Every New Year, we sit down and make a list of things we’re going to start doing or stop doing in an effort to have a happier, healthier year.
I’m all for it. I think we should constantly strive to better ourselves and take advantage of every opportunity to support positive change.
New Year’s gets a bad rap though. How many times have you received a sigh and an eye roll after revealing your New Year’s Resolutions?
The thing is — very few people are able to stick to these grand proclamations.
So this year, instead of setting a potentially unachievable health goal, why not make a few simple swaps to improve your diet?
These changes are easy to implement, and won’t require cutting out any of your favorite foods — simply giving them a healthy makeover.
5 Simple Dietary Swaps for a Healthier New Year
1. Upgrade your oil.
If you’re still using canola or vegetable oil (I’m looking at you Mom and Dad), it’s time to upgrade.
Canola and vegetable oil, although low in saturated fat, are both highly refined and subjected to bleaching, deodorizing, and extreme heat during production.
Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, on the other hand, is carefully produced, watching the temperature so that it doesn’t go past a certain point and oxidize the fats, which would result in carcinogenic compounds.
An oil’s “smoke point” — the temperature at which it is oxidized — determines whether it is a good choice for a specific cooking method.
Olive oil’s smoke point ranges from about 320-380°F. I like to use it for sautéing over low heat or baking around 350°F.
Coconut oil is another good option for higher heat, with a smoke point ranging from about 350-400°F. However, coconut oil is very high in saturated fat.
While some recent studies have suggested that saturated fat is not harmful, other experts disagree. I recommend consuming them in moderation.
My latest obsession though, with an impressive smoke point of 485°F, is algae oil.
Before you gag at the idea of all your food smelling like the sea, get this — it has a completely neutral taste and odor.
Algae oil is sure to be a popular ingredient in the year to come, boasting the lowest saturated fat content of all oils (4%) and the highest amount of monounsaturated fats (90%). Monounsaturated fats have been shown to improve blood lipid levels, which may prevent cardiovascular disease and other metabolic diseases.
2. Rethink red meat.
With so many other lean protein options out there and overwhelming evidence that red meat is associated with cancer and other diseases, why oh why wouldn’t you just cut it out?
Because there’s just nothing like a big juicy filet mignon?
Well, you got me on that one.
Instead of telling you to completely ditch the red meat in your diet though, I’ll simply suggest reducing it.
Replace ground beef with lean ground turkey in your tacos, burgers, and spaghetti sauce on a regular basis and save the greasy Big Mac for special occasions. Sound good?
Swapping beef for turkey (or other meat-free alternatives) is a simple way to improve your health.
Need more convincing? Check out this infographic:
Fyi, Foster Farms starting selling affordable, organic ground turkey this year.
3. Say goodbye to simple sugar.
When I say “simple sugar,” I’m referring to any sugar that is added to food.
Cane sugar, coconut sugar, agave, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, honey, etc. They are all different terms that describe the same thing: sugar, aka sucrose. They have slightly different compositions, origins, and trace nutrients, but they all behave essentially the same way in the body — spiking blood glucose levels when consumed in excess.
Sugar has recently taken the spotlight as a likely contributor to cardiovascular and metabolic syndrome. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines have called for a reduction in sugar consumption to <10% of daily intake and experts are very concerned about its link to the obesity crisis.
My number one tip to reducing sugar in your diet is to use natural methods to sweeten your foods, like replacing sugar in baked goods with pureed fruit.
Fruit contains sugar too, however, the fiber in fruit slows the digestion of this sugar and prevents blood sugar surges. Also, the amount of sugar found in fruit is often much less than in other products like soda or baked goods.
There’s also the option to use a natural non-nutritive (zero calorie) sweetener like stevia, which is derived from the stevia plant. However, some people don’t prefer the taste.
When adding a bit of real sugar is a necessity, I always keep the portion very small and go for the least processed option — honey.
My Dark Chocolate Cranberry Pistachio Granola is a good example of how a pureed banana + a bit of honey can replace the gobs of cane sugar used in your average store-bought granola.
4. Go for whole grains.
I’m sure you’re aware that “wheat” is a healthier option than “white” when it comes to grains. It’s not that simple though.
While it is true that processed white flour and grains do behave similarly to sucrose in the body, spiking blood sugar levels and possibly contributing to metabolic syndrome, choosing the “right” grain isn’t always so black brown and white.
These days companies are very good at tricking consumers into thinking they are buying whole grains simply by the color of the product, or labels like “natural, healthy, wheat, or 7-grain.”
Color aside, a whole grain product retains the layers that contain fiber, fat, and vitamins, while a processed grain is stripped of these components.
What you really need to look for is the label “100% whole grain.” Becoming familiar with the different types of healthy grains helps too. Rolled oats, quinoa, spelt, brown rice, black rice, ancient grains like Kamut, and buckwheat are whole grains.
If you or a family member just can’t get past the earthy taste of whole wheat, you’re in luck — white whole wheat flour is now available at most grocery stores and it tastes very similar to traditional white bread, but with all the healthy components of whole wheat. Win, win.
5. Sub the soda (or coconut water, or flavored tea, or mocha)
Surprise, surprise — the target here is sugar (again). Most of you already know how sugar-packed a soda pop is, but you may neglect to notice the amount of sugar in other beverages. Almost all of the flavored drinks sold at grocery and convenience stores are loaded with it.
All the flavored waters and teas, the “natural” coconut, maple or aloe waters, the juices, even the “healthy” probiotic drinks are often packed with sugar.
It’s hard enough to avoid over-eating with our large portion sizes and array of tempting processed foods — drinking your calories just adds to this dietary disaster.
Check labels. If a beverage has more than 10 grams of sugar in it (and they aren’t coming from fruit puree), don’t drink it. Opt for unsweetened iced tea, coffee with light milk, or beverages that are sweetened with fruit, herbs or spices. One of my favorites is Kevita.
I hope you found these tips helpful and that you’re already off to a happy, healthy new year!!