If a full commitment to healthy eating seems too tough to swallow, then start with a taste test. March is National Nutrition Month, a great time to love yourself a little more by trying some new habits that just may stick.
Little by little, you’ll start to see a difference in how you feel and look. And those small steps can lead to bigger payoffs.
“We know from research that being exposed to healthy food means you will develop a preference for that food over time. For example, once you become accustomed to eating lower-sodium foods, you will find that foods you used to eat taste very salty,” said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., MPH, RD, chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee and professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington. “By adopting a healthier diet you will not only add years to your life but you’ll improve the quality of the years you have.”
Here are some tips to try this month, and any other time of the year:
- Slow down on the sodium: Did you know Americans eat more than double the daily amount of sodium recommended by the American Heart Association? Too much sodium increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and other health problems, but this excess isn’t just from salting your food. Americans get most of their sodium — 77 percent! — from processed foods. If you choose these foods, compare the labels and look for lower-sodium versions.
- Pile on the fruits and vegetables: Choose all kinds of fruits and vegetables — fresh, frozen, canned, juiced and dried. All fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Load your shopping basket with fruits and vegetables of many different colors. Then try the “slender sauté” using a small amount of liquid to cook vegetables. Need a quick, healthy weeknight dinner? Try a salad. The American Heart Association has tasty recipes packed with everything from bacon to broccoli to tofu to mushrooms and much more.
- Get the skinny on fats: Learn how to substitute good fats (mono and polyunsaturated fats) for bad fats (saturated and trans fats). For example, try canola oil or olive oil instead of butter. Choose lean meats, poultry without skin and fish instead of fattier cuts of meats. Enjoy heart-healthy fats in moderation and remember this tip: 1 teaspoon equals 1 serving.
- Save your waistline and your wallet by cooking at home. Cooking at home is not only a great way to make sure the ingredients that go into your recipes are healthy, but it gives you control over your portion sizes too. (Not to mention your budget.) Try using a smaller salad-size plate for your main meal instead of a big dinner plate.
“Achieving a healthy weight is essential to living well,” Johnson said. “Adding fiber-rich, low-calorie foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains will help you feel satisfied on fewer calories.”
For more healthy eating tips, recipes and a guide to products with the Heart Check mark, visit heart.org/healthyliving.
(For NC add: The American Heart Association, through You’re the Cure, is working to help all North Carolinians get access to healthy foods, especially if they live in areas where affordable healthy foods are harder to find. CLICK HERE to help us advance this effort.