12 Genius Healthy Eating Tips
Trade meat for mushrooms: Swap a portion of the fatty meats like ham and sausage in breakfast dishes for mushrooms, suggest Lyssie Lakatos, RD, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, also known as the Nutrition Twins. Mushrooms are similar to meat in flavor and texture, you won’t sacrifice taste, and with only 15 calories per cup, you’ll shave off calories.
Add low-fat cottage cheese to oatmeal: Blend cottage cheese into your oatmeal for a creamier, heartier dish (it sounds crazy, but it's really tasty). “People usually are still hungry after a bowl of oatmeal. The protein from the cottage cheese will help you stay fuller longer,” says Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. You’ll be bulking up your breakfast with about 16 g of protein and 10% of your daily calcium requirement per half cup, for about 90 calories. Use small-curd or whipped varieties for best results.
Top popcorn with cinnamon and sugar: Got a sweet tooth? Try this guilt-free trick. Choose popcorn without added salt, butter, or oil, and prepare it according to the directions. Then dust it with a little bit of cinnamon and sugar. “It’s sweet and low in calories,” says Marisa Moore, RD in Atlanta, GA. Three cups of this light snack come to about 90 calories. You’ll want to go easy on the sugar, but it’s not so bad if you have a heavy hand with the cinnamon. Research suggests that the spice may lower glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
Follow the 15-minute rule: It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize that your belly’s full, says Erin Palinski, RD, CPT, author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. After polishing off a plate of food, Palinksi tells clients to step away for 15 minutes and distract themselves by drinking water, going for a walk—anything that takes their minds off of food. “If you are still truly hungry, it’s okay to go back for a bit more, but most of the time you will find that you actually are satisfied,” she says.
Put quality food before calorie-counting: While you could technically munch your way to a smaller waistline by nibbling 100-calorie packs of cookies and crackers all day, eating more of the right foods is an essential part of staying on track, says Marjorie Nolan, RD, CPT, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. She teaches clients to harness the hunger hormone ghrelin by combining items from each food group in ways that cut cravings between meals. For example, mix fiber and protein at breakfast or protein and carbohydrates postworkout.
Snack, don't graze: A well-timed snack can do wonders for appetite control and prevent you from going overboard at your next meal. “The trouble is we've become a nation of grazers, eating all day long so we never really know if we're hungry or not,” says Karen Ansel, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and co-author of The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life. Eating every three to four hours is enough to control blood sugar and keep hunger at bay, she says. One to two 150-calorie snacks per day should be all you need.
Reorganize your fridge: “Keep an everyday veggie tray at eye level so it's the first thing you see when you open the door,” suggests Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of The Flexitarian Diet. “You can grab the veggies to snack on or toss them raw or cooked into salads, stir-frys or pasta dishes.”
Read food labels: Become a savvier shopper by reading nutrition labels, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, author of Read It Before You Eat It. In addition to checking the ingredients, you should also be mindful of portion sizes. “If the serving is half of what you normally consume, remember to double all the nutrition numbers," she says.
Add oats to meatballs or meatloaf: They’re not just for breakfast--oats make a great stand-in for bread crumbs in meatloaf or meatballs (find recipes), says Michelle Dudash, RD, author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. She recommends grinding the oats in a food processor first. The high-in-fiber powder makes a nutritious, low-sodium alternative to packaged bread crumbs. They’ll help you feel fuller, reduce your risk for heart disease, and slip you some iron, magnesium, and protein, to boot. (Related: Sneaky Ways to Eat More Whole Grains)
Fill your plate with colorful foods: Loading up on bright fruits and veggies doesn’t just make your plate look pretty—it also provides antioxidants and other health-enhancing vitamins and minerals. “We get different nutrients from different foods, so eating a variety of produce in different colors is one of the easiest ways to ensure we’re getting a full range of nutrients,” explains Vandana Sheth, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Keep a food journal—and be specific! “Don’t just write down, ‘I had a bowl of cereal.’ Instead, include that you had 1 cup of Cheerios, poured on a cup of fat-free milk, and sliced half a banana over the top,” says Bethany Thayer, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and Manager of Wellness Programs & Strategies at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. If you’re eating out and prefer to avoid taking notes tableside, snap a quick photo of your meal with the camera on your cell phone. The picture will help you remember portion sizes and jog your memory about other details like sauces and side dishes, she says. Make quick notes on your phone to help you track the candies, mints, and sticks of gum that often go unreported throughout the day. She also suggests writing down the time of day you eat, how hungry you are when you sit down, and your mood. (More food habits to track)
Be routine, not extreme: “I find that people tend to focus on their most extreme behavior and underestimate the importance of their typical behavior,” says Monica Reinagel, licensed nutritionist and creator of the Nutrition Diva podcast. Instead of fretting over a “bad” eating day and exhausting your willpower by striving to be “good” the next, concentrate on making your average day a little healthier, she suggests.