Carrots, zucchini, and green pepper stir fry in a wok.

Make SMART changes for your health. Photo credit: UF/IFAS Northwest District

“New Year, New Me!” – the same phrase we hear and see posted all over social media every time the new year rolls around.  More often than not, resolutions tied to each new year involve diet and weight changes.  But how does one actually commit to these new resolutions year round?

Step 1: Forget Fads and “Dieting” 

The world of nutrition can seem overwhelming with the various diets that are continuously marketed as “the next best thing for your health.”  However, most diets, such as Paleo, Vegan/Vegetarianism, Keto, etc., exclude one or more food groups from the diet, which only makes things more challenging. In reality, eating healthy does not need to be that difficult.  According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating pattern “accounts for ALL foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.”  Essentially, moderation is key!

In addition to fads, scratch the word “diet” from your vocabulary.  Dieting implies something short term or there is an end date in mind.  To build healthy, sustainable eating patterns, we want to make lifestyle changes.  A healthy lifestyle not only incorporates what you eat, but includes exercise and a healthy mind as well!  Use SMART goals to help attain your healthy eating/lifestyle changes for 2019: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, & Time-bound.

Step 2: Focus on Food Groups

Instead of counting calories in 2019, let us count food groups!  How many food groups does your meal have?  Is there a protein?  Vegetables? Healthy fats?  Foods are generally classified into three main groups, or macronutrients.  By definition, macronutrients are types of food required in large amounts in the diet. Such foods are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Proteins include all types of meats such as chicken, turkey, fish, and beef. Other foods high in protein include eggs, dairy products, legumes (peas and beans), various nuts, and soy products.  Proteins are the basic building blocks of your bones, muscles, skin, and blood. Your body uses proteins to build and repair your tissues and it is an essential nutrient for the human body.  Strive to include a rich source of protein at every main meal!  How much protein do you need? Aim to include 20-30 grams, or 4-6 ounces, at every main meal.  That is the equivalent of a chicken breast that is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.

Carbohydrates include simple sugars, all types of grains, fruits, and vegetables.  Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of and preferred fuel for daily activities.  It may be somewhat confusing as to what are appropriate carbohydrates to add in your diet.  To simplify things, aim to include at least two different carbohydrates in your meal.  Perhaps that includes a grain (aim to make half of all your grains whole grains) plus a variety of vegetables.  If you really want to add a cookie to your lunch, then make sure to include some fruit or vegetables as well!

Fats are a food group that often carry a negative reputation.  However, fat plays an essential role as an ingredient in hormone production, in helping to protect our organs, absorption of vitamins and nutrients, as well as providing a good amount of energy!  Fats are subdivided into four groups: Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. The word unsaturated indicates that these types of fats are liquid at room temperature and make up much of our healthy fats we want to include in our diet.  Such fats are those found in olive oils, avocados, nuts, and seed oils and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and include butter, cheese, and fatty streaks you find in meats.  Trans fats are a manufactured form of fat in which food manufacturers add hydrogen to liquid fats in order to make them more solid.  Trans fats have been known to increase LDLs or bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol or HDLs, and are linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  According to the American Heart Association and 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we want to limit trans and saturated fats in our diets and focus on including more oils, nuts, and fish.

Step 3: Make Small, Adaptable Changes

If you are used to consuming large amounts of processed foods and sugary beverages, the thought of completely giving up those things can be very daunting. Implementing new strategies to eat healthier begins with small and adaptable changes.  Slow incorporation of more lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables can help make the transition far less challenging.

For example, most often, macaroni and cheese is made with white pasta and high fat cheese.  To modify this meal and make it healthier, try substituting whole grain pasta for regular pasta.  Next, experiment by adding some of your favorite vegetables and a lean protein such as chicken or tuna.  Look for 2% or low fat cheese in the grocery store to replace the regular high fat version.   These simple changes will allow you to still enjoy your favorite meal, reduce the sodium and fat content, and increase your consumption of vegetables and proteins!

Small subtle changes are key to creating long-term healthy habits. The transition to building healthier eating patterns will be much easier if you shift the focus to include more of what our bodies need and less on “dieting.”  If you find yourself struggling to make healthier meals, https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate is a great resource to educate yourself on how to build and maintain a healthy diet!

Amy Mullins

Amy Mullins is a Family and Consumer Sciences Agent in Leon County, with programs focused on food & nutrition, food safety, health & wellness, and chronic disease prevention.Amy is a Registered Dietitian and a graduate of The University of Florida and Florida State University.

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