The new year is around the corner and chances are you’re starting to think about what resolutions to make in 2012. Getting healthier (and thinner) is a popular goal, but how do you turn that good intention into a resolution you can stick to? The key is breaking down that broad goal—“getting healthy”—into smaller, achievable parts. That’s why I’ve come up with these six achievable resolutions you should make this year (as a registered dietitian and associate nutrition editor of EatingWell Magazine, I recommend these healthy habits often). Committing to even just one of them in the new year will boost your health. Go for all six and you’ll really make 2012 your healthiest year yet.
Resolution #1: Make water your default beverage
Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda or iced tea, are one of the top five foods that drive weight gain, according to a Harvard study. (Find out the other top foods that make you gain, plus the top 5 that help you lose.) Choosing water instead of calorie-laden beverages is a smart and easy way to drive down your overall calorie intake, so you may end up losing weight. Plus, a 2010 study in the journal Obesity found that adults who drank two cups of water before a meal ate less at the meal and lost more weight over 12 weeks than the group who didn’t drink water before eating.
Must-Read: How Much Water Do You Need to Drink Every Day?
Resolution #2: Let vegetables dictate your meals
When I’m planning meals, one of the first things I consider is what vegetables I want to eat—then I’ll plan the protein and starch around that. Letting vegetables take the spotlight on your dinner plate helps you increase the total nutrition on your plate—vegetables deliver healthy phytochemicals, essential vitamins and minerals. Plus, they fill you up on fewer calories than other foods (even healthy foods, like whole grains), so taking a larger serving of vegetables and a smaller serving of whole grains and protein may help if you’re trying to lose weight.
Find out: What Counts As A Serving of Vegetables
Resolution #3: Try new ways (besides salt) to flavor your food
There’s no doubt about it—salt adds flavor to food. But too much salt is also linked to high blood pressure, a.k.a. the “silent killer.” The daily recommended limit is 2,300 milligrams—the amount in just 1 teaspoon of table salt. Yet most Americans consume more than twice that. To flavor your food without overdoing the sodium, start with fresh ingredients and experiment with new flavorings. Acidic flavorings like lemon or lime juice and vinegar can help bring out a food’s inherent savoriness, helping you reduce or even eliminate salt. A sprinkle of fresh grated lemon zest, chopped fresh or dried herbs, garlic or shallots can add an abundance of flavor. The EatingWell Test Kitchen also recommends using salt-free seasoning blends like lemon pepper, poultry seasoning and salt-free herb blends like Mrs. Dash.
Don't Miss: 8 of the World's Healthiest Spices to Cook With
Resolution #4: Choose fruit for your snacks
Snacks—actual, hungry-between-meals snacks, not the it-would-be-fun-to-eat-now kind—are a great opportunity to round out your diet with foods you’re not getting in other meals. Fruit is a great choice for snacking, since fresh fruit tends to be low in calories, while delivering fiber and water—two things that can take the edge off hunger. Not only that, fruit provides healthy antioxidants, which may ward off free-radical damage that contributes to chronic disease and even wrinkles. Plus, opting for fruit can give you a chance to assess whether you’re really hungry or just snacky. If you want to eat that apple (or orange or what have you), presto…you were hungry. And now you’ve eaten an apple! If not, maybe you could hold off on snacking until your hunger increases.
Resolution #5: Cook one new-to-you whole grain (then try another one!)
We all know we should be swapping out refined grains for whole grains—“make half your grains whole” is the USDA’s recommendation for this food group. But I suggest taking that challenge one step further. Rather than merely opt for whole-wheat toast…again, why not try grains you don’t normally eat? Wild rice, polenta, amaranth—there are lots of whole grains out there, each delivering a different flavor, texture and nutrition profile (in general, though, whole grains deliver healthy carbohydrates, your body’s main energy source, as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals). Plus, people who eat plenty of whole grains tend to be leaner and have a lower risk of heart disease than those who don’t. This is probably because whole grains contain antioxidants, phytoestrogens and phytosterols that are protective against coronary disease.
Recipes to Try: Easy Quinoa Salad and More Whole–Grain Recipes
Resolution #6: Eat fish twice a week
You know you should eat fish twice a week, but if you’re like most Americans you’re probably eating it less than once a week. Let 2012 be the year to change that! Fish isn’t just low in calories and packed with protein—it’s also a source of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, which have been shown to improve heart health and reduce risk of dying from heart attack, reported Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D., in EatingWell Magazine. Seafood may also help you slim down. A 2009 Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease study found that people who ate a 5-ounce serving of seafood five times a week for eight weeks lost nearly four pounds more than people who ate the exact same number of calories but no seafood. And don't let concerns about mercury scare you. As long as you avoid the biggest mercury offenders (swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark) and limit albacore tuna to six ounces a week, the benefits of fish greatly outweigh the risks. If you're not a fish fan, try it mixed into dishes (linguine with clam sauce, grilled fish tacos or sushi rolls) and experiment with milder fish like tilapia, trout or shrimp.
Don’t Miss: 6 of the Healthiest Fish to Eat (6 to Avoid)