Did you resolve to improve your nutrition and wellness this year? If you’re on a diet, chances are you’ve broken a few rules by now. The goal for 2017 might be to recognize the impact of your environment on food choices, nutrition and ultimately, your weight status.
Though it can seem like a significant lifestyle change, Roberta Anding, dietitian with Baylor College of Medicine, said there are steps you can take to acknowledge food cues, cultural influences and make more positive choices to improve your health.
Acknowledge food cues
Many of our food choices might stem from habits we acquired from childhood, Anding said.
“Did you grow up in a family where you had sweets and desserts every single day? That absolutely shapes what you believe as an adult to be a normal meal,” she said. “Did you have a big meal on Sunday after church? Did you grow up vegetarian eating foods with rich curry sauces? All of these experiences can influence your choice of foods and preferences.”
Anding said adults unknowingly eat more when the portions and containers are larger.
“We eat based on the amount of food that is on our plate, regardless of the plate size. A study of buffet diners indicated that customers served themselves 52 percent more and ate 45 percent more when the buffet plates were large.”
Opting to use a salad plate rather than a large dinner plate can help reduce portion size, Anding said. It’s also important to avoid getting second servings on smaller plates.
Importance of protein and gut bacteria
While it may be convenient to grab a bowl of cereal for breakfast, Anding says this choice can lead to increased snacking throughout the day.
“Many people opt to have a low-sugar cereal for breakfast. However, come 10 a.m. you’re more likely to grab a few pieces of candy because you’re biologically hungry,” she said. “Your breakfast should always include a source of protein, which will give you better appetite control.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, gut bacteria help synthesize key nutrients, fend off pathogens and can impact weight gain and brain development. Anding emphasized the importance of knowing the difference between helpful and harmful bacteria.
“There are a lot of different bacteria that live in your gut – both good and bad. Most good bacteria flourish with fiber and fermented foods such as yogurt and bad bacteria are often times fed with simple sugars and other refined carbohydrates,” she said. “If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome you need to make sure you’re making a change to help the friendly bacteria flourish.”
Anding said fermented foods such as kimchee, yogurt with active cultures, sauerkraut, Kombucha tea, and kefir can help promote healthy gut bacteria known as probiotics. Whole grain, hummus, beans, vegetables and fruit are good sources of prebiotic fiber, which also nourishes gut-friendly bacteria.
Stay away from fads
Anding said beware of diet fads that are not beneficial to your overall health.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it is. If you can do something simply and without effort, the benefits are minimal at best.”
Anding also warned against advertising that includes false medical terminology, defies normal physiology or claims to be “all natural.”
Plant-enhanced diet benefits
Anding highly recommends following the principle of the Mediterranean diet, which consists of eating primarily plant-based foods, legumes, whole grains and nuts.
“You need to look at plate organization. Half of your dinner plate should always be fruits and vegetables.”
She notes the following benefits of including more plant-based foods in your meals:
- Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes
- Lower blood fats
- Better brain health
- Less constipation
Anding said fresh, plant-based meals may be difficult to prepare every day and alternatives such as frozen vegetables are acceptable substitutes.
What you can do today
Anding suggests the following actions to take control of your nutrition today:
- Choose unsweetened beverages such as water, sparkling waters or unsweetened tea
- Slow down your eating
- Track your eating and exercise efforts
Anding added that it’s more effective to count servings of vegetables and fruits rather than calories. She also emphasized the importance of exercising for benefits beyond weight loss.
“What exercise does is make your hormones work better and improves the way your insulin works. It’s a tune-up from the inside out that is great for your health.”