When it comes to diet, it’s usually the little things that count the most. By making small tweaks in your diet starting today – whether it’s while at the supermarket shopping, getting dinner with friends, or grabbing a quick lunch at work – seemingly trivial choices can add up to big results, distinguishing you from those who just eat and those who eat wisely. These tips and tricks won’t change your life or your weight overnight, but they will make you a healthier, happier, and smarter person in the long run. Here, we’ve compiled advice from dietitians and nutrition experts on the easiest hacks to boost your body and your diet, and that you can start doing right now.
Eat More Beets
If you’re going to add one vegetable to your diet right now, Clark says to make it beets. “Eat beets and drink the juice,” says Clark. “Rich in nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator, beets can be added to salads, roasted (if fresh and raw), or blended into smoothies.”
Beets are getting a lot of attention these days: Research has found that drinking beet juice before a high-intensity workout can improve athletic performance and lower your blood pressure thanks to its nitrates, which promote blood flow and oxygen to the muscles. Another study found that beet juice gave athletes sharper brains (a skill that would help make quick choices on the court) by feeding the brain with oxygen.
Head to the store, pick up a bottle of Kefir, and start drinking it daily, says Dr. Kris Clark, director of sports nutrition at Penn State. A fermented liquid yogurt-type of drink containing live cultures, Kefir can be used instead of milk on cereal, as part of a smoothie, or consumed straight from the bottle. “No product on the market exists with higher levels of probiotics — 12 or more depending on the product chosen,” Clark says. “Probiotics are key ingredients for promoting optimal gut health, the headquarters of immune function.”
Studies have shown that kefir can diversify your gut bacteria, fight off bad bacteria, and boost your immune system. It’s also packed with nutrients (including B vitamins, calcium, and protein) that can strengthen your bones and improve digestion (especially if you’re lactose intolerant). It’s no surprise that kefir is said to derive from the Turkish word keif — or “good feeling.”
But if the drink isn’t to your taste, there’s still ways you can maintain a solid microbiome. “Kefir, pickles, yogurt, and sauerkraut all have healthy bacteria to help your gut,” says Pegha Jalali, a registered dietitian at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Eat for 12 Hours a Day
Starting today or tomorrow, deciding when you’ll eat is a small change that can truly help your diet. “Try to eat for only 10-12 hours a day,” says Jalali. “ When you eat all day, from 7 a.m. till 10 p.m., your body will be secreting insulin all day, which can inhibit fat burning.” Jalali often recommends her clients to choose a set time to adhere to (like only eating from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and never before that time frame, or after). A recent animal study from the Salk Institute found that eating within a 12-hour window could help with losing weight and fighting high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes. That’s because eating can trigger your body clock, also referred to as circadian rhythm, which in turn affects things like how your body metabolizes.
When doing this, it’s still important to eat small amounts frequently throughout the day rather than large meals spaced out from breakfast to dinner. For example, Dr. Jacqueline Buell suggests snacking on nuts — which are very healthy but can add a huge amount of calories when overeaten. “Spread them out over the day in a moderate amount,” says Dr. Buell.
Focus on Sleep
Diet, sleep, and stress are all connected. Eating healthy means nothing if you’re crashing into bed at 2 a.m. and getting up two hours later for work. And Jalali says these outside factors are just as important for staying healthy as your daily food choices. “It’s not only what you eat that affects your weight, metabolism, and health,” she says. “Quantity and quality of sleep and stress levels play a huge part.” How much you sleep or how stressed you are can often have big effects on the food choices you make during the day. A study from UCLA found that when stressed, we often reach for sugary drinks or foods because of the immediate relief in panic and anxiety they provide — without considering how they damage our brains and bodies later on. And another study suggests that pulling an all-nighter can make your brain crave more food than normal the next day, leading to unhealthy bingeing. To take charge today, start setting aside time for naps and workouts to de-stress, or give yourself a hard deadline for finishing projects and leaving the office, in addition to making diet changes.
Buy Pre-Cut Vegetables
If you’re willing to shell out a few extra cents, choose the package of fruits and vegetables at your supermarket that are pre-cut. It may be just your mind playing tricks on you, but you’ll find yourself more tempted to eat them (i.e. tomorrow) if the work’s been done for you. “You’ll eat them faster and more consistently if you eliminate the work of cutting them up,” says Dr. Clark. And to answer the concern that pre-cut vegetables aren’t as healthy as buying them whole, nutritionists at the Cleveland Clinic say that’s just not true — as long as those vegetables are still fresh. Some things to watch out for, though, when buying pre-cut veggies include making sure they’re still raw (meaning they haven’t been pre-cooked), cold (kept in the chilly aisle), fresh (according to a best-before label), and still contain their water (if the veggies have a white outer layer, that’s a sign it’s moisture is drying up, along with their nutrients).
Start responding to your sweet tooth or snack craving with smart choices. “If you have a sweet tooth and can’t resist, try the new whole grain Rice Krispy treats or single serve (only one in a package) whole grain Pop Tarts,” says Dr. Clark. These small changes when at the store will make a huge difference in your body. Another tip: Jalali suggests that when it comes to sweets, you can indulge, but control your food portions. “If you want dessert, eat the real thing (real ice cream, real chocolate) versus eating frozen yogurt or a granola bar,” she says. “Having a smaller amount of real food can help you avoid binging on processed foods.”
Dr. Clark suggests craisins as a good alternative sweet snack. “ Snack on craisins – dried cranberries that are a potent source of vitamin C, easy to keep in the car, office drawers, or gym bags,” she says. “They’re 100 percent carbohydrates, so they’re a great source of energy when you need a fast pick-me-up.” Make sure the craisins you choose have no added sugar.
Pay More for Your Meal
We make food choices every day, whether looking for a lunch place or browsing Seamless for dinner. Jalali says quality always benefits over quantity, and if the higher prices of organic foods don’t immediately reflect that, the benefits on your health surely will. “People should be concerned with the quality of their meat, eggs, dairy, fish, produce,” says Jalali. “You are what you eat, and you are in essence what your eat eats.” That means if a cow is stressed, fed a ton of antibiotics, and raised on cheap soy or corn feeds, then its not going to produce good beef for your consumption. And chickens fed flax seeds produce eggs with Omega 3 (which benefit you, and save you from turning to expensive supplements whose cost adds up), she adds. “Consumers will argue that they cannot afford to eat organic, but a serving of beef is only 3 ounces of meat, which is a lot less than what most people will eat or buy,” Jalali says. “Ideally, your plate should be filled with veggies (non starchy) and supplemented with 3 ounces of protein.”