Nutrition advice doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by diet rules, try making a few simple everyday changes. Here are five to get you started.
Swap out butter; swap in olive or canola oil.
Not all fat is bad. Opt for unsaturated fats (e.g., olive or canola oil) over saturated fats, such as butter. Here’s a nutrition breakdown: 1 tablespoon of olive oil has 14 grams fat, 2 of which are saturated; 1 tablespoon of canola oil has 14 grams fat, 1 gram saturated; 1 tablespoon of butter has 11 grams fat, 7 of which are saturated. But because all fats are loaded with calories (119, 124 and 100 calories respectively), still use them in moderation.
Swap out refined grains; swap in whole grains.
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and sugary sweets, may be just as bad for your heart and arteries as cream and butter—that’s one reason to limit them. What’s more, whole grains—like brown rice and bulgur—have their bran intact and thus have more fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients.
Appealingly brown-colored bread or crackers labeled “multi-grain” or “cracked wheat” are sometimes made mostly from refined white flour. The only reliable guide to ensuring that your choice is a true whole grain is to check the ingredients list: the term “whole” or “whole-grain” should precede the grain’s name, such as “whole-grain rye.”
Swap out salt; swap in fresh or dried herbs and spices.
Whether you have high blood pressure or not, it’s wise to watch your sodium intake. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon salt) daily. While not always a perfect replacement for salt, distracting your palate with chopped fresh or dried herbs and spices can help ease the transition to lower-salt cooking by waking up other flavors. Get creative with seasoning blends, found in any spice aisle; just make sure they’re labeled “salt-free.” Not ready to go salt-free? Get started with this easy tip: don’t add salt if you can’t taste it. A little salt goes a longer way if it’s sprinkled on a food just before serving; skip it while you’re cooking.
Swap out full-fat dairy; swap in low-fat dairy.
Dairy products like milk, sour cream and yogurt are good sources of calcium—a bone-strengthening mineral most of us don’t get enough of. Choosing low-fat dairy products and nixing the full-fat versions is an easy way to cut saturated fat in your diet (saturated fat may boost risk of heart disease). Plus, recent research suggests that replacing full-fat dairy with low-fat dairy may also help lower blood pressure.
Swap out steak; swap in salmon.
Yes, red meat is a great source of protein and iron (a mineral essential for getting oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body), but it’s also a big source of saturated fat in many people’s diets. You don’t have to give up your steak all the time, but trading one 3-ounce serving of steak for the same-size serving of salmon will save you about 8 grams of saturated fat. That serving of salmon also delivers heart-healthy omega-3 fats.
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