Keeping yourself up to scratch on the latest nutrition news is nearly impossible if you’re not a health professional – and you might find yourself stressing over what to prioritize as you try to maintain a balanced diet.
While this is by no means a master list, Cooking Light’s 30th anniversary issue has taken a look at which approaches and tips have stood the test of time. Wherever you are in your own health journey, these nutrition tips from our editors are great starting points for anyone looking to improve their nutrition.1) Add, Don't Subtract
Gone are the days where healthy eating focused on what you should stay away from—currently, we’re focusing on all of the fresh, delicious, and interesting foods you should be eating, such as avocados, beets, mussels, fried eggs, kimchi, and artisanal salumi. Reach for foods instead of limiting yourself: Healthy eating is a celebration of color, variety, balance, and the intrinsic pleasures of food that help you feel good. And if you approach your meals with this mindset, you’ll be a healthier – and happier – cook.2) Stock Your Pantry with Healthy Convenience Items
Staple items like unsalted canned beans and tomatoes, precooked unseasoned brown rice, and unsalted chicken stock are the hardest working convenience heroes of a healthy kitchen. You can pepper in fresh ingredients, like a touch of citrus or herbs, to change up how you enjoy them.3) Reduce Your Meat Intake
It’s proven to help your body’s health and also the health of the planet. We’re not saying you need to go vegan or vegetarian for the rest of your life, but incorporating a Meatless Monday and Wednesday into your week will help you to consume more produce. Another tip? Treat your lean meats as a garnish rather than the center of the plate. When you do use meat as your main meal, use the 50/25/25 rule to keep portions in check: half the plate devoted to vegetables and fruit and a quarter each to starch and protein.4) Use Fat Where It’ll Have the Biggest Impact
If you’re cutting back on saturated fat, plan to use it where it counts. If you’re making a potpie or a glorious holiday pie, put the butter into your crust – your filling will be just as delicious without it.5) Whole Foods, Whole Foods, Whole Foods
Actively choose whole grains; use fresh and frozen produce; and purchase fresh fish, meat, and poultry instead of seeking out packaged, pre-seasoned options. You’ll reap more vitamins and antioxidants from your meal and nix the excess sodium.6) Work on Your Gut Health
Science is uncovering more potential benefits to having a thriving gut microbiome (the bacterial community in your GI tract): including a lower risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, depression, and more. Put more of the good bugs into your gut by eating probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt and kefir, and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.
And be sure to fuel your gut with plenty of prebiotics (food for probiotics), including whole wheat, garlic, onions, asparagus, and leeks. So what's bad for your gut health? It's not surprising, but try to avoid artificial sweeteners and highly-processed foods, and excess sugar.7) Stop Stressing About Dietary Cholesterol
We've recently removed it from the numbers we report with our Cooking Light recipes. The link between the cholesterol you consume and the cholesterol that ends up in your blood is not as direct as once thought. The USDA's 2015 Dietary Guidelines removed the daily cholesterol cap in favor of advising that you "eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible". Bottom line: If you eat an overall healthy diet that goes easy on foods high in saturated fat, you shouldn't have to worry.8) Eat a Savory Breakfast
Many sweet breakfast options – pancakes, doughnuts, pastries – are full of refined carbs and added sugars. Even wholesome foods like steel-cut oats and whole-grain toast can quickly take a turn for the worse if you pile on jam, syrup, or honey. The USDA recommends limiting added sugars to 10 percent of daily calories—that's 12.5 teaspoons for a 2,000-calorie diet. Start your day savory with a veggie omelet or a hearty breakfast salad, and you're much more likely to stick to that goal.9) Invest in Seasonal Produce
In-season produce is a much better option than out-of-season produce and has often been sourced locally versus traveling from far away. There are also more vitamins and antioxidants when veggies are eaten at their peak and prime.10) Use Salt…Wisely
Do you ever think about where your salt is going? Flaked salt, for example, hits your palate first when it’s dusted over a plated salad, meaning you could use less and still enjoy a salty flavor. Cut back on salts in hidden areas that you often don’t think about – like marinades or breading–and choose to lightly salt the final product instead.