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Dietitian: Start with small changes to your diet

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After a month of holiday eating and indulging, it’s no surprise that “losing weight” is the most common New Year’s resolution for Americans in 2015.

We’ve all been tempted to follow a diet plan that looks simple when you read it online – cutting out all sugar and “white” carbs, drinking green smoothies, not eating after 7 p.m.

Then we discover how impossible it is to turn down a piece of birthday cake, or to wake up before dawn to chug liquefied kale and stir a pot of steel-cut oats.

But don’t give up on your healthy-eating goals just because you couldn’t stick to a trendy diet. Eating healthier shouldn’t be difficult or restrictive, says Rachael Wall, a nutrition and health specialist for Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach in eastern Iowa.

Instead, making small changes is the key to success, whether you’re trying to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle, Wall explains.

“A lot of people don’t know where to get started. We are bombarded with information, and it’s hard to sort through what’s fact and what’s fiction,” Wall says. “So I encourage people to start small. You don’t have to overhaul your entire diet to be healthy.”

For a healthy-eating strategy that you can stick with, think about the positive, or what you can add to your diet, Wall says.

Adding more fruits and vegetables is a good place to start. Wall encourages Iowans to follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines.

MyPlate recommends filling one-half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter with lean protein and one-quarter with whole grains, plus a low-fat dairy serving. (Visit www.choosemyplate.gov for more information and recipe ideas.)

“Because fruits and vegetables are higher in fiber and concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are beneficial for us, we may not be as hungry for the potato chips and ice cream or whatever it may be. It’s not that we can’t eat those things, but in moderation,” Wall says.

Healthy eating also doesn’t have to break your budget. Wall recommends checking out the “Spend Smart Eat Smart” website by ISU Extension and Outreach to find simple, inexpensive and healthy recipes.

ISU Extension staff tests all the recipes on the website to make sure the meals are easy to prepare. Wall says one of her favorite new recipes on the site is butternut squash enchiladas, a tasty dish to add more veggies on your dinner plate.

And while a few so-called diet gurus promote “organic” foods as healthier, research has shown that organic foods aren’t any more nutritious or safer than foods raised conventionally, Wall notes.

“It’s really a personal preference option,” Wall says. “If someone wants to choose organic and spend a little more, that’s their personal preference. But from a food safety and nutritional standpoint, one isn’t superior over another.”

Dr. Ruth MacDonald, chair and professor of Iowa State University’s Food Science and Human Nutrition department, also explains the differences between organic and conventional foods on the Best Food Facts website.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.