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Healthy Living Blog

Information and inspiration to help you make a habit out of living healthy.


3 Eating Tweaks that Bring Big Benefits

Thursday, December 21, 2017

By , YMCA Registered Dietitian Nutritionist


Big changes are hard. No one likes feeling as if they must give something up completely. While many believe that the only path to adopting healthier eating habits is by making huge adjustments all at once, it’s actually the small changes to your current routine that will make the biggest difference!

Try incorporating these three eating tweaks into your lifestyle and see how they can lead to big health benefits:

1. Slash your salt.

Read any food label of a product you frequently buy, and you may be surprised by how much sodium it contains. While a small amount of salt in our diet isn’t harmful, it is important to be mindful of how much we are actually consuming.

Sodium has been directly linked to hypertension (high blood pressure), which affects nearly half of American adults. Blood pressure is a measurement of how much force the blood is pushing against the walls of your arteries. When it rises too high, it can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, brain and eyes. Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, vision loss, angina, or peripheral artery disease.

Did you know that one teaspoon of salt is equivalent to 2,400 milligrams of sodium? Considering the recommendation for adults is less than 2,300 milligrams per day, reducing your sodium intake is a small change that could lead to a big difference in your diet.

Ways to eat deliciously with less salt:

  • Choose fresh over processed or prepared foods. Most foods in their original form are naturally lower in sodium. Fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, and eggs are great choices. Any “ready-to-eat” food products such as frozen pizza, cured meats (bacon, sausage, and deli meats), and canned soups are typically higher in sodium and should only be consumed occasionally.
  • Prepare more meals at home. When cooking at home, you are in control! Try and use little to no added salt when cooking, even when the instructions call for it.
  • Use more herbs and spices. Switch out salt for other tasty herbs and spices. Try out new flavors in your cooking by using lemon, vinegar, Mrs. Dash, black pepper, or make your own salt-free seasonings.
  • Always read the food label. Check out and compare food labels when grocery shopping to select the one with lower sodium. Look for foods labeled “low sodium,” “reduced sodium,” or “no salt added.”

2. Increase your fiber.

Eating more of a plant-based diet is recommended for positive health. One of the biggest benefits is fiber. Many of my clients have heard of fiber, but are unsure of why it is so important and how to get more of it in their diet. Fiber is a nutrient found in plant-based foods that makes us feel full after meals, which helps promote a healthy weight. It can help lower cholesterol, prevent constipation and other gastrointestinal diseases, and help maintain blood sugar within a healthy range.

The recommended amount of fiber for adults is between 25-30 grams per day. While this may sound daunting, it only takes a few simple and delicious substitutions in your diet.

Tips to increase your fiber:

  • Swap out sugary, refined cereal for oatmeal in the morning. Pair it with some nuts and berries, and you’re on the fast track to meeting your fiber goals.
  • For lunch, make your sandwich using a whole-grain tortilla or bread. Add lettuce, tomato and other vegetables to your sandwich and pair it with some fruit for additional fiber benefits.
  • Make your snack fiber-ful as well! Have some vegetables (like carrots, celery, cucumber, or peppers) with hummus, low-fat cheese or peanut butter.
  • Mix it up at dinner. Eat brown rice, whole-grain pasta, or quinoa to end the day on a fiber high note!

(Tip: When increasing fiber in your diet, make sure you do it gradually and drink plenty of water to avoid any gastrointestinal discomfort.)

3. Enjoy some snacks!

Have you ever suffered from being “hangry?” Those irrational and cranky moments when you've skipped a meal or haven’t eaten enough are due to lack of energy. When you eat, the body breaks food down into glucose, which is used to fuel all of your cells. So when you aren’t getting enough food during the day, your blood sugar drops too low for the body to continue functioning normally.

But how do you avoid getting a “food-attitude?” Snacks! When added into a healthy eating plan, snacks provide an important energy boost to keep you going between meals. The biggest trick is to eat snacks that combine colorful fruits or vegetables with a whole-grain and a protein source.

 Whole-grains, ­or carbohydrates, give you immediate energy, while protein helps you feel fuller for longer. The water and fiber in fruits and vegetables provide a variety of vitamins and minerals that increase your physical and mental function.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Easier said than done.” Healthy snacking can be made easy by preparing ahead! Wash and cut any fruits or vegetables, and place crackers, cheese or trail mix in containers or baggies so you can grab and go on busy days.

Bonus! 6 healthy snack ideas:

  1. Make trail mix by combining nuts or seeds, dried fruit and healthy cereal (or some dark chocolate chips for those with a sweet tooth!) and portion out into 1/4 cup servings.
  2. Cut up carrots, celery, cucumber, or bell peppers and pair with hummus or peanut butter.
  3. Blend a smoothie with low-fat or fat-free milk (dairy, almond or cashew), Greek yogurt, frozen fruit, and peanut butter.             
  4. Make your own dip using plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese and pair with vegetables and whole grain crackers.             
  5. Spread peanut butter on whole grain toast and top with a banana or other fruit.             
  6. Mash an avocado with salsa and eat it with baked tortilla chips and vegetables.             

Check out more nutrition tips and recipes from our expert staff, and learn about the nutrition counseling offered at our centers. Our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are here to partner with you to grow stronger and healthier!

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