The Way to Eat: Diet Tweaks That Make a Difference
All it takes is 10 minutes here and there to make a dramatic change for the better in your diet.
By David L. Katz, MD
Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
There are two ways to improve the quality of what you eat: You could study nutrition theory thoroughly, abandon most of what you've been doing until now, and retool your diet from stem to stern. Or you could keep things simple by making just one small change at a time.
Take breakfast, for example. Sitting down to one—if you don't already—can be your first ten-minute intervention. Numerous studies have found that skipping breakfast is linked to overweight and obesity. Women seem to be especially responsive to the benefits: A study of 4,218 adults found that eating breakfast meant that women—but not men—were far more likely to have a body mass index under 25, putting them comfortably in the healthy weight category.
If you do eat breakfast, then the next change is even simpler. When you're at the supermarket, spend some time picking out a whole grain cereal—look for one that delivers about five grams of fiber per serving. (You can save time by going with one of my favorites—cereals by Nature's Path, Kashi, and Barbara's Bakery.) Then buy some skim milk and fruit. Now you have a meal that takes all of 60 seconds to prepare yet delivers protein, complex carbohydrates, and a hearty dose of fiber, calcium, and antioxidants. A whole grain breakfast seems to have special benefits. Research published earlier this year found that women who got at least one serving of whole grains a day—a cup of whole grain cold cereal, for example, or one slice of whole grain bread—weighed less and had slimmer waists than those who ate none. Remarkably, more than two-thirds of the 2,000-plus women in the study failed to get that crucial serving.
For many people, dinner is the place to cut corners. Cooking a meal at the end of a long day sounds daunting, but it may not be as challenging as you think. A study out of UCLA suggests that putting together a home-cooked dinner on average takes only about ten minutes more of hands-on time than using mainly prepackaged dishes. If you go to the store with a few recipes in mind, you'll have what you need at your fingertips each evening. A dinner of grilled fresh fish with a light citrus marinade (orange juice, olive oil, and dill), steamed green beans, whole grain bread with herb-infused olive oil for dipping, mixed green salad, glass of wine, and a square of dark chocolate for dessert would actually take less time to prepare than a frozen pizza.
Most important, the dishes you make will be much healthier. Processed food, fast food, and takeout often have too much salt and sugar. The fish dinner I described above contains most of the items that make up the "polymeal"—a collection of foods (fish, almonds, wine, dark chocolate, garlic, fruits, and vegetables) that researchers have suggested can lower heart disease risk by 76 percent.
Take 10 Minutes for Breakfast
A whole grain cereal with fruit and skim milk adds up to a healthy dose of fiber, loads of calcium and antioxidants, and protection against weight gain.
Take 10 Minutes for Lunch
You'll save not only money by making a sandwich at home but hundreds of calories over the typical fast food fare. And you'll gain a big nutritional boost.
Take 10 Minutes for Dinner Believe it or not, research suggests it takes on average only ten minutes more of hands-on time to prepare an evening meal from scratch compared with using only prepackaged dishes.