If you ask the average Joe (or Jane) about his New Year’s resolutions, chances are losing weight is going to be toward the top of the list, as each year seemingly countless Americans resolve to shed the extra pounds they’re carrying.
While losing weight to get back into a favorite pair of jeans or to feel better at an upcoming special event can be satisfying, losing weight through eating healthy can yield many more rewards.
It can reduce your risk of illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
It can also help improve your overall health by boosting energy, sharpening memory and stabilizing mood.
As you move forward with your commitment to healthier eating in 2012, Dr. Christian Montegut, a family medicine physician at River Parishes Hospital, offers these tips for success:
Keep it simple. Instead of being a slave to calorie counting, think of your diet in terms of color, freshness and variety. Identify healthy foods you love and easy recipes that incorporate those foods.
Start slowly. Rather than changing the way you eat overnight, try making one or two healthy changes each week. Perhaps this is the week you commit to drinking fewer soft drinks and eating a salad with dinner each night.
Be realistic. Maintaining a healthy diet doesn’t mean you have to eat well all of the time. Remember to allow yourself the occasional indulgence, so that you don’t feel deprived – setting yourself up for failure.
Consider your portions carefully. When eating out, consider choosing an appetizer instead of an entrée, or share a meal with a friend.
It can also be helpful to review a restaurant’s nutritional information online in advance of your visit. At home, use smaller plates and under serve yourself – you can always get more if you’re still hungry.
Savor every bite. Focus on your food by sitting at a table, rather than in front of the TV or computer. Eat slowly, as it takes a few minutes for your brain to tell your body that it has had enough.
Plan ahead. Prepare and eat your own food whenever possible, so that you can control what you’re eating and how much of it you consume.
For lunch, consider brown bagging it with fresh fruit and vegetables, low-fat yogurts and cheeses, whole wheat breads and lean meats. For dinner, pick a few easy, healthy recipes and build a meal schedule around them.
Stock up on healthy recipe basics, including:
• Recipe and soup starters such as garlic, onions, carrots and celery;
• Fresh and dried herbs and spices;
• Healthy fats and oils for cooking, such as olive oil and canola oil;
• Salad fixings, such as lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, nuts and dried fruits;
• Beans such as lentils, black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans;
• Brown rice, white Basmati rice and whole wheat pasta;
• Fresh and/or frozen fruits and vegetables;
• Frozen fruit and berries to make desserts; and
• Unsalted nuts, single serving bags of low-fat crackers/chips, and low-fat gelatin and pudding cups for snacking.
"It’s also important to eat a high protein breakfast each and every morning – even if you don’t feel hungry," Montegut said. "It gets your metabolism going.
"Eating smaller meals throughout the day can also help keep your energy level up, while helping prevent binge eating."
Are you craving more tips for healthy eating?
Consider these additional recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables: Choose red, orange and dark-green vegetables like tomatoes, sweet potatoes and broccoli, along with other vegetables for your meals.
Add fruit to meals as part of main or side dishes or as dessert.
Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk: They have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but fewer calories and less saturated fat.
Make half your grains whole grains:
To eat more whole grains, substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product – such as eating whole wheat bread instead of white bread or brown rice – instead of white rice.
Compare sodium in foods: Use the Nutrition Facts label to choose lower sodium versions of foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals.
Select canned foods labeled "low sodium," "reduced sodium" or "no salt added."
Drink water instead of sugary drinks: Cut calories by drinking water or unsweetened beverages.
Soda, energy drinks and sports drinks are a major source of added sugar and calories in American diets.
Foods to eat more often: Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fat-free or 1percent milk and dairy products.
These foods have the nutrients you need for health, including potassium, calcium, vitamin D and fiber. Make them the basis for meals and snacks.
Foods to eat less often: Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars and salt.
They include cakes, cookies, ice cream, candies, sweetened drinks, pizza and fatty meats like ribs, sausages, bacon and hot dogs.
Use these foods as occasional treats, not everyday foods.
To learn more, talk to your physician or visit www.chosemyplate.gov.