You have decided that this is the year you are going to start to eat healthier. You look for health advice online, but by the time you are finished with just a brief search, your mind is spinning. There is so much information on healthy eating, diets, and how to change your eating habits that you are overwhelmed. The thought of walking into a grocery store at this point leaves your head spinning.
In fact, the majority of people in the U.S. (52%) believe that it is easier to do their own taxes than it is to decipher the mind-boggling amount of nutrition information. It is easy to be confused by the sheer amount of information available on making healthy dietary changes, but there are a few ways you can simplify your changes (and your search for healthy eating information).
Focus on one change at a time
A recent study published in The Lancet found that making changes to just six factors in your life can significantly reduce early death in four major categories. Professor Majid Ezzati and his colleagues from Imperial College London estimated that just six factors greatly affected global deaths from the following conditions: cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory illness. Choose one factor to address at a time, and get started.
- Stop tobacco use: Stopping smoking right now is the best thing you can do for yourself today. The benefits are instantaneous, and in 15 years you have the same rate of early mortality as people who have never smoked. Plus, it turns out that smoking is even worse for you than previously thought, so don’t wait.
- Curb alcohol consumption: While some moderate alcohol use can be beneficial for those who are already drinking, over consumption has dramatic effects on all systems of the body. If you drink, limit your intake to one glass of alcohol daily for women and no more than two for men.
- Decrease salt intake: This factor helps affect one of the others (high blood pressure). Daily sodium intake levels are skyrocketing. Although we need salt in our diet, excess sodium is taxing to all systems of the body
- Limit sugar intake: Limiting sugar intake helps stabilize blood sugar and fight obesity, two of the final factors that are modifiable. Hidden sugar is everywhere, from salad dressing to ketchup, and it really adds up. The average person in the U.S. consumes 135 pounds of sugar a year, up from just 26 pounds of sugar 20 years ago. This corresponds to an increase in Type 2 diabetes, a largely preventable disease, and an increasing rate of obesity among young children.
So how do you apply this health advice? Choose one category at a time and make that change. If you are a smoker, find help and quit, then move on to the next change. Trying to change everything at once can be overwhelming. Focusing on one positive step at a time makes change more manageable.
Involve your family
Especially when making dietary changes, get your family in on the action. You will meet with less resistance if your family gets to help with menu planning and grocery shopping. For young children, this also increases the chances that they will actually eat what you serve.
Family can be a double-edged sword, though. One study at the University of Waterloo found that women who had families that were critical of their weight tended to add pounds. Switch the focus from “losing weight” to “getting healthy” to avoid any hint of criticism. Other researchers have found emphasizing well-being over weight loss to be a more diversity-embracing and effective way to encourage people to stick to healthy diets. When involving your family, focus on the healthy variety of body shapes and sizes that can be healthy as you shop for a variety of healthy foods.
Health advice for easy grocery shopping: stick to the periphery of the store
Knowing how your grocery store is organized can help you be a smarter, more efficient shopper. Here are some basics:
- The produce section and other fresh foods are located around the outside of the grocery store while prepared foods fill up the center
- End caps generally have convenience or junk foods marked down to tempt you
- Brand-name foods are located at eye level in the middle of the aisle, while store brands are generally located in the upper and lower shelves
- Ethnic food sections can sometimes offer great deals on staples like rice and beans
Shop with a list, and stick to what is on it. You can make this easier by making sure you aren’t hungry when you shop and by leaving the kids at home (when possible).
A quick and easy rule of thumb: stick as close to a food’s natural state as possible for the very best nutrition.
Don’t give up what you love
Sticking to the healthiest foods is the best option, but if you cut every treat out of your diet, you may be dooming yourself to fail, especially if your family is less-than-enthusiastic about any changes. Keeping one treat in your weekly shopping (and letting the kids pick it out if they’re with you) can go a long way.
As your changes become more routine, you can look into making your treats healthier, like swapping sorbet for ice cream. Treats made at home are usually healthier than anything that you can purchase, and cooking with your kids can help instill healthy eating habits early on. Look for healthy recipes for sweets and snacks that use alternative sweeteners or sneak in veggies, or control portion sizes and make cupcakes that aren’t cupcakes. The best health advice you can get is the health advice you actually follow!
Find reliable health advice online
With all of the information available on the internet, how do you know what is trusted and reliable? Nutrition Navigator at Tufts University recognized this as an issue and conducted a review of nutrition websites to find accurate, helpful information. Nutrition.gov also offers excellent basic information, including fact sheets and tips for healthy eating.
Activate your social network
If your healthy eating is prompted by friends who have made changes to their diets, reach out to them online to see how they did it. They may be making changes that are more extreme than the ones you have planned, but they may be able to direct you to good resources. If they are active online, ask them for their favorite Pinterest boards or recipe-filled websites. Many healthy eating websites offer weekly menu plans and shopping lists, so keep an eye out for anything that makes eating healthy easier.
Sifting through the overwhelming amount of health advice online can be daunting; what are your go-to sites and ideas for finding reliable health and nutrition information?
Image by Matt MacGillivray via Flickr