Perhaps you’re one of those people who proudly and cheerfully usher in each new year with a slew of goals and resolutions. Or perhaps you’re like me—someone who resists making formal resolutions, yet can’t deny the allure of the “fresh start” that the new year brings. In any case, health- and diet-based resolutions top many people’s lists each January, but it seems few stay committed to these goals through even the spring.
Lifestyle gurus will tell you to make SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. But unless you have a near-perfect diet (whatever that means) already, I actually recommend avoiding making goals that are too specific or can be too accurately measured. Why? Because despite the “attainable” and “realistic” recommendations, many folks overshoot what they’ll want, or even be able, to do in their day-to-day life after the excitement of the new year passes.
Instead, I recommend making the following three simple and gradual changes to your diet in 2012. You can make them at any pace you want, to any degree you choose. I often find that small, frequent choices add up to more lasting change than a grandiose, one-time resolution.
- Minimize added sugars. Sugar is one nutrient that our body has no true need for—we eat it for pleasure, pure and simple. But too much sugar can have a host of negative consequences, increasing the risks for insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, and more. Take the opportunity to minimize the added sugars in your diet wherever you can. Even natural sweeteners like maple syrup and brown rice syrup can contribute to “sugar overdose,” so try to quell your sweet tooth with fresh fruit or use stevia to sweeten when possible.
- Emphasize healthy fats. Dietary fat helps us feel full and satiated and is needed for important tasks in the body, like providing cell membrane fluidity and transmitting nerve impulses. Fats also help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, and plays a role in maintaining healthy skin and hair. Sufficient essential fatty acid intake has even been linked to mental health! I strongly believe that the types of fats you consume matter far more than the total amount. Focus on ditching harmful trans fats and long-chain saturated fats from animal sources in favor of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (like in olives, nuts, and avocado), unrefined essential omega-3 fatty acids (in hemp, chia, and flax seeds), and antimicrobial medium-chain saturated fats (from plant-based sources like coconut products).
- Eat more leafy greens—even “in stealth.” Everyone knows leafy greens are low in calories and yet are packed with calcium, iron, fiber, protein, vitamin K, and more…but not everyone wants to nosh on a huge salad every day. I’m here to tell you that’s ok! Find other ways to incorporate greens in to your diet. Drink your greens in the form of a daily juice or smoothie. Include them in wraps or burritos. Blend them into soups, sauces, and even hummus. Pulse them into homemade pesto. Discover the magic of kale chips. Be creative!
With forgiving, flexible “resolutions” like these, you have a great chance to improve your diet this year in a long-lasting, manageable way. Cheers to your health in 2012!