It’s an American tradition. Every January 1st, people make New Year’s Resolutions. Whether it’s exercising more, eating more vegetables, or losing weight, health and nutrition resolutions often top the list. What will you change this year? For some timely ideas, here are ten nutrition resolutions to consider this year.
1. Slow Down and Eat
Experts are blaming the growing obesity epidemic on many factors, including fast food, dwindling family dinners and hectic lifestyles that seem to leave little time for eating healthy and exercising. Welcome the Slow Food Movement, an organization created by people passionate about the physical and emotional benefits of slowing down to enjoy life with family and friends.
The organization boasts 277,000 members in 68 countries, including 40,000 in Slow Food’s birthplace of Italy.
Slow Food’s recipe is to combine slowing down with food traditions. For a nourishing and enriching 2004, try some Slow Food ideas:
- As often as possible, eat home cooked meals with family and friends
- Cook from scratch more often, using fresh ingredients rather than boxed or canned foods
- Establish or reclaim family traditions at mealtimes
- Create a calm, pleasant mealtime atmosphere
- Turn off the TV during meals
- Savor the flavor of your food
- Linger over meals with conversation and companionship
2. Eat Your Greens…and Reds and Purples
Many people have memories of their mother or grandmother reminding them to eat their greens. Experts now recommend eating reds, yellows, purples and whites too!
The color in fruits and vegetables comes from natural plant compounds called phytochemicals. You may be familiar with some of these—lutein from greens, lycopene from tomatoes, and beta-carotene from carrots. Interestingly, the main role of phytochemicals is to protect the plant. In turn, these protective factors benefit the person who eats the plant. Phytochemicals can help prevent disease, retard aging and improve immunity.
For a fun and healthy New Year’s Resolution, choose foods from each “color group” daily:
- Deep reds or bright pink (raspberries, red peppers, tomatoes, watermelon)
- Greens (spinach, broccoli, honeydew, kiwi)
- Yellows/Oranges (carrots, mango, pineapple, corn)
- Blues/Purples (blueberries, eggplant, figs, blackberries)
- Whites (onion, garlic, cauliflower, bananas)
For a more extensive list of color groups, go to the 5 a Day website, sponsored by the Product for Better Health Foundation.
3. Move Over Rice and Pasta
For many Americans, favorite grains include white rice, pasta, flour tortillas and white bread. Although in moderation any of these foods can be part of a healthy diet, as diet staples they have shortfalls. First, they are low in fiber. This is a problem because, according to the American Dietetic Association, the average American gets less than half of their fiber quota daily. Second, many nutrients are lost in the processing. While certain vitamins and minerals are returned in the enrichment process, most disease-fighting phytochemicals are lost forever.
This year, give your diet a facelift by adding more high fiber grains. Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, bran cereal, whole wheat tortillas, and 100 percent whole wheat bread are well known options. If you’re the adventurous type, try the less common and even more nutritious millet, quinoa, triticale, bulgur, barley or wheat berries.
4. Go Nuts
For over a decade, nutrition research has been glowing about nuts. Eating several small servings of nuts a week reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Although nuts contain a high percentage of fat, the majority is unsaturated fat—the heart healthy fat that lowers the LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. Nuts are also packed with nutrients such as fiber, vitamin E, magnesium and other phytochemicals.
If you have shunned fat-laden nuts due to weight concerns, here’s some good news. Studies have shown that nuts in moderation aren’t a deterrent to weight loss. In fact, since nuts curb hunger better than some low fat snacks, including nuts in your diet may actually help you eat less!
5. Drink Milk for Weight Loss
For decades, people were told to drink milk for strong bones. In recent years, dairy products have also been found to improve blood pressure, reduce the risk of diabetes and protect against certain types of cancer. Now a growing body of research links consumption of calcium-rich milk, yogurt and cheese to a lower risk of obesity. This latest research points to a benefit beyond calcium, since dairy products were found to be more effective than calcium supplements.
Of course, milk products are high in cholesterol-raising saturated fat. So the best dairy choices are nonfat or skim milk, nonfat yogurt, and low-fat or nonfat cheese.
6. Make Your Food Work for You
When a food offers a benefit beyond basic nutrition, it is often called a “functional food.” This term is often used when a food provides a specific benefit, such as the gastrointestinal benefits of yogurt or the cholesterol-lowering properties of soy. Functional foods also include foods that have been modified to improve health. Calcium fortified juice or breakfast cereal with added flax are examples.
Expect more functional foods to hit the grocery shelves in 2004. While not all of these products will live up to their hype, nutrition-savvy consumers can give their diets a boost by taking advantage of this booming area of nutrition.
7. Spice it up for Health
Add a little spice to your New Year and get healthy in the process! Although the role of spices is to flavor foods, their benefits stretch far beyond the taste buds. Spices can help manage or prevent disease. Experts believe that herbs and spices are often as rich in health-promoting substances as fruits and vegetables. Here’s a look at some common spices and their benefits:
- Cinnamon helps diabetes. A recent study reported in Diabetes Care showed that as little as ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon daily helps people with diabetes lower their blood sugars and cholesterol levels.
- Chili powder contains capsaicin, a phytochemical with potential cancer-fighting benefits. It’s also a great source of the antioxidant beta-carotene.
- Coriander, cumin, tumeric, rosemary and ginger also contain phytochemicals with cancer fighting properties.
- Garlic, onion, allspice, oregano and thyme were found by Cornell researchers to be potent bacterial killers.
8. Say No to Extremes
All too often, people opt for extreme diet changes. They give up entire food groups, or they choose a trendy diet that’s so rigid or monotonous, they can’t stick with it more than a few days. The deprivation caused by extreme dieting often leads to overeating and failure.
The best way to make diet changes is to start small. Identify one or two changes to make and get started. Maybe it’s eating more vegetables at dinner, or replacing that afternoon candy bar with fruit. Each week, evaluate your progress. Add more changes when ready. Eventually, your diet will be transformed. This “small step” method takes commitment and patience, but over time the rewards can be improved self-confidence, a healthier body, and the sweet taste of success.
9. Indulge Once in a While
Speaking of extremes, few people have perfect eating habits. Instead of aiming for perfection, allow an occasional treat for a more realistic and successful approach. The good news is that some of these treats can have health benefits of their own. Chocolate is a perfect example.
Cocoa beans are rich in flavonoids, an antioxidant that makes cholesterol less likely to build up in the arteries. Among chocolates, dark chocolate and cocoa have the highest flavonoid concentration. Other recent studies have linked dark chocolate to improved blood pressure and a reduction in harmful blood clotting activity.
So the next time you crave a little chocolate, don’t do it. (Feel guilty, that is.) In moderation, it may be good for you.
10. Go Mediterranean
For years, research has identified the Mediterranean-style diet as a heart healthy approach to eating. This diet contains plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and cereals, as well as moderate amounts of fish and dairy products, small amounts of red meat, and typically wine with meals. Olive oil is used regularly.
To understand how healthy adults benefit from this way of eating, researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Athens studied a population of over 22,000 adults in Greece. They used a 10-point scale to assess adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet. Researchers found that for every 2 point rise on the adherence scale, the risk of overall death dropped by 25 percent, the risk of death from heart disease dropped 33 percent and the risk of cancer dropped 24 percent.
Of interest, the researchers deemed the whole diet more responsible for the health benefits than any particular food. While many individual foods are thought to have risks and benefits, diet patterns and the overall diet are a more important focus. This may be the most important nutrition theme to carry into 2004—to eat more of the best and less of the rest.