Overwhelmed by how many changes you need to make in your diet just to break the ceiling on adequate? With so many diet recommendations, are you ready to throw in the towel when it comes to eating right? Well, don’t despair. Even small, sometimes even tiny, changes or additions to your diet can make a difference in your health, energy level, disease risk, and memory….especially when you stick to them. Here are 10 simple tricks, many from my latest book The Origin Diet, that pack a nutritional punch for almost no effort.
1) Add milk to your coffee. Studies show caffeine might contribute to osteoporosis by increasing calcium loss, but you can side step this risk by adding milk to your coffee. Even two tablespoons of low-fat milk will offset the effects of caffeine on calcium. A nonfat latte is the best, since you get the equivalent of almost a cup of calcium-rich milk (with 300 milligrams of calcium) along with your coffee jolt. And, while that Café Mocha can pack in up to 500 calories, a nonfat latte comes in at about 120. So you’re saving your waistline at the same time your protecting your bones.
2) Drink a small glass of OJ with breakfast. It doesn’t get much easier than this and the benefits are amazing! A 6-ounce glass of OJ every morning reduces your risk for stroke (by up to 20%), lowers the “bad” cholesterol called LDLs and boost the good cholesterol called HDLs, thus reducing heart disease risk, lowers colon cancer risk, and reduces blood pressure. A glass of OJ supplies up to 140mg of vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and a phytochemical called D-limonene that detoxifies cancer-causing substances. Not bad for a little cup of juice!
3) Chomp on a carrot. A carrot a day could slash stroke risk by 68%, according to a study from Harvard on almost 90,000 female nurses who ate carrots at least fives times a week. Carotenes in carrots and other orange-colored veggies also lower cancer and heart attack risks. Go for the carrot, not a beta carotene supplement, since it’s the mixture of carotenes, plus the fiber and other nutrients in the carrot that makes for the best healthy snack. Other options: Munch on baby carrots, add grated carrots to a salad or burrito, or add frozen carrots to canned soups.
4) Switch from iceberg to Romaine lettuce. Iceberg is fine, if you like crunchy water. But if you want to get the best nutritional bang for your buck, you can double your nutrients for no extra calories by switching to Romaine or other leaf lettuces. Romaine has twice the fiber, B vitamins, folic acid (a B vitamin that lowers heart disease and cancer risk and prevents birth defects), calcium, potassium and trace minerals as iceberg. It has 7 times the vitamin C and vitamin A. If you want to do yourself an even bigger favor, switch to spinach salads. A salad made with two cups of spinach supplies half your day’s need for folic acid and vitamin C, all of your requirement for vitamin A, and more than 25% of your day’s need for vitamin E, magnesium, and potassium. An equal amount of iceberg doesn’t make a dent your day’s requirements.
5) Eat nuts. Not only are nuts a good source of protein, magnesium, vitamin E, and B vitamins, but recent research shows that a handful of nuts as a snack several times a week lowers heart disease by 35% and cancer risk. The fat in nuts is heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats. High in fat, yet adding nuts to the daily diet helps weight loss. A study from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston found that women on low-calorie diets that included nuts lost just as much weight as women on low-calorie, low-fat diets, but were more likely to keep the weight off long-term. How much do you need? Stick to about an ounce as one serving.
6a) Cook in cast iron. The numbers vary, depending on the study, but somewhere between 20% and 80% of women during the childbearing years are iron deficient. They’re not so deficient that they are anemic, but the symptoms are the same: They’re tired, more susceptible to colds and infections, can’t think clearly, and might even sleep more fitfully. Besides pumping up the iron content of your diet, throw out that expensive cookware and return to Grandma’s cast iron. The iron leaches out of the pot into the food, boosting iron content several fold, especially in acidic foods such as spaghetti sauce and tomato-based soups.
6b) Drink your tea and coffee between meals. Many women have coffee with breakfast, iced tea or coffee with lunch, and a glass of red wine with dinner… and unknowingly are putting themselves at risk for iron deficiency as a result. These beverages contain compounds called tannins that reduce iron absorption by somewhere between 60% and 94%. Women already consume too little iron to meet their needs, placing them at risk for iron deficiency and its symptoms of fatigue, increased susceptibility to colds and infections, muddled thinking, and more. Instead, drink your tea, coffee, and wine between meals. PS. Herbal teas do the same: Peppermint blocks iron by up to 84%, chamomile and others by half.
7) Switch from white to whole wheat bread. Order your turkey sandwich on whole wheat instead of white bread and you’ll boost your intake of just about every vitamin and mineral, plus add a few grams of fiber to your daily routine. Whole wheat bread has four times the fiber, magnesium, and chromium (a mineral that helps regulate blood sugar), and lots more zinc, copper, vitamin E and vitamin B6 than white bread. And, while refined grains are on the hot seat for aggravating diabetes risk, according to a recent Harvard study, whole grains lower your risk for diabetes and stroke, a U of Minnesota study reports that lower colon cancer risk, and a Tufts Study shows they even help you lose weight!
8) Chew gum while cooking. This one sounds silly, but it just might work. Women unconsciously chow down on 100s of calories while cooking meals. They taste the sauce not once, but several times. They grab a bite of last night’s leftovers while rummaging through the fridge for tonight’s meal. They munch on a cookie from the cookie jar while stirring the stir fry. We finish off the scrambled eggs and toast on our children’s plates in the morning. You can put away as many calories in this form of nibbling as you would sitting down to a full meal. So, chew sugarless gum when cooking or drink ice water to keep your fingers out of the food and to satisfy your need to munch.
9) Bring food with you. If you pack your briefcase, purse, glove compartment, diaper bag with healthy snacks, such as baby carrots, apples and oranges, string cheese, and yogurt, you will eat when you’re comfortably hungry not ravenous (by the time you’re ravenous you’ve lost the game and will eat anything and always the wrong stuff), will curb your cravings, will be less likely to wind up by the vending machine with the choice of potato chips or a candy bar as a snack, and will eat fewer calories, fat, and sugar. In the long run, you’ll cut your food costs, lose weight, and boost your concentration and mood.
10) Take a multiple vitamins. Even if you think you eat pretty well, take a moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral anyway. While up to 80% of Americans think they eat pretty well, according to the latest national nutrition survey, only one in every 100 of us meet even minimum standards of a balanced diet. So to hedge your bets…while you continue to try to eat better of course, take a multiple vitamin to fill in the gaps on those days when you eat less-than-perfectly.