can also help to guard against the effects of oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress can damage cells and has been linked to several chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease).
Meatless Monday may also be good for the planet. Livestock is a significant contributor to climate change, by creating greenhouse gas, taking up agricultural land. So reducing our intake of meat is good for the planet as well.
5. Make smart swaps for carbs
Eating healthier doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the flavors you love. At Freshly, we try to find fun and tasty ways to cut back on carbs.
Steal a page from our playbook by trying these low-carb alternatives: replace white rice with cauliflower rice, trade pasta for spaghetti squash, and swap white potatoes for high-fiber veggies. No time to cook? Let us do the hard work for you!
6. Track how food makes you feel
There are tons of food trackers out there that help you log how many calories you’re consuming. But in your quest to eat better, have you ever thought about recording how food makes you feel?
It’s super important because you’re more likely to make positive food choices when you’re aware of how food impacts you, says Scheller. Take note of how a meal affects you, from your mood and energy levels to your appetite or health “flare-ups” like headaches or skin rashes.
This is a really effective place to start if you’re wondering how to eat better. Over time, you’ll start to see patterns, which will help you adjust your healthy eating plan overall. (Be especially conscious of days in which you eat more carbs and sugar, notes Scheller.)
7. Focus on fiber
Not only does the nutrient help keep you fuller, longer, but it also can help support good gut health. Fiber helps feed “good bacteria” in the gut, says Scheller.
This is important since studies have shown that a healthy microbiome can help boost your immunity, protect your joints, and may even help prevent conditions like cancer and heart disease.
To up your fiber intake, eat more veggies (noticing a trend here?) and incorporate more whole grains into your diet.
Freshly delivers healthy, chef-developed meals weekly to make eating well easy and delicious. Check out our rotating menu.