But where do you start? How do you not get overwhelmed? What items really need to go?
“When presented with a list of what’s ‘bad’ to eat, things can be overwhelming,” admitted Cheryl Kuhta-Sutter, RN, LDN, of Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute. “It’s important to start off small and make improvements where you can.”
Get started with our list of six things to eliminate from your diet today.
1. Butter over margarine, in moderation. Margarine is loaded with partially or fully hydrogenated fats, which raise your bad LDL cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart disease, inflammation and stroke. Butter has fewer processed ingredients and is better for you than margarine, but the saturated fat it packs can contribute to weight gain. “If you like avocados, use them as a butter substitute, spreading mashed avocado or prepared guacamole on toast or crackers; it’s always a healthier option,” Kuhta-Sutter said. “If you must have butter, whipped butter is better as more air means less fat and calories.”
2. Say, “So long!” to soda, even the diet stuff. When it comes to calories, diet sodas are clear and away the winners over full-sugar sodas, which feed obesity and are really just liquid candy. However, studies show that artificial sweeteners in diet sodas also contribute to metabolic syndrome and can be associated with diabetes. Reach for water instead of any soda – diet or regular. “Water is essential for every body function,” Kuhta-Sutter said. “Water helps your body function better, keeps you hydrated, staves off hunger and headaches, maximizes metabolism and can boost your mood.” Cheers to that! If you can’t skip the fizzies, switch to sparkling water or unsweetened seltzer.
3. Move over, whole milk. “Switching from whole milk can be hard when it’s your favorite dairy, but it packs quite the caloric punch and all its extra fat will clog your arteries in the long run – raising your bad LDL cholesterol and lowering your good HDL,” Kuhta-Sutter said. Move to fat-free skim milk or 1 percent low-fat milk or a plant-based dairy alternative, such as almond, hemp or soy milk.
4. Lose the lunch meat and regular hot dogs. Deli slices may seem like a healthy, convenient go-to, but they’re usually packed with added salt and nitrates that have been linked with a higher incidence of cancer. “Reach instead for fresh chicken breasts and turkey meat,” said Kuhta-Sutter. “Fresh poultry is lower in calories, salt and saturated fat than lunch meat and is less expensive.” The same goes for regular hot dogs, which are loaded with unhealthy saturated fats and have been linked to colon cancer and heart disease. Swap your dog for a lean chicken or turkey sausage, but watch the processing and preservatives.
5. Say no to juice. “Not all fruit juices are created equally, and not all are bad,” explained Kuhta-Sutter. “But most fruit juices add a lot of sweetener and don’t have much nutritional value.” Avoid juices with added sugars or anything labeled a “juice drink.” “A healthier option is always a piece of fruit instead of fruit juice. There’s no added sugar, no stripped-away vitamins, and you get the added fiber from the fruit,” she suggested.
6. Pass on the pastries – especially for breakfast. Pastries are made with white flour and loads of sugar. Pastries in the morning send your blood sugar soaring sky high, followed by a mid-morning crash that can have your blood sugar yo-yoing all day. “Set a solid foundation for your blood sugar throughout the day with a balanced breakfast,” Kuhta-Sutter said. To replace that fruity pastry, try a whole-wheat pita pocket spread with a thin layer of peanut butter and stuffed with whole fruit – sliced bananas or strawberries.
“Start small,” Kuhta-Sutter said. “Pick some of your favorite food vices – movie theater popcorn, deep-fried foods, candy and more – and either cut back or substitute healthier alternatives. You’ll be surprised at the health you can gain by making small, mindful changes.”