How to Put Diet Advice Into Practice

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You know what you should be eating because you’ve heard most diet advice before. But you just can’t quite figure out how to apply that diet advice to make it part of your daily eating routine. Here are some tips to help you put your nutrition knowledge into action.

For those of us in the US, mid-April means one thing—it’s tax time. Many dread it and put it off to the last minute. That’s in large part because completing your own tax return is difficult, complicated and just so darned…well, taxing. But as tough as it may be, it’s apparently not nearly as hard as figuring out how to eat well. In a recent online survey1 of more than 1,000 Americans, 52% said that it was harder to figure out “what you should and shouldn’t eat to be healthier” than it is to figure out “how to do your own taxes.”

Choosing a healthy diet just shouldn’t be that hard. And it’s not for lack of knowledge. In general, people seem to know what they should be doing. In the same survey, most people said they were trying to limit their intake of salt, fat and sugar and were trying to eat more fruits and vegetables. But when you look at what people say they’re trying to do and what they’re actually doing, there’s a bit of a disconnect. We may be able to “talk the talk,” but we don’t seem to be “walking the walk.” The majority of Americans don’t get the recommended number of fruits and veggies every day. Intake of added fats and sugars is at an all-time high, and 44% of Americans eat fast food at least once a week.

When people say it’s hard to figure out what to eat, the problem isn’t really that they don’t know what to do. It’s more that they just don’t know how. Of course, you also have to want to do it, too. But the bottom line is this: all the knowledge in the world isn’t going to do you much good if you can’t figure out how to put it into practice.

How to Put Diet Advice into Practice

Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Make it convenient to eat them – keep a bowl of fresh fruit on your kitchen counter and keep cut up veggies on a shelf in the refrigerator. If preparing them is too time-consuming, you might opt for pre-cut fruits and veggies and ready-to-eat salad greens.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are nutritious and convenient – you can add frozen fruits to your protein shakes, or thaw and stir into yogurt, cottage cheese or hot cereals.
  • Add extra veggies to mixed dishes, soups, stews, omelets –  even to your Chinese takeout.
  • At restaurants, skip the starch and order double veggies for your side dish, and start your meal off with a salad.
Reduce fat intake
  • Fried foods are a big offender here – so, that means that a good place to start would be limiting your intake of things like chips and French fries.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products – milk, cottage cheese, yogurt – over the full-fat versions, and opt for fish and poultry more often than fattier red meat.
  • Added fats – sauces, dressings, mayonnaise, butter, margarine add up quickly, too, so use sparingly or find lower fat alternatives.
  • Watch for “hidden fats” – there’s plenty of fat lurking in foods like desserts, snack foods, breads and pastries.
  • When you’re cooking at home, use fats sparingly, search out low-fat recipes, and give your own high-fat recipes a makeover to reduce fat
Reduce added sugar intake
  • A lot of the sugar we take in comes from beverages, so choose calorie-free water or tea as often as possible, and limit your intake of fruit juices.
  • If plain water doesn’t appeal to you, add a slice of lemon or lime, a few pieces of fresh fruit, or tiny splash of fruit juice to your water for a bit of flavor.
  • Let fruit take the place of dessert, and limit the amount of pre-sweetened foods that you buy.
  • Pre-sweetened cereals and yogurt, for example, can have a lot of added sugar. You’ll take in much less if you buy plain yogurt or unsweetened whole grain cereals and sweeten it yourself—preferably with fresh fruit. Don’t worry about the natural sugars in fruit, milk and dairy products; just focus on reducing the amount of sugar that’s added to everyday foods.
Eat more fiber
  • See item #1 above –  “Eat more fruits and vegetables.” Fruits and vegetables are great sources of fiber. When you make a point to eat a fruit or vegetable at every meal or snack, that can go a long way towards meeting your daily fiber goals.
  • Beans and whole grains are also good sources of fiber – try adding some canned beans to soups and salads, or mashed into a hummus dip to eat with raw veggies.
  • Turn to whole grains – like brown rice, barley, quinoa, millet and whole grain foods (100% whole grain breads, pasta, cereals) rather than the refined “white” versions to boost your fiber intake.
Watch your sodium intake
  • Most people get much more salt from processed foods than they do from the salt shaker – so a good first step is to eat most of your foods as close as possible to their natural state.
  • If you buy canned foods – like veggies, tuna or soups, and look for reduced sodium versions.
  • Cut back on processed meats which are often loaded with sodium (even the so-called low-sodium versions), and lean towards fresh meats and poultry which naturally contain very little.
  • You can also ‘dilute’ the sodium in convenience foods by adding extra veggies to canned soups or doubling the amount of grains when you prepare something like a packaged seasoned rice mix (and use brown rice when you do).
  • Find other ways to season foods rather than always relying on salt. Herbs, spices, onions, garlic and citrus add flavor without sodium and you get a nutrition boost, too.

1International Food Information Council Foundation, “2012 Food and Health Survey:  Consumer Attitudes Towards Food Safety, Nutrition and Health.”

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