Even those of us who eat a pretty healthy diet occasionally indulge in not-so-healthy foods. And when the seasons change, it’s natural to want to “healthify” our routine. This fall, take a closer look at your eating habits and simplify your diet by eating the things that really make your body feel best and limit foods that aren’t so good for you.
Here are 10 healthy eating habits to help clean up your diet now.
1. Cut Down On Alcohol
Although several studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol (one drink per day for women, two for men) can have some health benefits–raising “good” HDL cholesterol, “thinning the blood,” (preventing clots that can cause heart attack and stroke) and possibly warding off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease–there are some good reasons to make sure that your alcohol consumption stays moderate. Alcohol takes a toll on your liver, the major organ of your body devoted to “detoxing” your system. It also acts as a diuretic, making it harder to stay hydrated.
Get Started: Try sticking to the suggested limit of one drink a day for women, two for men (think of the calories and money you’ll save!). Looking for an alcohol-free drink at cocktail hour? Try club soda with a splash of juice.
2. Cut Down On Sugar
Most of us eat too much sugar. On average, Americans consume 475 calories of added sugars every day (that’s 30 teaspoons), which is way higher than what’s recommended by the American Heart Association (six teaspoons per day for women, nine for men). High intake of added sugar is linked with risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, and high triglyceride levels.
Get Started: Skip processed foods, which can be loaded with hidden added sugars, and when you want a sweet treat, reach for fruit for a natural sugar fix.
3. Cut Down On Salt
Americans, on average, eat 3,400 milligrams of sodium in a day, about 1,000 mg more than we should. And if we cut that much out of our daily diets, we’d lower our risk of heart disease by up to 9 percent, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Restaurant foods and processed foods both tend to be very high in sodium, so a key step in lowering your sodium intake is to cook at home using fresh ingredients instead.
Get Started: Try eating out less and cooking more at home using fresh ingredients instead. And try boosting flavor with herbs and spices rather than salt.
4. Cut Down On Saturated Fat
Saturated fat–the kind of fat that’s found in whole milk, cheese, butter and meat–raises your “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can damage arteries.
Get Started: Avoid animal fats and swap them for healthier unsaturated fats from plant foods like nuts, avocados, and olive oil.
5. Cut Down On Refined Grains
Refined grains–white flour, white rice–are stripped of beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals. So while they add calories, they’re not really providing much in the way of nutrients. And since they’re low in fiber, they’re less satisfying than whole grains.
Get Started: Check the ingredient list and make sure the word “whole” describes the grains in the product–if it just says “wheat flour,” for example, that’s not whole wheat, so make another choice.
6. Cut Down On Processed Foods
Minimally processed foods–like plain unsweetened yogurt or washed bagged greens–are still essentially healthy whole foods. Rather, reduce your intake of prepared food products with loads of ingredients. By cutting these out, you can easily minimize your intake of added sugars, salt and trans and saturated fat, too, since these things are often added to processed foods for taste. Plus, you’ll make room for more healthy whole foods in your diet.
Get Started: Go through your cabinets and see which of your foods come in boxes and think of alternatives. Swap crackers or chips for crunchy veggies, and if you rely on prepared meals, like mac and cheese or canned soup, find an easy recipe to make your favorites from scratch.
7. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Not only do fruits and vegetables add a lot of flavor and color to meals, they’re nutrient- and antioxidant-rich, low in calories, and can help lower your risk for heart disease.
Get Started: When figuring out what to make for dinner, make vegetables the main event–start with the vegetables you have on hand or what looks good to you at the market. From there, figure out what else (protein, starch) would go well with it.
8. Drink More Water
It’s tempting to choose other beverages, but water really is the best thing to drink. Our bodies are 60 percent water and it’s vital for the function of every organ system, helping to circulate oxygen and whisk away toxins.
Get Started: Choose it for your main beverage at and between meals. If you’re not a fan of plain water, try a spritz of lemon or lime to jazz it up.
9. Drink More Green Tea
Did you know that green tea has a bevy of health benefits–from boosting immunity to fighting cavities?
Get Started: Try swapping one of your daily cups of coffee for a cup of green tea instead.
10. Eat More Whole Grains
Eating more whole grains could lengthen your life by reducing your risk of cardiovascular, infectious and respiratory diseases, suggests a 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine study. Don’t get in a grain rut–100 percent whole-grain breads and tortillas count, of course, but try other whole grains, too.
Get Started: Try eating one new-to-you grain, such as quinoa or wild rice, each week.