Did you make a healthy New Year’s resolution this year? After a few months of holiday (over)indulging, it may come as no surprise that healthier eating and weight loss plans top the list of the most common New Year’s resolutions. In fact, according to research findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 41 percent of individuals make New Year’s resolutions, and less than half actually succeed in keeping them the entire year. How about taking some steps that you can actually stick with? Here are five easy changes you can make each day for a healthier, happier you this year.
Build a better breakfast
Often called the most important meal of the day, research shows people who eat breakfast generally weigh less, have a better mood and are more productive. But what you eat is key to maximizing these benefits. A breakfast loaded with sugar or carbs and not much else – think donut, cereal bar or bagel -- is likely to cause you to crash a few hours later. To get the most from your morning meal, make sure you include fiber and protein. If you’re short on time in the morning (and who isn’t?) something as simple as a hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit, Greek yogurt with berries, or mixing peanut butter into your oatmeal will provide you with fiber and protein to keep you energized through your busy morning routine.
Add fruit to your favorite recipes
If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to cut down on added sugar in your diet, fruit can help. While fruit naturally contains sugar, it also has fiber to help balance your blood sugar levels and is packed with vitamins and minerals for good health. For example, a ¾ cup serving of grapes containing just 90 calories and provides a natural source of beneficial antioxidants, vitamin K and heart-healthy compounds. In addition to being a smart snack straight off the vine, grapes are super easy to include in your favorite recipes. Whether you blend them into your morning smoothie, add them to your grilled cheese or pizza, or toss them in your rice or chicken dish, grapes and other fruit provide a natural sweetness to make it easier to stick with your healthier eating intentions.
While most people don’t have time to cook three meals a day from scratch, or even one, cooking more often is key to good health. According to recent research from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, people who frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less. The study also showed that those who frequently cooked at home (6 to 7 nights a week) consumed fewer calories when they ate out. To set yourself up for success, assess what you are doing now and add something to it that seems completely doable. For example, if you cook most nights of the week but eat out at lunch, maybe you want to start brown bagging a healthy lunch twice a week. If you never cook or lack cooking skills, set a goal to make a healthy dinner one night a week. Free healthy and simple recipes are available online from sites like SkinnyTaste.com and CookingLight.com.
Replace carbs with vegetables
Wanting to cut back on carbs? Try swapping low-calorie veggies for starchy vegetables, bread or pasta in your recipes. Instead of using two slices of bread in your sandwich, wrap the contents in lettuce leaves and shave 200 calories off your meal. If you love pasta try using zucchini pasta instead. Cauliflower also works as a creamy, lower-carb substitute in many recipes like mashed potatoes (try a cauliflower mash) or mac and cheese (create a cauliflower and cheese dish).
Snack on nuts
Americans are snacking more than ever. In fact, one-third of our calories now come from between meal noshing, so making those calories count is important. A healthy and convenient snack choice that fits the bill are nuts like pistachios, which provide protein, fiber and healthy fats to keep you energized. A 2013 Harvard University study suggests a daily handful of pistachios may have a role in health and longevity. Plus, research suggests pistachios are a weight wise snack. According to research done at UCLA, choosing to snack on pistachios rather than pretzels is a good choice, even for those managing their weight. Aim for snacks with 200 calories and less. For comparison, a one-ounce serving of pistachios (or 49 nuts) has about 160 calories.
Patricia Bannan is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes." Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.