Clean up your diet in three easy steps

By Claudia Drum, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, U.S. Army Public Health CommandMarch 3, 2015

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It is time to stop faking it. Stop faking your way through a diet consisting of highly processed, pre-packaged foods with long ingredient lists. Ever wonder why you crave sugar or salt? Highly processed foods oftentimes add in extra sugar and/or salt to make their products more enticing--not to mention--addicting. Celebrate this year's theme for National Nutrition Month--Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle--by committing to cleaning up your diet (and your palate) with these three easy steps:

1. Simplify. Compare the ingredient lists on your pre-packaged foods and choose the product with the fewest number of ingredients. The product with the fewest number of ingredients usually contains less fat, saturated fat, sodium and/or sugar, and it more closely resembles its original form (making it more wholesome).

2. Go natural. Enjoy more fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are "nutrient dense"--meaning they are packed with nutrients, but at a lower calorie cost. Eating five or more whole fruits and vegetables a day has been linked to a reduced risk of certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and even weight gain. Choose a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen/canned without added salt or fat) to maximize your nutrition intake. Here are some easy ways to increase your fruit and vegetable intake during the day:

•Breakfast: Replace your usual glass of orange juice with a fresh orange and/or top your cereal or yogurt with fresh berries or a banana.

•Lunch: Pack a large, green salad topped with lean protein (hard-boiled egg, grilled chicken and/or beans), extra veggies and a small amount of light vinaigrette dressing.

•Snack time: Replace your usual bag of chips with a medium-sized piece of fruit and save 100 calories!

•Dinner: Double up on your veggies and eat fresh fruit for dessert.

3. Be proactive not perfect. Eating healthy isn't about being perfect 100 percent of the time--it has more to do with knowing yourself and planning ahead so you can better handle those situations that can offset even the best of intentions. For example, when dining out, expect to be served larger than normal portions. To prevent overeating when dining out and help you control your calories:

•Eat only half of what's on your plate, share a dish or order ? portions (focus on internal cues--how full you feel--rather than what's still left on your plate).

•Skip dessert or share it (ask the waiter to divide the dessert before bringing it to the table).

•Drink water instead of regular soda, sweetened tea or alcohol. (Your body doesn't recognize the calories that come from sweetened and/or alcoholic beverages--making it easier to rack up "empty" calories).

•When ordering a salad, ask for high-fat condiments (dressing, cheese, etc.) to be placed on the side so you can control the portions and save hundreds of calories.

During the month of March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day. This year, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day will take place March 11. Do you want to lose or gain weight? Are you pregnant, looking to become pregnant or just had a child? Are you looking for ways to maintain your health in your older years? Are you an athlete looking to boost performance? These are just a few of the reasons people seek the expert, science-based advice of a registered dietitian nutritionist.

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U.S. Army Public Health Command