12 Small Diet Changes for a Healthier New Year

One of the foundational tenets of my nutrition philosophy is that small changes add up. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I’m never one to recommend a wholesale diet overhaul. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work, for diet or any other aspect of life. You’ve probably experienced this yourself. When we jump in the deep end, all we get is wet. Plenty of research shows that when people achieve extreme weight loss in a short period of time, it doesn’t last. If you make drastic, impossible-to-maintain changes in January, by about March, the scenario looks something like this:

Instead of a quick-fix mentality, as a nutritionist, I’m much more a proponent of small, realistic changes for long-term results. If you’re considering making New Year’s resolutions for your health as 2017 draws to a close, ask yourself what you can actually incorporate into your lifestyle. Maybe you’re ready for a measurable weight loss goal, but maybe just a handful of tiny, doable changes to your diet could add up to net benefit.

Here are 12 tiny food swaps to try in 2018 for better nutrition and better health:

1. Choose whole wheat flour instead of white

Whole wheat flour has more fiber, a better glycemic index, and keeps you fuller longer. Even if all you do is substitute half the all-purpose flour for whole wheat in baking recipes, you’ll be doing yourself a favor. Check out these baked good recipes for inspiration!

2. Go meatless one day a week

Oh, the joys of going meatless! No, seriously. Abstaining from meat one day a week allows you to replace animal products with plant products, always an excellent choice for your health. Check out this in-depth defense of eating less meat.

3. Swap applesauce for butter in baking

This is the sneakiest, easiest healthy baking substitution I know of. Yes, using applesauce in place of butter may change texture in certain baked goods, so I wouldn’t recommend it for, say, brownies or cookies, but I’ve had almost entirely excellent results making this swap in muffins and quick breads.

4. Where possible, use olive oil instead of butter

The hype is real. Olive oil’s monounsaturated fats truly do your heart good. (Not that saturated fat is something to fear as much as we used to think–new studies are casting doubt on some long-held beliefs about the connection between sat-fat and heart disease. Personally, I just think a bit more research is needed before I’d advise throwing caution to the wind.)

5. Drink sparkling water + juice/lemonade instead of soda

As much as we love sugar, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s flat-out bad news for our health.

Here’s a super thorough, rather damning fact sheet on all the damage sweet drinks do on American public health. Not ready to kick the soda habit entirely? Go halvsies by mixing sparkling water with juice, lemonade, or another sweetened beverage for a small, attainable change.

6. Treat yourself with dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate

This interesting infographic from Prevention.com shows the differences between dark and milk chocolate. 

Bottom line: dark chocolate makes the overall better choice for its lower sugar content and higher fiber and iron.

7. Snack on popcorn instead of chips

Crunchy? Salty? Thoroughly snackable? Check, check, check. Popcorn offers much the same snacking experience as chips with less fat, fewer calories, and (if you go with the unsalted variety) lower sodium.

8. Try a milk alternative

Cow’s milk has plenty going for it, with its high levels of calcium and protein. But keeping an open mind on milk alternatives like almond, soy, or rice milk could serve you well if cutting fat and calories are a part of your pursuit of healthy eating. Some food for thought for comparison:

From MyFitnessPal.com

9. Make salads with spinach instead of iceberg

If you ask me, iceberg lettuce earns its name: it’s little better than eating ice. Look down the line items of its nutrition facts and you’ll see zero after zero. For better nutritional value in your salads, choose fresh spinach. Your body will thank you for the dose of vitamins A and K and fiber boost, for only 7 calories per 1 cup.

10. Choose a fruit popsicle or frozen yogurt instead of ice cream

Ok, I know, easier said than done. Given the choice, I’d prefer the velvety deliciousness of ice cream over a popsicle. But two suggestions: one, when you stock the healthier option in your freezer, you’re a whole lot more likely to eat it. And two, making your own creamy popsicles can be a fun motivator to ditch the ice cream.

11. Go with yogurt + honey on waffles or pancakes instead of butter + syrup

The outside-the-box switch of yogurt for butter provides probiotics and lower fat with a similarly creamy texture. Not bad!

12. Experiment with fish or beans in burgers instead of beef

All burgers aren’t created equal. Slash calories and add vitamins and healthy fats by ditching beef in burgers in favor of beans or fish. Here are some recipes to get you started.

Wishing you a happy and healthy new year!

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