One big problem with most New Year’s resolutions is that they’re too vague. “I want to get in better shape” sounds good, but how do you actually plan to do it? When they get deeper than the nice-sounding sentiment, most people don’t have a plan of attack—which is precisely why so many resolutions fail. Year after year, one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to eat healthier. That’s great in theory. Improving your diet can better your life in countless ways. But how are you going to do it? That’s where STACK comes in.
Here’s your five-point plan of attack for eating healthier.
1. Drink More Water
Water is absolutely essential to good health and high performance. The human body is roughly 60percent water, and water plays a crucial role in almost every important bodily process. Water transports nutrients and oxygen, supports proper muscle contraction, improves joint function and fights fatigue. Being even slightly dehydrated can decrease reaction time, mood and focus. The negative effects of not drinking enough water are almost too many to count. And many people feel the effects each and every day.
A recent study found that more than 50 percent of American teens and children don’t drink enough water, and 25 percent of them don’t drink any water on a daily basis. Adults don’t fare much better. Forty-three percent of them drink fewer than four cups a day. The exact amount of water you need to drink depends on your age, gender, weight, climate and amount of physical activity; but no matter where you fit into those categories, there’s a good chance you’re not drinking enough water.
Imagine living in the constant haze of ill effects brought on by dehydration, only to have them suddenly disappear. It’s not a fairy tale—all you need to do is drink more water. Two easy ways to start drinking more water are to have a glass with every meal and carry around a refillable water bottle during the day. It might take some effort at first, but soon you’ll be guzzling plenty of water each day without giving it a second thought.
2. Eat At Least 2 Servings of Fruit and 2 Servings of Veggies Every Day
Odds are you aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables. Why do I feel safe making that statement? Because only one in every 10 Americans does. A CDC report released earlier this year contained that startling piece of data and shed new light on why our nation’s obesity problem has spiraled out of control.
Fruits and vegetables are quite simply some of the best foods you can eat. They’re packed with antioxidants, nutrients and vitamins, all of which have significant positive effects on your physical and mental well-being. Did you know that each serving of fruit you eat per day reduces your risk of heart disease by 5 percent? Or that vegetables help you naturally maintain a healthy blood pressure? Or that the fiber content in produce can help you avoid binge eating and put you at a lower risk of certain types of cancer? The benefits are too many to list.
Make a conscious effort to include either one serving of fruit or one serving of veggies with every meal (bonus points if you can get both), and be sure to keep produce like carrots, bananas, celery, avocados, apples and berries on hand for snacking.
3. Eat Breakfast Every Single Day
Skipping breakfast is one of the worst things you can do if you’re trying to live a healthy life, yet it’s among the most common eating mistakes Americans make. A good breakfast gives you a strong foundation for the day and encourages better overall health. This isn’t some old wives’ tale—studies have found that skipping breakfast can have a devastating effect on overall wellness.
A 2005 study found that elementary school kids who ate breakfast had better short-term memory than students who didn’t. In addition, a 1999 study found that those who ate breakfast (in this case, a breakfast cereal) performed better on a spatial memory task than those who did not—plus, they had a more positive mood and felt calmer. Yes, skipping breakfast can definitely make you cranky.
Besides making you feel sluggish and grouchy, skipping breakfast could have insidious ramifications. A 2013 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that “men who skipped breakfast had a 27-percent higher risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] compared with men who did not.”
Though it sounds counterintuitive, missing breakfast might also lead to weight gain. A 2003 study found “subjects who regularly skipped breakfast had 4.5 times the risk of obesity as those who regularly consumed breakfast.” In this study, regularly skipping breakfast was defined as not eating breakfast 75 percent of the time, and regularly eating breakfast was defined as eating it 95 percent of the time.
A simple formula for creating a healthy breakfast is to make sure your plate includes whole grains, fruit and protein.
4. Power Up with Plant-Based Foods
We’ve already mentioned that a healthy diet needs to include lots of fruits and veggies, but those aren’t the only plant-based foods that should have a place on your plate. Nuts, seeds, beans and oils are all natural plant-based foods packed with useful nutrients and antioxidants that can contribute to overall better health.
The calorie count of some of these foods might initially look too high for them to be healthy—specifically the nuts, seeds and oils. But that’s because they’re high in healthy fats like monounsaturated and omega-3’s. Healthy fats help prevent chronic diseases, reduce inflammation and foster muscle formation. Nuts, seeds and beans are also high in protein and fiber, which aid in muscle growth and help you stay full longer.
“From a chronic disease standpoint, a plant-based diet is great. One of two people in the United States die from heart disease or cancer. Plant-based diets reduce your risk of both, while also lowering your blood pressure, improving your blood lipid profile and reducing your risk of Type 2 diabetes,” says Ryan Andrews, Nutrition Coach at Precision Nutrition.
5. Cut Down on Added Sugar
Added sugar refers to caloric sweeteners placed in foods and beverages during processing. The sugar in fruit isn’t “added sugar,” because it occurs naturally; but the sugar in, say, Oreos, is added sugar because it was added during processing.
Cutting down on added sugar might be the most important step Americans can take to clean up their diets. Why? Because most of us are eating way, way too much of it.
The American Heart Association recommends women consume less than 24 grams of added sugar per day and men less than 36 grams, but the average American overshoots those targets by a mile, consuming about 88 grams (equivalent to 22 teaspoons) per day. Diets high in added sugar have been strongly linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression and other negative health outcomes. But the tough thing about cutting down on added sugar is that the stuff is lurking nearly everywhere. Obvious culprits like soda, cookies and candy are packed with added sugar, but so are seemingly innocuous foods like canned tomato sauce and flavored oatmeal.
You can identify foods stuffed with added sugar by checking their nutrition facts and ingredients lists. If you know a food has undergone a considerable amount of processing, check the nutrition facts. If you see a high sugar count, check the ingredients list to see if they include things like “high-fructose corn syrup,” “dextrose” or “agave nectar.” Those and many others are fancy words for added sugar. It might take some effort to identify the major contributors of added sugar in your diet, but cutting down on them will leave you feeling markedly better.