EDITOR's NOTE: Dr. Michelle Cardel, PhD, RD is the Gainesville Lunch Out Blog's resident expert on all important food information that is healthy, smart, and good for your body, mind, stomach and waistline. Dr. MC shares smart food advice with GLOBers on a regular basis and looks forward to answering, discussing any food questions you might have.
Put your best fork forward in 5 easy steps
Plan Ahead:: If your life is anything like mine, it can be daunting to cook meals from scratch every night after getting home from work. It is easy to forgo your healthy eating goals to grab something fast and easy. That is why doing meal prep on the weekends has been a game changer for me.
Pro tip:: Over the weekend, cook meals that can be stored and eaten throughout the week. My staples are soups, salads, grilled chicken, quinoa, and sliced vegetables. I also use leftovers for lunch and stock up on healthy snacks to keep me going throughout the day.
2. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. When you make fruits and vegetables the focal point of every meal, it helps you reach the recommended 5-9 servings a day. Even better, this is done without ever having to figure out exactly what one serving size of broccoli or mixed greens is.
Pro tip:: Include a fruit or vegetable at snack time too. Go-to favorites are hummus and carrots, a cheese stick and an apple, or nuts and raisins.
3. Limit liquid calories. Soda and sweet tea are essentially liquid candy and provide zero nutritional value. Alcohol, wine, and beer are fun but have extra calories that add up fast. Fruit juice, though healthier than soda, is high in sugar and packs about the same number of calories as soda. If you are craving fruit, eat it don't drink it.
Pro tip:: The healthiest choice for your beverage is water, at least eight cups a day. If drinking plain water isn't you're your cup of tea, mix it up with zero calorie flavored water or flavored seltzer that use fruit extracts.
4. Keep a food journal. Monitoring what you eat using a food journal can help you be accountable and lose weight. Food journals help to reduce mindless snacking and thus decrease total calorie intake. According to one of the largest and longest running weight loss maintenance trials ever conducted, dieters who diligently recorded what they ate each day using a food journal lost an average of 18 pounds over 6 months while dieters who did not keep a food journal lost only 9 pounds (1). Just the simple act of keeping track of food intake can increase your awareness of what and how much you are eating and result in double the weight lost.
Pro tip:: Food tracking can be done just by scribbling what you eat on pieces of paper or by using a smartphone app. I recommend any of the free apps MyFitnessPal, Lose it!, or Calorific.
5. Sleep more. Sleeping enough each night is one of the simplest changes you can make to impact your health, including what you eat. Lack of sleep can mess up your appetite hormones, which tell you when you are hungry and when to stop eating. With those hormones out of whack, it's no wonder research has shown that people who sleep too little tend to eat more in general and eat more high-fat foods.
Pro tip: Adults should aim for 7-8 hours of ZZZs each night according to the Centers for Disease Control.
EDITOR's NOTE: Michelle Cardel, PhD, RD, is an obesity and nutrition scientist and registered dietitian at the University of Floridaâ€™s Department of Health Outcomes and Policy in the College of Medicine.