The standard American diet consists primarily of fried foods, dairy products, packaged foods and sweetened beverages.
These foods also contain high amounts of refined sugars, sodium and saturated fats.
The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has researched this and reports that this diet can contribute to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other harmful effects to health.
But choices we make can make a difference.
Here are some ways to make substitutions, which can be made gradually, to achieve long-lasting results and help you along the path to a healthier you:
Limit refined sugar
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are the body’s primary source of fuel. They come in different forms: Fiber, starch and sugar.
And, it’s important to pay attention to the kinds of carbs you consume.
Here are some suggestions to help you make better choices:
- Choose whole-grain bread over white bread (Whole grain is high in fiber, which is good for gut and digestive health.)
- Fruits and vegetables are carbs that provide natural sugar and fiber.
- Cinnamon can add sweetness to dishes, without adding sugar.
- Instead of sugary drinks, opt for water or unsweetened tea.
Reduce intake of sodium and sugar
Reducing your intake of sodium and sugar can yield significant health benefits.
Be mindful of the sodium in the foods you eat.
Our sodium intake goes far beyond adding salt to the foods on our plate. Be sure to pay attention to the sodium contained in the packaged and prepared foods we consume.
If you track your meals, pay attention to how much came from a box, can or package.
Reducing sodium and sugar in your diet can be achieved by cooking most of our foods and incorporating more herbs and spices into the recipe, according to Sharon Solomon, who is a registered dietitian.
By doing that, you can enjoy delicious and flavorful meals — while watching out for your health.
Here are some helpful suggestions:
- Read food labels.
- Choose “low sodium” food products.
- Eat at home more often and prepare your meals yourself.
When possible, cook in bulk and freeze the extra for easy meals later when you are short on time.
- Try using a blend of rosemary, thyme and oregano instead of salt to season meat. (As a bonus, herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory properties and contain an array of vitamins and minerals, providing a nutrient boost to your meal.)
- If adding salt, do so at the end of the cooking process and season to taste. (After seasoning with fresh or dried herbs and spices, you may discover you don’t need salt, or as much salt as you thought.)
Choose healthy fats
It’s important to keep in mind that while some fats can harm our health, others are essential for a healthy diet.
Just remember: Not all fats are created equal.
The USDA says to choose healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados and salmon.
These foods are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation and improve heart health.
Here are some ways to decrease fat, without sacrificing flavor:
- Make instant oatmeal or chill overnight oats with fresh fruit and nuts instead of having a processed muffin for breakfast.
- Choose a baked or grilled entree rather than a deep-fried option when eating out.
- Ask for salsa or hot sauce for additional flavor without the added fat.
- Swap out red meat for leaner protein sources like chicken or fish. (You can also opt for a vegetarian meal, when planning your weekly meals.)
- Try using avocado or hummus on your toast, or top it with seeds and herbs.
- Prepare snacks of fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed snacks, like chips or crackers.
Monitoring portion sizes can help ensure we are filling up on nutrient-dense foods rather than overindulging on discretionary calories.
Here are some tips to consider when getting ready for a meal or snack:
- When serving food, use smaller plates to help control portion sizes.
- Have a snack if you are hungry in between meals. (Choose items from at least two different food groups, such an apple and nut butter. Remember: If you starve yourself between meals you are more likely to eat too much at mealtime.)
- When dining out, order the lunch-size portion or share with a companion.
Additionally, it’s important to have a plan for handling setbacks.
No one is perfect, and it’s normal to have setbacks from time to time.
Instead of getting discouraged, use setbacks as an opportunity to gain experience and grow. Reflect on what caused the setback and come up with a plan for how to avoid it in the future. Remember, making small changes over time can lead to significant results.
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science Agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County.
Pasco County Extension Intern Syreeta McDonald, contributed to this column .
Black Bean Burgers (Courtesy of MyPlate.gov)
- 1 can (15.5 oz) low-sodium black beans (drained and rinsed with cold water)
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
- 2 scallions (green and white minced about 1/4 cup)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (or basil leaves or a combination)
- 1 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano or basil
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 whole-wheat buns
- Place beans in a bowl and mash with a fork until chunky.
- Add the egg and mix well.
- Add the precooked rice, the scallions, garlic and oregano, salt and pepper.
- Mix until well combined.
- Divide the mixture into four portions and form each portion into a patty, about 3/4- to 1-inch thick.
- Place large skillet on the stove on high heat.
- When the skillet is hot, add oil.
- Add the black bean burgers and cook 4 minutes to 5 minutes on each side, until both sides are browned and heated through.
Note: You can use old-fashioned rolled oats, leftover cooked barley or Panko breadcrumbs instead of prepared rice. Serve with your favorite toppings such as lettuce, tomato, guacamole, salsa, low-fat cheese or low-fat yogurt.
Published August 02, 2023