To paraphrase Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering I will lose 20 pounds in January, give up sugar, give up fat, never drink again, cleanse, fast, etc.”
If the promise of a perfect diet whispers enticingly but unrealistically in your ears as the New Year starts, I want to propose an alternative. What if instead of going from the extreme of holiday eating to an extreme dietary resolution that is hard to stick to, this blog helps you begin the New Year by exploring evidence-based ways to sustainably improve your diet?
This week, let’s look at the basics, with tips informed heavily by my favorite go-to for nutritional information, Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Nutrition Source. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that the quality of the foods you eat is more important than what you eat, meaning a traditional diet, a vegan diet and a keto-type diet can all work as long as each emphasizes high quality whole foods and follows these general principles:
- Eat real foods, mostly in whole food form.
- Avoid processed foods. Processed foods such as chips and other snack products, cookies, crackers, frozen pizzas and the like include a hidden treasure trove of excess sugars, salt, trans fats and refined grains that are linked to poor health outcomes.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. A minimum of half your plate at every meal should consist of a rainbow variety of vegetables and fruits, with an emphasis on non-starchy vegetables. Prioritize leafy greens.
- Eat healthy, high-quality proteins, which should fill approximately ¼ of your plate at every meal. Beans, nuts, fish and poultry are excellent protein sources; eggs also provide good protein for those who are not cholesterol high responders, but should be eaten in limited amounts if you have diabetes. Limit red meat and cheese. Avoid processed meats (smoked, cured, salted, preserved, ie, bacon, hot dogs, lunch meat, smoked meats and fishes, etc).
- If you include grains in your diet, stick to whole grains, the less processed the better. Grains should comprise no more than ¼ of your plate. Prioritize unprocessed grains/seeds such as brown rice, oats, farro, spelt, buckwheat, barley and quinoa. Make all of your breads and pastas whole grain. Avoid white rice and white breads/flours.
- Use healthy fats and oils (predominantly olive oil and canola oil but also other oils like walnut oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, peanut oil and almond oil). Limit butter and other saturated fats. Avoid trans fats (widely found in packaged baked goods, snacks, frostings, etc.).
- Avoid or strictly limit sugar and other sweeteners, including artificial sweeteners; like too much sugar, artificial sweeteners may negatively affect fat and energy metabolism, resulting in increased levels of obesity and diabetes. For drinks, prioritize water, and unsweetened tea and coffee. Avoid sugary sodas and fruit drinks such as lemonade and fruit punch. Limit fruit juices to one small serving per day. Eat sweets very sparingly.
- If you include dairy in your diet, limit it to one or two servings a day. Prioritize unsweetened yogurt as your dairy source, as it contains healthy probiotics.
In the coming weeks, I’ll explore each of these recommendations in more depth, and share recipes and other ways to incorporate them into your food life.
For some people, even these common-sense nutritional tips may seem extreme and time consuming; if you start every day with two large black coffees with sugar and cream, and consider breakfast a sugary muffin, you may rebel even reading this. But if these principles are approached one at a time over a course of weeks or months, at least one or two will become second nature and will begin to stick as they help improve how your body feels.
Let’s begin with something easy, a Sweet Green Start smoothie that includes one serving of leafy greens and one serving of fruit. This smoothie makes a great snack; it is also an excellent start to the day, especially in combination with other high protein foods.
Sweet Green Start
Add the following to your blender and blend on high until very smooth:
Four cups pre-washed baby spinach (can substitute kale)
One fuji apple, seeds and core removed, unpeeled
One frozen banana
½ cup cashews
1 cup ice
1/2 cup cold water, or more as needed to blend
½-1 pitted date, if not sweet enough
Source:  https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource