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Fall into a Healthier Diet: Five Easy Steps

By Jess Kolko

With each new season I always think about small changes that I want to make in my life and diet. I feel that too often people want, and try, to make large, sweeping changes. Big changes tend to work only in the short term. Making small easy changes is the way to affect diet in the long term. Here are my top five tips for making little changes that add up to a big difference in the long term.

mz1. Make plants the focus. Whether you adopt Meatless Monday or just begin to increase your portion of plants every day, you are going to make a positive impact on your diet and overall health. Generally our portion size of meat is at least twice what a serving should be — 3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards, is a standard (in the world of registered dietitians) portion of meat. When was the last time you had a 3 ounce portion of chicken or steak? Shifting the composition of your plate to include more plants ups the ante on vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals — all of which we could use more of for their disease protecting benefits. Checkout for even more reasons to increase the plants — there is even an environmental impact.

2. Add instead of take away. Making changes can be hard if you think about them as removing something from your diet or your life. How about making healthy additions instead? Adding a bowl of oatmeal to your breakfast can add a whole lot of nutrition. Add a handful or two of spinach to your smoothie, stir fry, pasta, salad or casserole. Add a serving of beans once or twice a week. By making these additions you are adding more fiber and more variety to your diet. Also, when you add you may actually be decreasing the number of calories you consume without even knowing it. By adding tasty nutritious foods to your plate you begin slowly to cut back on the not so great calories — seriously!

3. Cut down on oil. Use green pans (a better-for-you nonstick pan) or use a little broth to help you sauté without oil. Even cutting the oil in half when preparing your favorite recipes can pack a huge nutritional benefit. Oils contain little in the way of nutrition other than fat. Oils contain no vitamins or minerals. By reducing the amount of oil we use on a daily basis, and increasing our plant food intake, your nutrition will improve. In the year 2000 the average American ate 74.5 pounds of added fats and oils*an increase of 2/3 from the 1950s — any way you cut it that’s a lot of fat!

4. Eat more whole grains. The USDA urges us to make half of our grains whole. I encourage you to go beyond that and make most of your grains whole. It’s pretty easy these days with so many options in grocery stores and restaurants. There are whole grain versions of every baked-good from breads, to English muffins, to cakes. Stores are also stocking all kinds of interesting whole grains you can use as sides, stuffing, salads and much more. Branch out from brown rice and discover barley, quinoa, millet, farro and amaranth.

5. Check the sugar bowl. In general we consume a lot of added sugars and most of it without us really knowing. Sugar sweetened beverages are a huge contributor here. Some examples of sugared beverages are energy drinks, sports drinks, enhanced waters, sodas, teas and other soft drinks. Liquid calories don’t register properly in our systems. We take in the calories, but since it’s not really food our stomach doesn’t feel full from consuming the calories. Let’s put it another way; to get 100 calorie from an average drink you need about two cups. In order to get 100 calories from spinach you need to eat 15 cups—the difference in volume is huge! It’s really easy to gulp down a 16 oz drink, but way hard to eat 15 cups of spinach. Since Americans consume about half a cup of sugar a day we can really help our waistlines if we trade these sweet drinks for water, unsweetened tea, or sparkling water, and filling up on the spinach.

By incorporating these five simple tips you can dramatically improve your overall diet. But, don’t make these changes all at once. Start with one and make it a habit for a few weeks to a month, then start to incorporate another. Gradually you will see the difference.

Jess Kolko RD, LD, is the Healthy Eating Registered Dietitian and Culinary Educator at Whole Foods Market’s global headquarters. Jess is a co-founder of the Nutrition Hotline — a volunteer organization staffed by RDs to answer nutrition questions for those that may not have the funds for private consultation. When she is not knee-deep in nutrition Jess enjoys training and competing in long distance triathlon and running events.

Athletic Foodie LogoThis article originally appeared on, founded by Olympic gold medalist Garrett Weber-Gale and his family, who believe that good taste and healthy food really can go together.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.