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15 Ways to Eat Healthy

Make over your diet in 15 easy steps.

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1. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

We love carbs as much as the next person, and there've been occasions when I've walked several blocks out of my way to get meat on a stick. But research shows that eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies provides a boon of benefits, including protection against cancer, heart disease, and the effects of aging -- something that probably couldn't be said for devouring copious amounts of shawarma.

"Ultimately, the food pyramid recommends a total of nine servings of fruits and vegetables," says Lisa Young, PhD, author of The Portion Teller Plan and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. "However, if that seems daunting, rather than fixate on a fixed amount, make sure to have just one vegetable or fruit with each meal." Whether that means adding a banana to your morning cereal or putting tomato and lettuce on your lunchtime turkey sandwich, it's an easy way to get your greens in without keeping a tally sheet.

Or practice the "50 percent rule": aim to have half of your lunch or dinner plate covered in veggies. Not only will this help you get your nutrition fix in, but you'll also likely shed some weight: "Each bite of vegetable has 3 to 4 times fewer calories than any other bite of food on your plate," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

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2. Limit Liquid Calories

Soda is essentially sugar water, which packs a caloric punch. Diet cola, though clocking zero calories, also tallies zero nutritional value. And smoothies and fruit juice, though healthier than soda, packs about the same number of calories. (If you're craving fruit, go with whole fruit instead, which has fiber to keep you full.)

But the healthiest choice? Go with water. Eight glasses are recommended per day, but if you hate drinking plain water, pick up flavored water or flavored seltzer. Unsweetened tea and coffee are good runners-up.

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3. Eat More Fiber

Not only can fiber keep you full, it can also help you lose weight as well as lower your risk for cancer.

An easy way to fit more fiber into your diet is to swap out white bread for whole grains. When reading the ingredient list on, say, bread, "make sure the first ingredient reads 'whole' grain," says Blatner. "Whole grains have 3 parts -- bran, germ, endosperm -- which work together to prevent disease and may also help keep you at a healthy weight."

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4. Go Natural

Choosing natural foods instead of processed foods is a health no-brainer. Without additives, non- or minimally processed foods -- lean meats, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables -- mean you won't ingest excessive amounts of manmade chemicals. (Just read the ingredient list on a package of Twinkies and see if you can pronounce all those words.)

Better yet, choosing organic food means you'll be eating foods that were cultivated without pesticides, which have been proven to be toxic in the human diet, and are often linked with cancer. Plus, some studies show that organic foods have higher levels of nutrients and antioxidants.

It's a simple switch to pick the organic apple over the conventional apple, or the whole wheat loaf over the Wonder bread. But it's a simple swap that could mean a big nutritional difference.

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5. Be a Smart Shopper

You already sidestep the Pop-Tarts and Entenmann's -- great! But if you assume that your breakfast granola or stand-by frozen dinners are healthy, but think again: Many processed foods have more saturated fat, sodium, or sugar that you might've previously thought.

When shopping, do what nutritionists do. Check out the nutrition content for things like no (or low) saturated fat, low sodium, and high fiber.

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6. Superfood (not Super Size)

Guacamole may be the most perfect food -- not just because of it's deliciousness, but also because of the cancer-fighting lycopene and immune-boosting beta-carotene. Superfoods -- think blueberries, broccoli, salmon, walnuts, and even dark chocolate -- pack a nutritional punch. But when you pair certain components together, the benefits are enhanced even further. Strength in numbers, my friends, strength in numbers.

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7. Snack Smart

Snacking is a good way to tide oneself over till the next meal, but making healthy decisions when you're delusional with hunger isn't something we'd bet on. Prepare yourself with smart, portable choices: a whole fruit, a granola bar, or small yogurt are all great picks for their antioxidants, fiber, and calcium content, respectively. But if you're in the mood for a slightly more indulgent snack -- say, a wedge of gouda or a handful of almonds -- be mindful of your intake. "High-fat dairy foods such as cheese are high in calories and artery-clogging saturated fat, so keep portions to less than one ounce per day," says Blatner. As for nuts, "keep it to just one ounce per day because they can be high in calories if you over do it." A guideline: one ounce of nuts is 24 almonds, 18 cashews, 14 walnut halves, 20 pecan halves, or 49 pistachios.

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8. Indulge Socially

We're not ones to tell you not to eat dessert. But how frequently you eat it (not to mention what kind of flaky, buttery, or sugar-laden treat you choose) can drastically affect your diet.

Since many desserts are for the most part nutritionally devoid (we're looking at you, chocolate molten cake), consider instilling a rule where you only indulge outside of the home -- say, a slice of birthday cake at a party, or splitting dessert at a restaurant with your dining companion. "This helps to cut back on overindulging on cookies while watching TV on the couch or eating ice cream out of the container after a long day at work," says Blatner.

Not like we've ever done that before, of course...

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9. Fat Is Back

Well, at least one kind is: monounsaturated fat, which is found in olive oil, walnuts, and avocados, among other foods. Unlike saturated fat, which clogs arteries, monounsaturated actually helps you metabolize fat and lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), while possibly raising HDL cholesterol (the good kind).

"Choose healthy fats such as olive or canola oil instead of butter," Blatner suggests. However, "make sure to measure oil when cooking since just 1 tablespoon has 120 calories."

Somewhere in the world, Paula Deen just groaned.

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10. Curb Your Sweet Tooth

Candy, cookies, and cakes, oh my! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that excessive sugar consumption can mean buying a larger pants size. But sugar -- the simplest form of carbohydrate, found as lactose (milk sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), and sucrose (table sugar) -- is also part of an addictive cycle, and consumption causes peaks and valleys in your blood sugar level and leaves you craving more. Research even shows that a lifetime of overindulging in the sweet stuff can lead to dull, wrinkled skin.

Try to limit how much refined sugar you eat -- not only is it high in calories, but it's also almost devoid of nutrients. White, brown, and powdered sugar are all culprits, as well as honey and syrup, so choose low-sugar breakfast cereals, opt for fresh fruit for dessert, or simply cut out your daily can of Coke. It may seem like a big sacrifice, but it'll make a big difference.

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11. Eat by the Clock

Rather than having three large meals a day and feeling hungry in between, Blatner suggests eating smaller portions every five hours to curb hunger and stabilize sugar levels, not to mention ingest less. "People who eat on schedule tend to eat about 80 calories less per day than those people who eat at erratic times and skip meals," she says.

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12. Take Your Vitamin

When you can't fit an array of healthy foods into your diet, "a multivitamin is a good idea," says Young. Vitamin B can boost your energy, vitamin E helps stave off heart disease and breast cancer. Vegetarians and women over 35 are at risk for iron deficiency, and all women can benefit from calcium.

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13. Size Matters

When it comes to food, size matters. Some general guidelines for what one "portion size" is:

  • Starch (like noodles, potatoes, rice, and cereal): the size of a fist
  • Protein (like meat or tofu): the size of two palms
  • Fruit: the size of a tennis ball
  • Vegetable: the size of a fist

"Use these as guide to be aware of how much you're eating," says Young. "Or it can be as simple as stopping when you're full. You don't necessarily need to finish the plate. Think before you eat."

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14. Plan Ahead

Say your afternoon meeting runs late, or you have to pick up your kid from daycare, or you just don't have time between classes to get something to eat. It's time to make like a Boy Scout: Be prepared.

When you're making on-the-fly picks, choose something filling and portable. "You can always get fruit or yogurt on the run," says Young, "or a chicken wrap or hummus wrap on whole wheat pita." If you know you probably won't have time to pick something up, whip up a quick sandwich at home, and bring fruits and veggies to snack on -- stashing a Ziploc of baby carrots or an apple in your bag will be your saving grace when 3 p.m. hits.

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15. Pace Your Eating

If you tend to Hoover up your meals in five minutes flat, try to stretch each meal to 30 minutes. "People who eat slowly tend to eat 70 calories less per meal than people who rush through in under 10 minutes," explains Blatner. Sipping water between bites, chewing thoroughly, and just being mindful of what you're eating can help you slow down.

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Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, December 2008.

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