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Taking small steps can kick-start a healthier new year

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Amy Gannon Amy Gannon
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Amy Gannon is a registered dietician and an extension specialist for West Virginia University Extension Service's Family Nutrition Programs.

Midnight champagne toasts, watching the ball drop from Times Square and making New Year's Resolutions. All are wonderful traditions and, for most of us, they are all distant memories by now. If you blew your diet with appetizers at a college bowl game party, you may think you're too far off track to stick with your healthy plan. Don't be too hard on yourself. Take time to reflect on what went wrong and set a few realistic goals to get back on track. 

When trying to lose weight, don't go for a quick, easy fix. Avoiding crash diets that promise unrealistic outcomes is your best bet to staying healthy and keeping weight off for many months to come. Eating right will not only help you lose weight, but help you avoid long-term health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high blood cholesterol. 

Choose just a few of the top 10 New Year's Health Tips below, and you'll be well on your way to a healthier body in 2013.

 

  • When eating carbohydrates, choose wisely. Cakes, cookies, soda and sweetened breakfast cereal are bad for your waistline and your heart. Additionally, they provide few nutrients and are usually loaded with calories. 
  • Replace white breads, pastas and other refined flours with whole grains. Foods made from white flour are low in fiber and are more quickly digested than whole grains. Over time, this may cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to rise to unhealthy levels.
  • Don't drink your calories. Calories consumed from beverages won't fill you up. Go with a tall glass of water with lemon, low fat milk and other low-sugar beverages such as green tea or fruit spritzers. 
  • Help reduce your body's inflammation level by choosing anti-inflammatory foods, including salmon, walnuts, tart cherries, olive oil, berries and freshly ground flax seeds.
  • Replace meat with vegetable-based proteins such as beans, several times per week. Beans are a good source of soluble fiber (the type that reduces cholesterol), protein, folate and saponins — a phytochemical that may protect against cancer. 
  • Load up on nutrient-rich fruits and veggies, especially those of the dark green and orange variety. When used to replace higher calorie foods, all fruits and vegetables promote weight loss. However, those that are dark green and orange are jam-packed with antioxidants such as vitamins A and C and give our immune system the boost it needs during cold winter months. 
  • Eat a nutritious breakfast, including at least three of the five food groups every day. People who eat breakfast everyday weigh less than their breakfast-skipping counterparts. Studies suggest that eating breakfast reduces your hunger throughout the day and prevents "grazing." Skip breakfast foods that are high in sugar. Instead aim for higher protein foods such as eggs, low fat cheese and yogurt.  
  • Make snacks count. Consider snacks part of a healthy diet. By choosing whole grains, protein and fruits and vegetables, you can make sure snacks are providing more than just calories to your diet. A good snack idea is 10 almonds with 1/4 cup dried fruit or 1 ounce of low fat cheese and 1 cup of baby carrots. 
  • Watch your portion size. Most of us are accustomed to eating larger portions than we need. Eat from a smaller plate at meals and use measuring cups and spoons to ensure you aren't over-indulging. 
  • Many people want to go green and purchase organic foods. Some studies have shown that organic foods are healthier than non-organic. It's important to balance cost with the necessity for organic. Produce with thin skins, and ones that are not peeled, are the smartest organic purchases. Recently, many consumers have started buying more locally grown foods, too. Locally grown foods often use less pesticides and chemicals, and are purchased fresh, so they are more flavorful and nutrient-rich. 

 

EAT UP

 

Want to incorporate some of these tips into a healthy New Year meal? Try the following recipe, compliments of the American Institute for Cancer Research (http://www.aicr.org/).

Spinach and Clementine Salad

2 lb. Clementines (8-12)
2 lb. baby spinach, washed and dried
4 celery stalks, cut into thin diagonal slices
1/2 cup walnuts pieces, toasted
1 cup red onion, sliced thin
1/4 cup dried cherries or cranberries
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Pinch of sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel Clementines, removing all white pith. Separate segments. Put in a large salad bowl with spinach celery, nuts, onions and berries. Mix well.

Whisk together remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle over salad and serve.

Makes 8 servings. 

Per serving: 195 calories, 12 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat), 19 g. carbohydrate,
6 g. protein, 6 g. dietary fiber, 120 mg. sodium