Of all the nutrition and health-related pieces of advice you have heard over the years, there are five that as a registered dietitian nutritionist I place at the top of the list. With science to support the role of each of these positive changes in overall health, well-being, longevity and disease risk, you’ll want to adopt them into your everyday eating pattern as soon as possible.
Choose Whole Grains
All grains begin as a whole grain; however due to the refining process, many key vitamins, minerals, fiber and more are stripped away. It’s estimated that about one-quarter of the protein and half to two-thirds of a grain’s vital nutrients are removed by refining. With this, it’s clear why whole grains are favored for optimal nutrition. Regular whole grain consumption, in tandem with an otherwise nutritious diet, is also linked to:
- Lower risk for stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer
- Less inflammation
- Improved weight control
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming half of your grains, or at least three daily servings (48 grams) from whole grain sources. This may seem out of reach, but it’s easier than you suspect.
- Replace white bread with whole-grain bread.
- Choose rolled oats for breakfast.
- Enjoy quinoa, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, barley, bulgur or farro as side dishes and grain bowls.
Vary Protein with Seafood
Just one in 10 Americans meets the recommendation of two (four-ounce) servings of seafood per week for optimal nutrition. Individuals that fall short miss out on a host of nutrients, such as omega-3, high-quality protein, B-vitamins, selenium and iron. Not to mention health benefits such as a lower risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac death. Beyond helping your heart, a seafood-rich diet has also been linked to lower risk for depression, improved memory and cognition in adults and improved eye and brain development in children.
- Replace other animal proteins with fish in everyday meals like tacos, grain bowls, pasta or stir-fry.
- Stock canned or pouch-packed tuna or salmon in your pantry for quick meals.
- Build sheet pan meals around fish filets or shrimp and your favorite veggies and/or potatoes. See 4 tips to learn how to cook seafood for recipes!
Brighten Your Plate
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked to a lower risk for several leading causes of illness and death, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and obesity. With just 1 in 10 adults getting enough fruits and vegetables per day, there’s a good chance anyone can benefit from a brighter plate. Current recommendations encourage 4 cups of fruits and vegetables per day for women and 5 ½ cups for men. While this may sound overwhelming, the good news is that all forms count towards this goal; fresh, frozen, dried, canned and 100% juice. Reaching this goal is easy when you plan ahead and make simple changes to meals and snacks.
- Add dried fruit or berries or bananas to hot or cold cereal, pancakes, toast or waffles for breakfast.
- Include fruits or veggies at snack time: freeze-dried fruit like Crispy Green’s Crispy Fruit, apple slices with peanut butter, carrots or bell pepper strips with hummus or ranch or berries with yogurt.
- Eat a large, mixed veggie salad at lunch or dinner.
- Stock your freezer with steam-in-bag veggies for a fast side dish.
Fill Up with Fiber
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate the body can’t breakdown and therefore, passes through the GI tract undigested. It’s abundant in a variety of plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Because it doesn’t digest, fiber slows the transit of food through the body, promoting blood sugar stability and appetite control. Adequate fiber intake also appears to reduce the risk for various conditions, including heart disease, diverticular disease and constipation. Experts recommend a minimum of 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams per day for men.
- Make the swap to whole grains for bread, cereal, rice, pasta and more.
- Add beans to casseroles, soups, pasta, salads and grain bowls.
- Snack on nuts, seeds with dried fruit.
Pack in More Potassium
Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte in the body that helps manage blood pressure by lessening the effects of excess sodium. In short, the more potassium eaten, the more sodium is lost through the urine. It also eases tension on blood vessel walls further lowering blood pressure. Sources of potassium range from fruits and vegetables like bananas, sweet potatoes, oranges, tomatoes, avocado, strawberries and greens to tuna and dairy products. Most healthy people should strive for around 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day, while individuals with a history of heart or kidney disease, or other conditions, should speak with their doctor before increasing intake.
- Blend up a banana and strawberry smoothie with milk or yogurt for breakfast or snack.
- Serve pasta with tomato sauce and wilted spinach.
- Add avocado to eggs, toast, salads, grain bowls and tacos.
When it comes to living well, you often can’t go wrong by sticking with approachable habits like these, vs. following the latest diet trend. If your eating pattern needs a complete overhaul, choose one area here and gradually make the shift to meet the recommendation. From there, choose another and repeat. If a customized plan is desired, seek out a registered dietitian nutritionist in your area to work with you on meeting these needs. You can also find a nutrition expert by visiting: https://www.eatright.org/find-an-expert.
Beth Stark, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant based in PA. Connect with her on Instagram, @BethStark.RDN.