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January 9, 2017

10 Rules for a Year of Eating Well

by Amanda MacMillan

January is a time for setting goals, and for many people that means resolving to eat better. But focusing on just one aspect of diet -- like calories or the number on your scale, for example -- won’t be as good for you in the long run as taking a big-picture approach, says Debra Epstein, RD, assistant director of nutrition services at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital.

“Making sure that you eat a variety of foods, from different food groups, is the best way to make sure you get all of the nutrients your body needs,” says Ms. Epstein. And that alone is a good start to feeling your best, reducing your disease risk, and yes, maybe even losing a few pounds.

So instead of following the latest fad diet (that you’ll likely be tired of by February 1), focus on these guidelines for smart, wholesome eating the whole year through. And remember, says Ms. Epstein: “Making healthy choices is a process. Take it one day at a time.”

1. Fill half your plate with fruit and veggies at every meal. Think of meat as a side dish, not the main course. And be careful what you’re putting on those veggies: Adding lots of butter or cream can defeat your purpose.

2. Make water or seltzer your beverage of choice. Cut back on sugary sodas and juices, or ditch them entirely. Zero-calorie “diet” drinks have also been linked to weight gain, so it’s best to limit those as well.

3. Choose your carbohydrates wisely. White and refined carbs can cause your blood sugar to spike, which can be a risk factor for diabetes over time. What's better: Pick whole grains (like whole-wheat bread and brown rice) over refined ones (white bread, white rice). Go with sweet potatoes instead of Russets, and carrots instead of chips.

4. Be cautious about “low-fat” products. Not all fat is bad, and when it’s removed from a food it’s often replaced with sugar or fillers. Make sure you read the entire nutrition label, not just the grams of fat.

5. Eat plenty of fiber. Most people don’t get enough of this nutrient, which protects against heart disease and can help you feel full on fewer calories. Women should aim for 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day; men, 30 to 38 grams. Up your intake by eating more whole grains, beans, legumes, and fruits and vegetables. To aid digestion, be sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids.

6. Limit alcohol. More than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men has been associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer and other health issues. Plus, cutting back on booze means cutting back on empty calories.

7. Choose whole foods over processed ones, and home cooking over restaurant food. Eating less fast food and packaged snacks will help you reduce your intake of sodium, added sugar, trans fat and calories. It’ll help you take control of portion sizes, too!

8. Keep desserts (other than fruit) for special occasions – not every meal. And when you do treat yourself, make portions small.

9. Eat every few hours. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t skip meals or cut calories too drastically, or your diet could backfire. Refueling regularly will keep blood sugar levels stable, which can fend off cravings.

10. Eat mindfully. It’s not just about what you eat, but how you eat, too. Munching mindlessly in front of your TV or smartphone makes it easy to overeat without realizing it. It’s healthier – and more satisfying! – to make meals a time to connect with family and friends.