“Adopting healthy behaviors — whether it’s increasing physical activity or eating healthier —happens one day at a time,” said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., MPH, RD, chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee and professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington. “If you devote one day to healthy eating, you will know you can do it again and learn to enjoy it!”
Those small steps can lead to bigger payoffs.
“We know from research that being exposed to healthy food means you will develop a preference for that food over time. For example, once you become accustomed to eating lower-sodium foods, you will find that foods you used to eat taste very salty,” Johnson said. “By adopting a healthier diet you will not only add years to your life but you’ll improve the quality of the years you have.”
If you struggle with your weight, try to pick up the pace on the produce.
“Achieving a healthy weight is essential to living well,” Johnson said. “Adding fiber-rich, low-calorie foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains will help you feel satisfied on fewer calories.”
Here are some tips to try this month and throughout the year:
Slow down on the sodium: Americans eat more than double the daily amount of sodium recommended by the American Heart Association. Too much sodium increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and other health problems, but this excess isn’t just from salting at the table. Americans get most of their sodium — 77 percent — from processed foods. If you choose these foods, compare the labels and look for lower-sodium versions.
Pile on the fruits and vegetables: Choose all kinds of fruits and vegetables — fresh, frozen, canned, juiced and dried. All fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Look for fruits and vegetables of many different colors. Then try a “slender sauté” using a small amount of liquid to cook vegetables. Need a quick, healthy weeknight dinner? Try a salad. The American Heart Association has tasty recipes packed with such items as tofu, broccoli, bacon, mushrooms and much more.
Get the skinny on fats: Learn how to substitute good fats (mono and polyunsaturated fats) for bad fats (saturated and trans fats). For example, try canola oil or olive oil instead of butter. Choose lean meats, poultry without skin and fish instead of fattier cuts of meats. Enjoy heart-healthy fats in moderation and remember this tip: 1 teaspoon equals 1 serving.
Cook at home. Cooking at home is not only a great way to make sure the ingredients are healthy, but portions are correct. Try using a smaller salad-size plate instead of a big dinner plate, as well.