1. Use smart fats. Extra virgin olive oil is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and powerful antioxidants. Use it in cooking, baking and to dress salads. Canola oil is also good for baking. Stay away from margarine, which is highly processed and may contain trans fat.
2. Replace refined grains with whole grains. Adding whole grains to your diet may lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity. Replace white flour with whole-wheat flour when you bake. Try whole grain pasta. Serve a whole grain for dinner – try brown rice, bulgur, kasha, quinoa, barley or wheat berries. They're high in important vitamins, minerals and fiber and delicious too.
3. Cut out sodas. If you're a big soda drinker, start off by drinking one less can of soda a day. Regular soda is high in sugar and calories with no nutritional value. Diet soda, with its array of additives, is not much better. Make your own refreshing (and economical) drink: Pour ⅓ cup pure fruit juice into a large glass and add sparkling water to the top. Try tea – hot or cold, black, green or herbal, for a refreshing beverage. Don't forget plain unadulterated tap water – the budget-friendly beverage of choice.
4. Use sweeteners judiciously. Sugar, whether it's white or brown, honey or maple syrup, adds calories to your diet with little nutritional value. Stay away from highly-sweetened store-bought baked goods. Cut back a little on the sugar in your favorite cookie or cake recipes and no one will know the difference. Make baked goods a special Shabbat treat, and stick with fruit for dessert during the week.
5. Cook more often. Did you know that obesity rates are highest among people who spend the least amount of time cooking? You don't have to spend hours over a hot stove to cook "from scratch". Keep a well-stocked pantry and plan menus in advance. Cook extra amounts and store leftovers in the freezer for those days when you don't have time to cook. Pick up a cookbook to get some ideas. (My book has menu ideas and lots of easy-to-cook recipes!) Start off with the basics and go from there.
6. Go easy on salt. Most processed food is loaded with salt, and the more salt you eat, the greater your chances of developing high blood pressure. Check the label for sodium before you buy foods like soup powder, noodle cups, canned soup and pasta sauce. Even frozen waffles and breakfast cereal may be loaded with salt. In the kitchen, substitute fresh herbs and spices for salt. If you gradually reduce the amount of salt you use in cooking, it's less likely to be missed.
7. Eat mindfully. Think through your food choices. Make a list before you shop and don't be tempted to buy things that you know you shouldn't eat. Learn about portion sizes. Eat when you're hungry and not when you're bored or feeling bad. Pay attention to when you feel full, so you won't overeat. Most importantly, enjoy your food!
With best wishes for good health and happiness in the coming year!