Eating right shouldn’t be hard or complicated. But it does take some know-how, motivation, and stealthy ways to eat better without even thinking about it. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’ve compiled some of the most impactful tips to eat healthy every day.
First off, don’t feel bad if you’re feeling confused about how to eat healthy. The constant stream of nutrition misinformation and sensationalized stories on the internet and social media makes it challenging to know who to trust. Many so-called online experts are nothing more than uncredentialed spokespersons or modern day snake oil salespeople trying to promote an agenda or sell a product.
If nutrition advice promises to cure a disease, help peel off pounds, or provide a quick fix, it’s inaccurate. Healthy eating requires attention, dedication, and motivation — for a lifetime. Instead of turning to TikToker’s for what to eat, look for information from trusted sources like health institutions, nonprofit organizations, and credentialed nutrition professionals, including registered dietitian nutritionists. To get started, here are 10 healthy eating tips that are all evidence-based.
Those who get a good night’s sleep eat better the next day. Research consistently shows that lack of sleep or disrupted sleep is associated with increased cravings for junk food, increased snacking, and higher calorie intakes. This is why shift workers and night owls are more likely to have lower quality diets and are more likely to be overweight, have type 2 diabetes, or metabolic syndrome compared to those who prioritize sleep. To help you eat well tomorrow, focus on what you do tonight to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.
2 Slash the sugar.
While most of us are drowning in the sweet stuff, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugar to no more than 10 % of total calories (200 calories or 12.5 teaspoons in a 2000-calorie diet), and the American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories per day (or 6 teaspoons) for women and 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons) for men. Excess sugar contributes to obesity, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, eye diseases, premature aging, and much more. A diet high in added sugars can also spike systemic inflammation within your body.
The first step to do this is to eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from your diet, as they are the leading contributor to added sugars in the U.S. Second, look at the ingredient list on packaged foods to see if there are any added sugars listed in the first three ingredients. Common names for added sugars in packaged foods include sugar, cane juice, sucrose, dextrose, sucrose, maltose, maltodextrin, and rice syrup. For sweets, try dried or fresh fruit, and when baking, use a 100% fruit puree from apples, bananas, prunes, or figs to sweeten your baked goods.
3 Make half your grains whole.
If you choose whole grains for at least 50 percent of your grain-based choices every day instead of eating primarily refined grains, you’ll get more fiber, essential nutrients, and beneficial bioactive compounds. A review study published recently in Comprehensive Review of food Science and Safety concluded that whole grain consumption is associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Some healthy whole grains to include in your diet include brown rice, oats, and whole-wheat flour, pitas, tortillas, breads, and cereal. Experiment with other whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, and sorghum as well.
4 Try meal prepping.
This healthy eating tip may be tricky to get used to at first, but meal prep means that you don’t have to think every night about what you’re going to have for dinner. You’ve already planned it out and know what you’re having. This can help you control your weight, avoid eating out, improve the nutritional quality of your diet, and save time and money. Recent research shows that individuals who frequently eat their meals out or purchase prepared meals are more likely to be overweight or obese and have significantly higher intakes of unhealthy nutrients like added sugar and saturated fat.
Ultra-processed foods are considered the unhealthiest foods you can eat, yet 57 percent of the total daily calories in a typical U.S. diet come from these manufactured edibles, according to recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Studies suggest that ultra-processed foods are linked to heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, among other conditions.
Ultra-processed foods are any foods and beverages that have undergone significant processing and usually have added sugars, fat, additives, and preservatives. Examples include soda and other sugary beverages, chips, sugary breakfast cereals, candy, frozen desserts, baked goods, processed meats, margarine, and snack bars. Choose natural, whole foods as much as possible, and try to avoid overly processed choices as much as possible.
6 Start your day right.
7 Eat more plants and fewer animals.
A more plant-based diet is generally best for your health and staving off chronic diseases. In fact, traditional diets of the longest-living people in the world are plant-based, and it is estimated that in the Blue Zones, which are regions with the highest concentrations of centenarians, diets are 90-95 percent plants. The Adventist Health Study in the U.S. found that those who lived the longest were vegans and pesco-vegetarians who ate a small amount of seafood. The Mediterranean Diet, heralded as one of the healthiest eating pattern in the world, is an overall plant-based approach with dairy foods a few times a week and frequent fish and seafood. Red meats are limited to only a few eating occasions each month.
8 Shop for your health.
Using a grocery list helps improve your diet and will save you time and money, and having a well-stocked kitchen with primarily good-for-you choices means you’ll eat healthier meals and snacks. Making a shopping list will also help you limit how many meals you’re eating out or ordering in. Individuals who use a list have healthier diets and improved biomarkers for health. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior reported that using a shopping list was associated with a lower body weight and a higher quality diet.
9 Eat more colorful foods.
Eating colorful foods is a surefire way to ensure you’re getting disease-fighting bioactive components in fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, food patterns that include fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including some cancers and heart disease.
Be sure to include a rainbow of colors on most days. Colorful picks pack in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonoids, carotenoids, and other phytochemicals that help fend off diseases. Colorful plant-based picks are also rich in many important nutrients including folic acid, vitamin A, C, and E, selenium, and potassium. For optimal health, be sure to get at least three vegetables and two fruit servings every day.
10 Bounce back after setbacks.
Life happens. To everyone. And sometimes, even when we are following these healthy eating tips, we can get off track. However, individuals who have tools in their life toolbox to help them get over health hiccups are more likely to have stable weight and healthier diets overall. There will be times when you don’t eat well and it may last days, weeks, or even months. To help you turn the corner and get back on track, try the following tricks: First, find your why. Think about the reasons why you are trying to eat healthier. Next, set a short-term goal that gets you through a day or week eating healthier. And lastly, get moving, as exercise can help individuals feel more motivated to eat better.