Making healthy food choices can help you manage your weight, stay well and lower your risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Eating better may seem like a daunting challenge for some people, but it doesn’t have to be.
“Most people don’t need to completely overhaul the way they eat in order to improve their health,” says endocrinologist Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, corporate vice president for the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute “Making a few relatively simple substitutions to your daily meals can have a big impact on health in the long run.”
Small changes, such as reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet or increasing your fiber intake, can help lower blood pressure and decrease cholesterol. It can also help keep blood glucose levels under control, which is especially important for people with diabetes or at high risk of developing diabetes.
1. Replace refined white grains with whole grains
When whole grains are refined, their husk and germ are stripped away, along with much of the fiber and nutrition. Research has shown that eating whole grains can lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease by 20 to 30 percent.
- Instead of white rice, choose brown rice, quinoa or barley.
- Instead of white bread, choose whole grain bread. The first ingredient should be a whole grain, or look for the “whole grain” stamp on the package.
2. Replace iceberg lettuce with darker greens
Other than water and some fiber, iceberg lettuce doesn’t provide much nutrition. A better choice is dark leafy greens such as spinach, arugula, kale, Swiss chard or collard greens, which are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, says Dr. Philis-Tsimikas. Spinach also provides magnesium and potassium, which can help control high blood pressure.
- Make a salad with mostly dark greens. It’s fine to toss a little iceberg in there for crunch.
- Cooked spinach is actually more nutritious than raw, so lightly steam it as a side dish.
3. Replace fried chips with baked
You don’t have to give up chips. Many snack chips are now available in baked versions with the same crunch for less fat. Popcorn chips are another good option.
- Instead of fried potato or tortilla chips, choose baked.
- Go even healthier—try baked kale chips.
4. Replace fruit juice with whole fruit
Eating the whole fruit is a smarter choice. “Juices have all of the sugar of the fruit but none of the fiber,” says Dr. Philis-Tsimikas. “The fiber helps to slow down how quickly that sugar is absorbed, and that prevents insulin levels from spiking and then dropping.” What’s more, the fiber will keep you feeling full longer.
- Store-bought smoothies can be mostly juice. Make your own at home with whole strawberries, blueberries, bananas, and low-fat yogurt.
5. Replace breakfast cereal with steel-cut oats
Because many boxed cereals are made with refined grains, they are often low in fiber and high in sugar. Switch to oatmeal and significantly increase your fiber intake. “Steel-cut oats are higher in fiber than instant oats, so they cause insulin levels to rise more slowly, which is important for blood glucose management,” says Dr. Philis-Tsimikas.
- Save time in the morning by preparing several servings of steel-cut oats ahead of time. Store in the refrigerator and reheat individual servings for breakfast.
- Add a handful of almonds or walnuts for added protein.
6. Replace oil with applesauce
Instead of making brownies, cakes and banana bread with oil, use applesauce. In addition to reducing fat and calories, substituting applesauce makes baked foods lighter and moister.
- Choose natural, unsweetened applesauce with no added sugar.
- Replace all or part of the oil in the recipe with an equal amount of applesauce.