Eating Healthfully: Tips to Make It Easier
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Eating Healthfully: Tips to Make It Easier

George Washington

Many people wonder how to cook and eat healthier foods which don't require a lot of time or money. Chances are that you have a good understanding of the basic principles of health and nutrition. But thanks to today's fast-paced lifestyles, the real challenge is practicing what you know!

Occasionally, we find ourselves resorting to "quick fixes," which gradually may become bad eating habits. Then we build up reasons, or "myths" about why we can't eat better. See if you recognize any of the common "myths" listed below. You may be surprised how easy they are to change.

Myth No.1:

Eating nutritiously is too expensive.

Some four in 10 people believe that fruits, vegetables, fish, and the other components of a healthful diet cost more than they currently spend on food, according to a survey conducted by Princeton Research Associates. But that isn't necessarily the case.

Consider what happened when researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Mary Imogene Bassett Research Institute (Cooperstown, New York) gave nearly 300 people with high blood cholesterol how-to home videos for cutting fat from their diets. After nine months, the participants who had lowered their blood cholesterol the most had also lopped an average of $1.10 each day off their food bills. That comes to more than $400 a year (or $1600 for a heart-healthy family of four).

It makes perfect sense when you put pencil to paper. A bowl of cereal with milk costs a lot less than buying a donut or muffin on the way to work. And a mid-afternoon apple or banana is still cheaper than a candy bar.

Reject the mindset that resists spending on healthful food. The same person who balks at spending $2.99 for a pint of strawberries in the dead of winter or $7 a pound for fresh fish might think nothing of paying at least $2.99 for a pint of super-premium ice cream or buying take-out lunches all week.

In addition, some studies showed that low consumption of fruits and vegetables earlier in life is associated with higher health care costs later in life. Eating a healthy diet is a good investment.

Myth No. 2:

It's too hard to eat the recommended 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

On average, Americans eat three servings of produce a day instead of the five or more servings advised by the National Cancer Institute and the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

But having a piece of fruit is not the only way to slip more produce into the diet, even though many people assume that's what Five-A-Day means. What about adding a couple of slices of tomato and a lettuce leaf to a tuna sandwich? Or mixing a cup of finely shredded carrots into a pot of spaghetti sauce?

There are many other creative ways to add fruits and vegetables to your diet.

Myth No. 3:

I don't have time to eat better.

Sure you do. The average adult American watches 22 hours of television a week. No doubt you could trade an hour of reruns or game shows for an hour in the kitchen preparing a lasagna layered with vegetables or a from-scratch meal of chicken breast, potato or rice, and a salad. If you buy pre-cut salad fixings, you'll even make it back to the T.V. in time for the final credits.

There's nothing wrong, by the way, with using bottled spaghetti sauce and other time-saving convenience foods to prepare your "from-scratch" meals. Just remember that the more you rely on processed/convenience foods, the harder it is to control the fat and sodium content of the foods you prepare. But relying on already-prepared supermarket products doesn't undermine your intentions to prepare nutritious meals. That's especially true in light of the many low-fat, reduced-sodium products available to consumers today.

Myth No. 4:

My sweet tooth prevents me from having better eating habits.

Eating well doesn't mean denying your sweet tooth. It just means taming it. Accept that sugar—high in calories and low in nutrients—is going to be a part of your life. Just eat less of it but enjoy it more.

Don't just haphazardly eat ice cream right out of the container, or indiscriminately cut slices of your favorite coffee cake at the kitchen counter. Instead, deliberately serve up a scoop in a bowl or a slice on a plate, sit down, and savor every single bite. Mindless eating piles in a lot of calories and you might not even be enjoying it. but mindful deliberate bites with focus on taste can be very satisfying and much less fattening. When you're done, walk away knowing that you can have more tomorrow or the next day. You can have your cake and eat it, too.

Myth No. 5:

I like fast food too much to eat well.

potato Fast food doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing thing. Giving into a burger or burrito craving a few times a year won't kill you or sabotage your good intentions. Furthermore, fast food doesn't have to mean bad-for-you food. All the major fast-food chains now offer lower-calorie, reduced-fat sandwiches, shakes, and salads.

Another way to fit fast food into your healthful lifestyle is to combine it with not-quite-so-fast food. Buy the burger or fried chicken at the drive-through window. Don't order the French fries or coleslaw dripping with dressing. Instead, drive straight home, bake a potato in the microwave and serve up some of those pre-cut vegetables you bought on your weekly trip to the supermarket. You'll save fat, calories, and money.

Myth No. 6:

A vitamin pill will make up for my inadequate diet.

pills Don't bet on it. The problem facing most Americans is an abundance, rather than a lack of, nutrients, including calories, fat, and sodium. And no pill is going to undo that. Moreover, nutrition researchers are discovering that certain foods contain health-enhancing substances known as phytochemicals . Phytochemicals are found primarily in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Although research is in the preliminary stages, phytochemicals hold promise in the fight against chronic disease, including cancer and heart disease. Moreover, naturally occurring nutrients are better absorbed.

Myth No. 7:

I often overeat, which doesn't go hand in hand with a good diet.

It's certainly not a good idea to eat more than you're hungry for every time you sit down to a meal. But almost everyone has polished off a box of cookies in one sitting or stuffed themselves silly at a holiday dinner at least once in their lifetime. The trick is not to beat yourself up about it. Eating too much once in a while isn't a fatal character flaw. In fact, the more you forgive yourself the occasional binge, the easier it is to go back to your regular, healthful eating habits the next day. Punishing yourself emotionally about how much or what you've eaten sets up a self-defeating cycle of "being good" and "letting all hell break loose" at the refrigerator door. So instead of trying to be perfect and giving up if you can’t; try to be better. Even one binge a week less than before is going to improve your health. And try to get the number of binges lower and lower.

Myth No. 8:

If I exercise, I'll be extra hungry, eat more, and gain weight.

In fact, people who exercise regularly often eat less than those who don't. Regular and moderate exercise may actually suppress appetite a bit. And, exercise can help relieve stress. Stress can lead to nibbling on more food and excess calories.

If you debunk a myth a month, you'll be on a health track by the end of the year. You can do it. Rethinking the myths and the alibis can afford you more food choices than you may ever have imagined, and a resulting lifestyle that is both healthful and invigorating.

Try these recipe tips for a healthier diet.

For Breakfast, Dessert, or a Snack

The following healthful foods can be eaten for breakfast, snack, or as a topping to your favorite dessert.

Fruit: Spoon some sliced fresh or canned fruit over ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Apple treat: Slice up fresh apples, add cinnamon, a pinch of sugar, lemon juice and heat in microwave until apples are soft. Spoon over yogurt.

Fruit smoothees: At high speed, blend one cup buttermilk, a banana, a dash of sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Or make a thick berry shake by blending a cup of (low-fat or skim) milk with a cup of frozen strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries.

Suggestions for Entrees

Apple-pear dressing: Puree apples and pears in the blender (with a pinch of sugar) to make a dressing for pork or chicken.

Pasta with tomato/corn sauce: Whisk 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar with 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and pepper. Add 1/2 cup canned or cooked corn kernels, one chopped scallion, and fresh chopped tomatoes. Mix in fresh or dried basil or oregano (if desired,) and spoon over cooked pasta.

Quick chicken/tarragon dinner: Mix Dijon mustard with tarragon, and spread mixture over cleaned boneless chicken breasts. Place in pan, add white wine or chicken stock to cover bottom of pan, and cook in preheated 350-degree oven or toaster oven for 20 minutes, or until cooked through.


American Dietetic Association

International Food Information Council

Five A Day


Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition

Dietitians of Canada


Saul JA, Rader JM, Jenkins PL, Mitchell DC, Shannon BM, Pearson TA. Does a cholesterol-lowering diet cost more? Presented at the 66th Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association. The Mary Imogene Bassett Research Institute, Cooperstown, NY and the Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA; Nov 8-11 1993.

Protect yourself by taking the fifth. Tufts University Diet & Nutrition Letter . Vol 11, No. 3. May 1993.

Wargovich MJ. Nutrition and cancer: the herbal revolution. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. Mar 1999;15(2):177.

Daviglus ML, Liu K, Pirzada A, et al.Relationship of fruit and vegetable consumption in middle-aged men to medicare expenditures in older age: the Chicago Western Electric Study. J Am Diet Assoc. Nov 2005;105(11):1735-44.

Last reviewed June 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg MS, RD, LDN

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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