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Small changes to your diet can put you on the road to a healthier life. These little swaps aren’t hard to make or stick to. They won’t test your resolve daily and won’t break the bank or require a total refrigerator overhaul.
With dedication and persistence, these small changes can add up to gradual, big changes in your overall health. They lead to consistently healthier eating choices.
In the mornings, avoid sugary doughnuts, breakfast pastries and sugar-laden cereal. Instead, make a healthy smoothie for breakfast. Because you decide what goes into the blender, it can be delicious as well as healthy. Add chia seeds, flax or greens for a nutrient boost; peanut or almond butter for tasty protein; berries, apples, mangos or pineapples for sweetness and vitamins.
Use a blender, not a juicer – the juicer removes beneficial phytochemicals from fruit. Chia and flax seeds are high in alpha linoleic acid that converts into the beneficial omega 3s (DHA and EPA). They also have beneficial plant protein and fiber. My own recipe includes Greek yogurt, steel-cut oats with cinnamon, chia seeds, ground flax and fruit. It tastes good and keeps me feeling full for hours.
If you eat conventional meat, fish or eggs, switch to optimally-sourced meat, fish and eggs. That means pasture-raised, grass-fed and free of antibiotics, hormones or pesticides. Choose fish that are smaller and wild-caught or sustainably farmed, rather than farm-raised. As I have discussed in other articles, I would limit consumption of four-legged animals and opt for more plant based protein, healthy fish and some two-legged animals like chicken and turkey.
A large body of evidence shows that red meat consumption, especially processed red meat (bacon and sausages, including hot dogs), is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer (including colorectal cancer) and mortality due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure and hypertension. Components of red and processed meats such as proatherosclerotic lipids (saturated fat), potential carcinogens (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), sodium and preservatives could contribute to adverse health outcomes.
Swap simple carbohydrates or starches for green veggies and complex carbs. The starchy carbohydrates found in the typical “white” side dishes, such as rice, pasta and potatoes, all have high glycemic indices and can contribute to high serum sugar levels. Choosing green vegetables—like broccoli instead of risotto—will give you as much flavor and a big dose of fiber to keep you feeling full. Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, collard greens, and kale are naturally low in carbs and are full of minerals and nutrients, not to mention vitamins K, A and C.
Green veggies can help lower your cholesterol levels, and they offer anti-inflammatory benefits. I’ve recently been eating fantastic organic lentil pasta. It is dense in plant-based protein, has a low glycemic index, lots of fiber, only one ingredient and is also delicious. It has 25g of plant-based protein and 44% of your daily fiber. Consider using some ancient grains, grains that are largely unchanged over the last several hundred years or more. Examples include teﬀ, millet, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat. Many ancient grains thrive with lower levels of pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation. Each whole grain has something diﬀerent to oﬀer (from the calcium in teﬀ, to the soluble ﬁber in barley) so use a variety.
A staple food of the Aztecs, amaranth comes from an herb plant. The tiny yellow spheres are high in protein and have a mellow peppery flavor. Amaranth is packed with calcium and is also high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.
Get rid of those bottles of corn, soybean or sunflower oil which contain inflammatory omega-6 fats. Replace them with extra virgin olive oil, which contains polyphenols with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Pro-inflammatory fats—like the naturally occurring trans fats found in some packaged foods and meat products, and the artificial trans fats found in many snacks—fill the average American’s diet. Replace these with anti-inflammatory fats found in avocados, wild-caught salmon, nut butters (think almond butter) and extra virgin olive oil.
Unsalted nuts are chock-full of protein, fiber, minerals, and good fats. They also contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats. The best nuts include unsalted pecans, walnuts, almonds, macadamias and hazelnuts. Because it’s easy to overdo nuts—they’re just so crunchy and delicious, but high in calories—try eating only a handful (10-12 nuts). Luckily, it appears that not all the calories are absorbed from most whole nuts. Don’t forget other unsweetened snacks like hummus on celery, carrots or whole grain crackers.
Filled with antioxidants, coffee and tea are much healthier than sugar-filled, carbonated beverages. One to three cups of green tea per day, for example, will give you a healthy dose of antioxidants, which may lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
It’s no secret that the ingredients that make cakes and pastries so delicious—butter, sugar and white flour—are horrible for your health. When the mood strikes, satisfy your sweet tooth with fruits and dark chocolate instead. Consider a small amount of cinnamon on your fruit dessert for taste (plus, there is some evidence it is also good for your brain). When buying dark chocolate, look for at least 72 percent cocoa. If you buy 50 percent dark chocolate you are also getting 50 percent sugar. The cocoa in dark chocolate contains flavanols, which can lower your blood pressure, potentially improve brain health and improve vascular function. When eating at restaurants, think about splitting dessert with your dinner companions.
Article by: Alan V. Safdi MD, FACG
Dr. Alan Safdi is past chairman of the Section of Gastroenterology at Deaconess Hospital and served as co-founder and president of the Ohio Gastroenterology and Liver Institute. Dr. Safdi is board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology, and is a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. He is former chairman of the Crohn’s and Colitis Medical Advisory Board in Cincinnati and still serves as president of Consultants for Clinical Research. He was also co-founder of eMerge Health Solutions, Consultants for Clinical Research, and outpatient GI and anesthesia programs.
The information included in my posts are for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information in my posts does not create a physician-patient relationship.