It has been a long winter and now that spring is finally here, I am feeling a bit more motivated to tackle that laundry list of spring cleaning to-dos I've been avoiding.
This year, instead of just going through my closet to weed out clothes I never wear anymore (or those shirts with tags still on them that I've sworn I'd wear for the past five years) I am focusing my efforts on my kitchen.
And I am not talking about just cleaning the kitchen. In fact I would like to completely avoid ever cleaning the oven or microwave again, if possible.
Instead, I am talking about spring-cleaning my diet.
With the cold weather out of the way, I no longer have an excuse to cuddle up with my favorite comfort foods or sip on a few extra glasses of wine while watching the snowfall. Summer is right around the corner and I want to look and feel my best, and I am sure you do too.
To spring clean your diet, you don't have to give up everything you love. The opposite, actually. If you try to make too many overwhelming changes, you won't stick with them.
It's like the time I donated the majority of my shoe collection only to find myself back at the mall the next weekend hoarding as many pairs of heels I could find. Moderation is key.
Cleaning up your diet can often be more about what you need to add to your meals than what you need to avoid.
These four simple tips will help you to overhaul your nutrition easily so that you can look great, feel great, and stick with the changes you made.
1. Ditch the foods with an ingredient list longer than your age.
Yes, transitioning away from processed food and eating only whole food is a great strategy. But let's be honest, who has time to eat only whole food 100% of the time? Not me.
Processed foods are part of our daily lives and they don't have to be unhealthy. Just because a food is processed doesn't mean it isn't nutritious.
However, processed foods with a laundry list of ingredients including added sugars, artificial ingredients and preservatives may not be the best choice.
So look for processed foods with around ten ingredients or less to help cut down on some of those not-so-healthy elements.
Good examples of minimally-processed or non-processed foods include: baked chips containing just potatoes, oil, and salt; peanut butter made with just peanuts and a hint of salt; cottage cheese with just milk, cream, and salt; breads containing only whole grain flours, yeast, and salt and even pre-washed/pre-cut vegetables such as baby carrots or celery.
2. Focus on the nutrients, not the calories.
It can be tempting to focus solely on the calorie content of a food when you are examining the label, but calories aren't always what they seem to be: despite what you may have heard, all calories are not created equal.
A low-calorie food packed full of refined carbs and simple sugars not only will leave you hungry, it also will provide you with little to no nutrition.
Instead, a food rich in plant-based fats like nuts and seeds may seem high in calories, but the healthy fats and lean protein it provides will keep you satisfied for hours.
As tempting as it may be, avoid using calories as your sole gauge as to whether or not you should eat something, and look at the nutrients the food provides instead.
3. Fill up on fiber.
If I could only recommend one dietary change, packing more fiber into your day, would be it. Yes, I am a self-proclaimed 'fiber fanatic,' but for a very good reason.
A diet rich in fiber doesn't just regulate the digestive system. It helps to promote fullness, cuts down on hunger and cravings, promotes a healthy body weight and even lowers future disease risk. On top of that, diets rich in fiber have even been shown to add years to your life.
Although you really can't have too much fiber, aiming for a minimum of 25 to 35 grams per day is a good place to start.
Just keep in mind, as you increase your fiber intake, to do it gradually. Eating more fiber means you'll probably fart more at first, TBH.
Make sure you increase the amount of water you drink as well. Your intestines will thank you.
4. Lose the added sugars.
This is really a no-brainer. I'm sure you know that too much sugar in your diet isn't ideal for health.
But did you know the extent of the negative impact added sugars can have?
Sure, they provide a source of empty calories that can lead to weight gain (especially that dreaded belly fat), but they can impact everything from energy levels to memory and concentration, too.
One study found that high school students who drank just one soda per day had poorer performances on academic tests. Other research has shown added sugars can lower energy and cause lapses in concentration, which is not exactly something you want to happen when you are trying to secure that promotion at work.
Cut the sugar by sweetening your diet naturally by snacking on whole fruits, using flavorings like cinnamon in coffee instead of sugar, or adding a splash of 100% fruit juice to seltzer, over drinking a can of soda.
The more added sugars you cut out, the better you will feel.
And who doesn't want to feel — and look – great, this summer?