For many of us, the new year brings pressure to overhaul our lives with diet and lifestyle changes. Our 2020 New Year’s diet survey, released in February 2020, found that 42% of Americans reported making dietary changes in January. But by the end of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic had been waging for nearly a year, the tone had changed—understandably. According to our 2020 year-end survey, only 15% of consumers said they planned to make a food or beverage-related resolution in the coming new year.
So far, your January may not have involved massive health goals, and that’s okay. In fact, smaller and more manageable shifts in your lifestyle can also set you on a path toward improved health—and one that may be more sustainable and lasting over the long term. If you’re looking for a few ideas to try, the following options can all be implemented steadily over the next year. Try one (or more) and see what best fits with your current lifestyle.
1. Choose fiber-rich whole grains for half of your daily grain servings
Did you know that most Americans consume about half the amount of fiber recommended by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and only about 5% of the population meet the recommendations for dietary fiber intake? Fiber is an important nutrient that can reduce your risk for several chronic diseases, and choosing whole grains can help increase your fiber intake. In fact, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we make half of our daily grain servings whole grains.
Here are some tips to increase your whole grain intake:
- Look for the whole grain stamp and other whole grain information (like the labels “whole grain” or “whole” before a grain’s name) declared on the front of packages and in the ingredients lists.
- Substitute a whole grain product for a refined grain product when possible.
- Choose brown or wild rice instead of white rice, or whole wheat bread in place of white bread.
- Choose a whole grain breakfast cereal or oatmeal for breakfast.
- Have popcorn or a whole grain granola bar as an afternoon snack.
- Experiment with new-to-you whole grains: Combine cooked millet, quinoa or barley with vegetables, herbs and other greens to make a nutrient-packed salad.
2. Try some alternatives to reduce your added sugar intake
While avoiding added sugars completely isn’t entirely realistic, it’s fair to say that many people could benefit from eating less added sugar—most of us consume more than is recommended. If you’re trying to eat less added sugar, here are three ways you can get started.
1. When it comes to beverages, focus on drinking water, non- or low-fat milk and 100-percent juice. Enhance the flavor of your water by adding sliced fruit, vegetables or herbs.
2. Eat more whole fruit, as fruit contributes vital nutrients to our diet that most of us don’t get enough of—like fiber, potassium, folate and vitamin C. When choosing canned, dried or frozen fruit, select those that are unsweetened and packed in their own juice or water.
3. Try plain and unsweetened dairy. Dairy offers a variety of essential nutrients like protein, calcium, potassium and vitamin D. And while it’s true that dairy products contain naturally occurring sugar (lactose), not all dairy products contain added To reduce your added sugars intake from dairy products, look for varieties with fewer added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label.
3. Increase variety by planning meals and snacks with MyPlate
A healthy eating routine is important at every stage of life and can have positive effects that add up over time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate tool was designed to help Americans better visualize food groups and encourage us to build a healthy plate for each meal. Myplate even offers resources focused on helping you make personalized small shifts toward healthier habits. If you’re new to MyPlate, a couple simple questions you could ask yourself as you build your meals are: How many food groups are on my plate? and Is there any way I could add a nutrient-dense option or incorporate another food group?
The food groups and basic recommendations are:
- Fruits: Focus on whole fruits
- Vegetables: Vary your veggies
- Grains: Make half of your grains whole grains
- Proteins: Vary your protein routine
- Dairy: Move to low-fat or fat-free dairy milk or yogurt (or lactose-free dairy or fortified-soy versions)
As COVID-19 continues, many of us are still reeling—so it’s certainly okay if big dietary and lifestyle changes aren’t at the top of your priority list in 2021. By focusing on little changes instead, you can slowly improve your eating patterns without feeling overwhelmed. Start simple. Start small. It all makes a difference.
This article contains contributions from Kris Sollid, RD.