Happy New Year!
If you’re like a lot of other folks, you may be making a New Year’s resolution or two to start off 2017. And chances are, your resolutions may well have something to do with diet, exercise or both.
To help us get off on the right foot with our health-related resolutions, we decided to ask some Texas Health Care doctors to share their tips for maintaining a healthy diet.
Know What’s in Your Food
According to Dr. Errol Bryce, an Internal Medicine physician, “Most people’s diet problems are directly linked to excessive sugar, salt, fat and bad carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, white flour and sugar, are especially harmful – they convert to LDL cholesterol, a.k.a. the ‘bad’ cholesterol.”
That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with the contents of the foods you eat most frequently. If they are high in sodium, sugar, fat and carbohydrates, you want to avoid them or cut way back.
Dr. Bryce explains that human beings have lost their natural thirst receptors for water. “We have to be intentional” about drinking water, he says – at least eight eight-ounce cups of water every day. Not only do our bodies need plenty of water, drinking enough of it can help to quell feelings of hunger.
Break Your Fast
The time between dinner and when we wake up the next morning is the longest period we go without eating. That’s one reason it’s really important to eat a good breakfast every day – you literally are breaking a fast.
A good breakfast helps stabilize your blood sugar levels, gives you energy to start your day and decreases the odds you will overeat at lunch, according to Dr. Mo Sathyamoorthy, a cardiologist. “Eating a good breakfast is the most important thing you can do to maintain a healthy weight,” he says.
Snacks are Your Friend
Now you know you should drink plenty of water and start every day with breakfast. But did you know you should also snack frequently throughout the day, as well?
“When you spread your food out through the day, this helps avoid getting too hungry, which helps prevent overeating later,” says Dr. Joseph Milne, an orthopedic surgeon. “It also helps maintain a more constant blood glucose level,” he adds.
Dr. Sathyamoorthy agrees: “Small meals throughout the day, every two to three hours, helps you avoid over-consuming during lunch and dinner.”
So, what should you snack on? “Fruit – lots of fruit,” says Dr. Milne. “Fruit makes for a great snack, provides fiber and has a lower glycemic index (meaning it has less of an effect on blood sugar levels) than eating cookies, chips or donuts.” Dr. Sathyamoorthy says another good option is to have a few “heart healthy nuts, such as raw (unsalted) walnuts and almonds.”
Popcorn is another decent option, provided it’s not doused in butter and salt.
What’s for Dinner?
You started your day with a good, healthy breakfast. You had a couple of healthy snacks in between meals, keeping your blood sugar levels fairly constant and avoiding feeling as though you are starving. Now it’s dinner time – how do you complete your day of healthy eating?
Dr. Sathyamoorthy recommends your dinner include plenty of vegetables, to go with the fruit you’ve hopefully already had. “Choose a heart-healthy protein for your entrée, such as wild salmon,” he advises. “Most importantly, be mindful of portion size,” he says. Generally, a four-ounce serving of meat or fish provides the calories you need.
Dr. Milne says you don’t have to give up all your favorite foods to maintain a healthy diet. “Having a burger or pizza is fine as an occasional thing, just don't eat them every day! You can eat red meat, but in moderation. Eat more chicken, pork, fish and non-meat meals,” he advises.
Dr. Bryce recommends eating your dinner early enough in the evening that you’re not going to bed with a full stomach. “If you go to bed really full, the food you have eaten can more easily turn to fat.”
Tips and Tools
Now that you’re eating better, it’s a good time to start exercising, too. “Work out!” says Dr. Milne. “Get in some good aerobic exercise at least three days a week, as well as some resistance training and weight work, too.”
And as you’re revamping your diet and exercising to lose weight, you’ll want to know if it’s working. You have to step on the scale, but don’t overdo it. “Weigh yourself once a week at the same day and same time,” Dr. Milne says. “This helps keep you on track, but without sweating the daily fluctuations.”
Dr. Milne also encourages use of one of the many health and fitness technology tools available. “While building healthy habits, keep track of how much you eat and work out; I used the Weight Watchers online app, but any method of tracking will work. The main thing is to recognize how much is going in versus how much you are burning off,” he explains.
Remember, losing weight boils down to one simple equation: we have to burn more calories than we consume. Attacking both sides of that equation at the same time (Eat Less + Exercise More) is the best way to start seeing results – and the best way to improve your health.
Good luck with your resolutions!