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The Good Plate

Satisfying bites and tasty extras on good food and healthy living.

Big Gains Through Small Steps

by Susan Moores

The new year spurs many of us to set lofty goals to be healthier. Resolutions are set, but follow-through is tough and tiring. Skip drastic measures this time around and give small steps a chance. They can be the ticket to lasting success. Here are five minor moves that can deliver a healthy punch.

Drink differently.

About 20 percent of the calories we consume each day come from beverages. They’re not inconsequential. Drinks that will give you a health boost:

  • Water – as is, or infused with a squeeze of lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit, cucumbers, melons, berries or mint. Sparkling waters are a great option too minus artificially sweetened ones or those with added sugars.
  • Teas – Bottled teas often come with a heaping helping of sugar. Go with steeped tea or check product labels. If you need a little sweet, D.I.Y. with honey or a smidge of sugar instead of buying pre-or artificially sweetened teas.
  • Coffee – Regular coffee has health benefits, such as potentially reducing the risk for Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and certain cancers. Sugar-sweetened, whipped up versions don’t offer those same gains.
  • Milk – Lower fat, non-sugared options are a great way to get much needed calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and potassium in your diet, which helps your heart, blood pressure and bones.
  • **Drinking your calories from smoothies and juicing doesn’t give you much of a sense of fullness or satiety compared to eating (chewing) food. They’re not a comparable substitute for eating whole foods. Diet beverages don’t seem to keep weight in check either. In fact, they may do the opposite.

Bring on the beans.

Pinto, garbanzo and black beans plus other legumes are true superfoods. They are some of the best foods to fuel your “gut,” which research suggests is a key piece to being well. Having a good balance of bacteria in your intestines influences just about every aspect of your health including heart health, brain health, weight, sleep, bone strength and more. Add beans to casseroles, soups, grain side dishes or salads. A good goal is to include beans on the menu at least three times a week.

Get swapping.

Some simple swap outs can deliver big benefits. Try eating whole fruits or vegetables instead of drinking juices. Change your carbs from regular to whole grain ones such as breads made with whole wheat, rolled oats or whole rye as the first ingredient. Change cereals similarly. Try whole-wheat pasta in lieu of regular pasta (wade in with half regular/half whole wheat if you want). Pick brown rice over white, and try quinoa, wheat berries, farro or sorghum in place of white rice or noodles. They’re interchangeable and a blank canvas for adding in sauces, seasonings, etc. These moves bring significantly more health-helping nutrients into your life.

Lean in on (some) protein.

So much focus is put toward eating protein and lots of it. It’s needed, but not at the expense of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain carbohydrates. Make the most of your protein picks by choosing lean options including fish, chicken, turkey and beef (e.g., cuts of beef that have “round” or “loin” in the name). High fat cuts of beef and overdoing it on protein will not serve you well.

Eat for better sleep.

Like gut health, getting enough sleep is becoming a significant indicator of your health. Foods habits can lead to better sleep.

  • Cut out caffeine at least eight hours before bedtime.
  • Include a good carb as part of your dinner. It shuttles the amino acid tryptophan into your brain, which is converted to serotonin – a brain chemical that relaxes you and can help provide a more restful night.
  • Have dairy at dinner. Its calcium may help produce melatonin, a hormone that controls your sleep. The potassium and magnesium in dairy help relax muscles. Cheers to your new year and the hope that a few simple steps will keep you feeling fine.
Leaf

Raising Goodness ®

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