10 ways to spring-clean your diet
I’m a registered dietitian and associate nutrition editor of EatingWell Magazine, so you’d be right to assume I have a pretty healthy diet. But since I don’t believe in making any foods taboo, there are the occasional not-so-healthy indulgences. And when the seasons change, I always feel an urge to “healthify” my diet. The warmer spring weather inspires me to take a close look at my eating habits and simplify my diet by eating the things that really make my body feel best and limit foods that are not so good for me.
Here are 10 healthy eating habits I am focusing on right now to detox my diet this spring. I’m going to:
Eat and Drink Less of These:
Although several studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol (1 drink per day for women, 2 for men) can have some health benefits—raising “good” HDL cholesterol, “thinning the blood” (preventing clots that can cause heart attack and stroke) and possibly warding off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, there are some good reasons to make sure that your alcohol consumption stays moderate. Alcohol takes a toll on your liver, the major organ of your body devoted to “detoxing” your system. It also acts as a diuretic, making it harder to stay hydrated. One idea to cut back: Try sticking to the suggested limit of one drink a day for women, two for men. (Think of the calories and money you’ll save!) Looking for an alcohol-free drink at cocktail hour? Try club soda with a splash of juice.
Most of us eat too much sugar. On average, Americans consume 475 calories of added sugars every day (that’s 30 teaspoons), which is way higher than what’s recommended by the American Heart Association (6 teaspoons per day for women, 9 for men). High intake of added sugar is linked with risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels. One idea to cut back: Skip processed foods, which can be loaded with hidden added sugars, and when you want a sweet treat, reach for fruit for a natural sugar fix.
Related: 6 Surprising Sources of Sugar
Americans, on average, eat 3,400 milligrams of sodium in a day, about 1,000 mg more than we should. And if we cut that much out of our daily diets, we’d lower our risk of heart disease by up to 9 percent, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Restaurant foods and processed foods both tend to be very high in sodium, so a key step in lowering your sodium intake is to cook at home using fresh ingredients instead. One idea to cut back: Try eating out less and cooking more at home using fresh ingredients instead. And try boosting flavor with herbs and spices rather than salt.
Saturated fat—the kind of fat that’s found in whole milk, cheese, butter and meat—raises your “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can damage arteries. One idea to cut back: Avoid animal fats and swap them for healthier monounsaturated fats from plant foods like nuts, avocados and olive oil. (Monounsaturated fats may help lower blood pressure.)
Refined grains—white flour, white rice—are stripped of beneficial fiber, vitamins and minerals. So while they add calories, they’re not really providing much in the way of nutrients. And since they’re low in fiber, they’re less satisfying than whole grains. One idea to cut back: Check the ingredient list and make sure the word “whole” describes the grains in the product—if it just says “wheat flour,” for example, that’s not whole-wheat, so make another choice.
I’m not concerned with minimally processed foods—like plain unsweetened yogurt or washed bagged greens—that are still essentially healthy whole foods. Rather, I’m talking about prepared food products with loads of ingredients. By cutting these out, I can easily minimize my intake of added sugars, salt and trans and saturated fat, too, since these things are often added to processed foods for taste. Plus, I’ll make room for more healthy whole foods in my diet. One idea to cut back: Go through your cabinets and see which of your foods come in boxes and think of alternatives. Two ideas to get started: Swap crackers or chips for crunchy veggies, and if you rely on prepared meals, like mac and cheese or canned soup, find an easy recipe to make your favorites from scratch.
Eat and Drink More of These:
Fruits and Vegetables
Year-round, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Not only do they add a lot of flavor and color to meals, they’re nutrient- and antioxidant-rich, low in calories and can help lower your risk for heart disease. One idea to get more: When figuring out what to make for dinner, make vegetables the main event—start with the vegetables you have on hand or what looks good to you at the market. From there, figure out what else (protein, starch) would go well with it. (By the way, eating more fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to break the bank. Check out these 12 Superfoods to Help You Eat Healthy for $1 or Less.)
It’s tempting to choose other beverages, but water really is the best thing to drink. Our bodies are 60 percent water and it’s vital for the function of every organ system, helping to circulate oxygen and whisk away toxins. One idea to get more: Choose it for your main beverage at and between meals. If you’re not a fan of plain water, try a spritz of lemon or lime to jazz it up.
Even though I know green tea has a bevy of health benefits—from boosting immunity to fighting cavities—I don’t drink it very often. One idea to get more: Try swapping one of your daily cups of coffee for a cup of green tea instead.
Eating more whole grains could lengthen your life by reducing your risk of cardiovascular, infectious and respiratory diseases, suggests a 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine study. I tend to get in a grain rut—I choose 100% whole-grain breads and tortillas, of course, so technically I’m getting enough whole grains in my diet—but I don’t frequently cook other whole grains. One idea to get more: Try eating one new-to-you grain, such as quinoa or wild rice, each week.
Related: Want to Detox Even More? 7 Simple Ways to Detox Your Diet and Your Home