Super Simple Ways to Eat Healthy Without Ever Going On a Diet
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Odds are you love carbs as much as the next person (same!). But research shows that eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies provides a boon of benefits, including protection against cancer, heart disease, and the effects of aging—something that probably couldn't be said for devouring copious amounts of shawarma. (And that's not all. Science also says eating lots of fruits and veggies can make you happier.)
"Ultimately, the food pyramid recommends a total of nine servings of fruits and vegetables," says Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D.N., author of The Portion Teller Plan and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. "However, if that seems daunting, rather than fixate on a fixed amount, make sure to have just one vegetable or fruit with each meal." Whether that means adding a banana to your morning cereal or putting tomato and lettuce on your lunchtime turkey sandwich, it's an easy way to get your greens in without keeping a tally sheet.
Or practice the 50-percent rule: Aim to have half of your lunch or dinner plate covered in veggies. Not only will this help you get your nutrition fix in, but you'll also likely shed some weight. "Each bite of vegetable has 3 to 4 times fewer calories than any other bite of food on your plate," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and the author of The Flexitarian Diet. (Related: The Ultimate Guide to Clean Eating)
Limit Liquid Calories
Soda is essentially sugar water, which packs a caloric punch. Diet soda, though clocking zero calories, also tallies zero nutritional value. And smoothies and fruit juice, though healthier than soda, packs about the same number of calories. (If you're craving fruit, go with whole fruit instead, which has fiber to keep you full.)
The healthiest choice? Opt for water. Eight glasses are recommended per day, but if you hate drinking plain water, pick up flavored water or flavored seltzer. Unsweetened tea and coffee are good runners-up. (And if you need help weaning yourself off the sweeter stuff, try these smart drink swaps.)
Eat More Fiber
Not only can fiber keep you full, but it can also help you lose weight as well as lower your risk for cancer. An easy way to eat healthier and fit more fiber into your diet is to swap out white bread for whole grains. When reading the ingredient list on, say, bread, "make sure the first ingredient reads 'whole' grain," says Blatner. "Whole grains have 3 parts—bran, germ, endosperm—which work together to prevent disease and may also help keep you at a healthy weight." (And, yes, whole grain is different from whole wheat.)
Choose natural foods instead of processed foods as often as possible. Without additives, non- or minimally-processed foods—lean meats, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables—mean you won't ingest excessive amounts of man-made chemicals. (Just read the ingredient list on a package of Twinkies and see if you can pronounce all those words.)
Be a Smart Shopper
You already sidestep the Pop-Tarts and Entenmann's, but if you assume that your breakfast granola or stand-by frozen dinners are healthy, you might want to think again: Many processed foods have more saturated fat, sodium, or sugar that you might've previously thought.
When shopping, copy nutritionists. Check out the nutrition content for things like low sodium, moderate protein, and high fiber. (And, good news, the FDA's new nutrition labels make scanning packages so much easier.)
Double Up on Superfoods
Guacamole may be the most perfect food—not just because of its deliciousness, but also because of the cancer-fighting lycopene and immune-boosting beta-carotene (both of which, btw, are health-boosting phytonutrients). Superfoods (think blueberries, broccoli, salmon, walnuts, and even dark chocolate) pack a nutritional punch and are even better when consumed together. Strength in numbers, my friends, strength in numbers.
Snacking is a good way to tide yourself over till the next meal, but making healthy decisions when you're delusional with hunger (and hangry!) isn't something to bet on. Prepare yourself with smart, portable choices: a whole fruit, a granola bar, or small yogurt are all solid picks for their antioxidants, fiber, and calcium content, respectively. But if you're in the mood for a slightly more indulgent snack—say, a wedge of gouda or a handful of almonds—be mindful of your intake. "High-fat dairy foods such as cheese are high in calories, so keep portions to less than one ounce per day," says Blatner.
As for ways to eat healthy when it comes to nuts, "keep it to just one ounce per day because they can be high in calories if you overdo it." A guideline: one ounce of nuts is 24 almonds, 18 cashews, 14 walnut halves, 20 pecan halves, or 49 pistachios.
Marie Antoinette said it best: "Let them eat cake!" The only problem? She was missing a very important detail: that how frequently you eat it (not to mention what kind of flaky, buttery, or sugar-laden treat you choose) can drastically affect your diet.
Since many desserts are for the most part nutritionally devoid (looking at you, chocolate molten cake), consider instilling a totally doable way to eat healthy rule: Indulge outside of the home—say, a slice of birthday cake at a party or splitting dessert at a restaurant with your dining companion. "This helps to cut back on overindulging on cookies while watching TV on the couch or eating ice cream out of the container after a long day at work," says Blatner. (But if you are craving a spoonful or two, you might want to go for the best healthy ice cream brands.)
Fill Up on Fat
Monounsaturated fat, which is found in olive oil, walnuts, and avocados, actually helps you metabolize fat and lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), while possibly raising HDL cholesterol (the good kind).
"Choose healthy fats such as olive or canola oil instead of butter," Blatner suggests. However, "make sure to measure oil when cooking since just 1 tablespoon has 120 calories." (See also: 11 High-Fat Foods a Healthy Diet Should Always Include)
Curb Your Sweet Tooth
Candy, cookies, and cakes, oh my! Sugar—the simplest form of carbohydrate, found as lactose (milk sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), and sucrose (table sugar)—is part of an addictive cycle, and consumption causes peaks and valleys in your blood sugar level and leaves you craving more. Research even shows that a lifetime of overindulging in the sweet stuff can lead to dull, wrinkled skin. (Check out how your body *really* reacts when you eat sugar.)
Try to limit how much refined sugar you eat—not only is it high in calories, but it's also almost devoid of nutrients. White, brown, and powdered sugar are all culprits, as well as honey and syrup, so choose low-sugar breakfast cereals, opt for fresh fruit for dessert, or simply cut out your daily can of Coke.
Eat More Often (Yes, Really!)
Rather than having three large meals a day and feeling hungry in between, Blatner suggests filling up on smaller portions every five hours to curb hunger and stabilize sugar levels—not to mention consume less. "People who eat on schedule tend to eat about 80 calories less per day than those people who eat at erratic times and skip meals," she says.
Take Your Vitamins
When you can't ace all of these ways to eat healthy (hey, it happens!) and aren't quite able to fit an array of healthy foods into your diet, "a multivitamin is a good idea," says Young. Vitamin B can boost your energy, vitamin E helps stave off heart disease and breast cancer. Vegetarians and women over 35 are at risk for iron deficiency, and all women can benefit from calcium. (Related: Are Personalized Vitamins Worth It?)
Pay Attention To Portion Size
When it comes to food and ways to eat healthy, size does matter. Some general guidelines for what one "portion size" is:
- Starch (like noodles, potatoes, rice, and cereal): the size of a fist
- Protein (like meat or tofu): the size of two palms
- Fruit: the size of a tennis ball
- Vegetable: the size of a fist
"Use these as a guide to be aware of how much you're eating," says Young. "Or it can be as simple as stopping when you're full. You don't necessarily need to finish the plate. Think before you eat." (In case you happen to eat past fullness, here's exactly what to do when you overeat, according to dietitians.)
Say your afternoon meeting runs late, or you have to pick up your kid from daycare, or you just don't have time between classes to get something to eat. It's time to make like a Boy Scout: Be prepared.
When you're making on-the-fly picks, choose something filling and portable. "You can always get fruit or yogurt on the run," says Young, "or a chicken wrap or hummus wrap on whole wheat pita." If you know you probably won't have time to pick something up, whip up a quick sandwich at home, and bring fruits and veggies to snack on—stashing a container of baby carrots in your bag will be your saving grace when 3 p.m. hits (and one of the easiest ways to eat healthy). (Related: These 11 Energizing Snacks Will Push You Through Your Afternoon Slump)
Pace Your Eating
If you tend to scarf down your entree in five minutes flat, try to stretch each meal to 30 minutes. "People who eat slowly tend to eat 70 calories less per meal than people who rush through in under 10 minutes," explains Blatner. Sipping water between bites, chewing thoroughly, and just being mindful of what you're eating can help you slow down. (Up Next: How to Make Mindful Eating a Regular Part of Your Diet)