It is the New Year and resolutions about exercise and weight loss abound. Rather than indulging in one of these often unrealistic resolutions, I suggest you try a resolution which will be easier to keep and more likely to bring success. That is to resolve to eat better in the coming year. "How do I do that?" you ask.
Eating better requires that you learn about the foods that need to be reduced and then explore healthier options.
The authors of Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, a very reliable group of scientists, have provided guidance. One of their best pieces of advice for eating better is to reduce "solid fats and added sugars".
Let's first address solid fats. What are solid fats?
These fats have a solid consistency at room temperature. Think about what you have in your kitchen, in your refrigerator, or your cupboard. You may have some of these items left from your holiday baking. Check this list and compare.
Solid fats: butter, stick margarine, shortening, lard, coconut oil, palm oil and animal fats: beef, chicken, and pork fat
Why do they need to be reduced for healthier eating? Because fats which are solid at room temperature have a high percentage of saturated and or trans fatty acids. The intake of these fats has been linked to cardiovascular disease.
So you will be able to identify solid fats in foods, the food sources that are so very common in the American diet that contain solid fats include:
- full fat cheeses
- fried potatoes
- pork sausages
You may be thinking "I don’t eat any of those foods", yet have you noticed all the sandwiches, salads, main and vegetable dishes that now contain bacon?
The healthier choices for eating better include lower fat milks and naturally lower fat cheeses, and the use of vegetable oils in your cooking and in salad dressings.
For example, try a light dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and a little salt on vegetables and fresh green salads - the combination compliments the flavor of the vegetables.
For eating better replace the solid fats with food sources containing omega-3 fatty acids. These are the healthful fats and are recommended to replace trans fats and saturated fats. Omega-3s have been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease. Cold water fish have high omega 3 content. These include: salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, herring and oysters, the only shell fish rich in omega-3s. Eating these two to three times a week will ensure omega-3 intake.
Next let’s learn about added sugars. As noted in the Dietary Guidelines we get most of the added sugars in our diet from foods and beverages that have sugars added. Sugars are added to sweeten and improve their taste. The foods that contain added sugars are usually foods which contribute many calories but few nutrients and little fiber. In addition, added sugars are in our sugar bowls, in our cupboards, and in sugar packets.
Added sugars: high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, raw sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey and molasses
So how do you decrease the added sugars and what can you substitute for healthier choices?
Drink beverages that contain no sugar, the most obvious is water, but consider tea, coffee, or diet beverages. You can also decrease what you add to sweeten your beverages, replacing the added sugar with one of the low calorie sweeteners, for example, aspartame. Try it in your next cup of tea, coffee, or latté.
At breakfast, top your cooked cereal with chopped raisins rather than sugar. For dessert, include fruits with natural sugars as they also contain nutrients and fiber, for instance, dried apricots can substitute for a sweet after a meal.
We all know that what we eat contributes to our health. So consider that the resolution to eat better will also provide you with an extra benefit which is a better understanding of food and food composition.
One last piece of advice is to make gradual changes and substitutions over the year, as research supports that small changes make for lasting change and that is the key to eating better.
Jo Ann Hattner MPH, RD is a consulting nutritionist practicing in San Francisco California. She also provides expert counsel to the Aspartame Resource Center.
US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th ed. Washington DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Agriculture; 2011. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp. Accessed December 30, 2011.