David L. Katz, MD
Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
One question I'm frequently asked is "What's the secret to a healthy diet?" The answer isn't all that mysterious. You just have to keep some basic guidelines in mind, beginning with:

1. Use smaller plates.
Whether you're already trim or trying to lose weight, one of the best things you can do for your waistline and your health is to downsize your dishware. Cornell University nutrition researcher Brian Wansink, PhD, has found that switching from a 12-inch to a ten-inch plate leads people to eat 22 percent fewer calories. If you downsized only your dinner plate, you'd be eliminating more than 5,000 calories a month from your diet. It really is that simple.

2. Make half of every meal fruits or vegetables.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends five to nine servings of produce a day, but if you follow my rule, you won't have to count. At breakfast, fill your bowl halfway with cereal, then top it off with berries or sliced banana. At lunch, eat a smaller—or half—sandwich, and add two pieces of fruit. At dinner, make sure your plate is at least 50 percent salad, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, or whatever veggie you choose. This ensures that you get enough nutrients and automatically reduces the amount of fat and calories you consume (provided you don't go crazy with fatty dressings and toppings).

3. Don't eat on the run.
The first problem with grabbing and gulping is that it usually means fast food. And even a smallish fast food lunch (small burger, medium fries, diet soda) delivers around 800 calories—more than the average woman would want to get at dinner. When we eat on the go, our brains tend to register the food as a snack—regardless of how many calories we consume—leading us to overeat at our next meal.

4. The shorter the ingredient list, the better.
Most of the healthiest foods have only one ingredient: Think broccoli, spinach, blueberries, etc. Longer lists generally mean more sugar, more salt, more artificial flavors. More unhealthy stuff.

5. Nutritious food doesn't have to be expensive.
Some colleagues and I recently completed a study in Independence, Missouri, comparing prices between a diverse list of healthy grocery items and a list of less nutritious ones. (This was part of a program we've developed—see NutritionDetectives.com—to help kids make healthier choices about what to eat.) With rare exception, we found that the smart choices cost no more. In fact, there was a potential small savings associated with the healthy selections. And that's without considering such economical options as occasionally substituting beans or lentils for meat, or making a sandwich at home rather than spending money at a restaurant.

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.

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