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Start With Small Lifestyle Changes

At the start of a New Year many of us reassess a few areas of our life: work, social, financial and of course, our health, which probably includes evaluation of exercise habits and food choices. When you have certain health issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes it will also have an impact on your lifestyle choices, as well as finances.

If you are intending to make changes in your diet, think about small changes first to gradually transition to better choices or eating situations. Think long term/lifetime that you can live with – not short term.

Dietary adjustments can be made for overall health and improvement of food selections for yourself and family, or geared toward specific health conditions:

  • Reset taste buds to enjoy different foods and foods cooked differently. It can take several weeks for this to happen.
  • Replace identified unhealthy or not-as-healthful-as-they-could-be foods with better choices.
  • Get family members on board. Have an open discussion about your concerns.
  • Be patient with yourself. Change takes time.

Planning to cut back on sugar intake? American adults average an intake of 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day. The American Heart Association recommends that added sugar intake should be 9 teaspoons or less per day for men, and 6 teaspoons or less for women. Remember, no matter the form of sugar, the calories and carbohydrates will be the same, whether white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup or honey, etc. Tips to lower overall sugar intake:

  • Reduce the amount of sugar in recipes by one-quarter to one-third.
  • Replace sugar or sugary ingredients with fruit. For example, mash very ripe berries and spread on toast or English muffin to replace sugary jams and jellies or add diced apples to oatmeal for natural sweetness.
  • When sugar is reduced, add cinnamon or vanilla extract to give the sweet taste that is desired.

A high salt/sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure. Americans take in more than 3,400 mg daily; the recommendation from the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans is less than 2,300 mg. All types of salt have sodium including sea salt, kosher salt, Himalayan salt, and pink salt, etc. Tips to lower overall salt intake:

  • At the end of cooking time, add a splash of vinegar, wine or lemon juice rather than salt.
  • Back down on the use of salt and salty seasonings such as garlic salt or lemon pepper, and replace with fresh or herbs, minced garlic, mustard or plain seasonings such as garlic and onion powders.
  • Taste test first before automatically adding salt. Use as little salt as possible and slowly decrease what you add over time, allowing for taste buds to adjust.
  • Cut the salt called for in recipes in half and whittle down to none.

The other area to look at for change is the addition of fats. First, a change in the amount of fat that you use in food preparation can really alter your overall calorie intake. Remember, no matter the type of fat, one tablespoon is 90 calories so it adds up very quickly. Tips to reduce fat intake:

  • Trim back how much you use when you sauté or pan fry.
  • Can you sauté in low-sodium broth, wine or water? Does it have to be fat?
  • Change up the amount of oil used when making salad dressings; for example, rather than a one-part oil to one- part vinegar, move to one-part oil to two-parts vinegar.
  • When baking it is easy to reduce the amount of fat, whether it is oil or butter. Depending upon the recipe, replace all or part of the fat with unsweetened applesauce, unsweetened baby fruit or mashed banana.

The type of fat that you take in is important too. Moving away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats can reduce inflammation and lower harmful LDL-cholesterol. Tips to lower saturated fats:

  • Healthful oils include avocado, canola, corn, olive, safflower and sunflower.
  • As you decide where you might make changes, start small. When moving from a meat-filled chili, cut the ground beef in half, and replace the other half with fat-free ground turkey breast or finely diced mushrooms. Inch your way to vegetarian with a chili that contains more vegetables and dried kidney beans.
  • Select reduced-fat or fat-free dairy products or plant-based milk replacements such as soy or almond milks.