How much junk food do you eat a day? If you’re like the average American, almost 60% of your calories are coming from ultra-processed food loaded with excess sugar, salt, and fat, according to a recent study by Tufts University and the University of Sao Paulo.
While most experts agree that an occasional treat causes little harm in an otherwise balanced diet, these numbers are cause for concern. Large amounts of processed food can lead to weight gain, as well as increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions.
Turn your diet around starting today. Follow these guidelines for making smarter choices about what you eat and drink.
Cutting Back on Sugar
1. Switch to water. Soda consumption is declining, but sugary drinks are still the single largest source of calories for the average American. Drink water with a slice of lime or brew a cup of tea.
2. Rethink your coffee. How much sugar are you putting in your coffee? Cut the amount in half each week. After a while, you probably won’t even notice the difference.
3. Read your cereal box. A lot of breakfast cereals don’t live up to their healthy names. Check the labels for how much added sugar they contain.
4. Serve fruit. You can satisfy your sweet tooth without candy and cookies. Snack on apples and peanut butter. Enjoy figs and cheese for dessert.
5. Plan ahead. It’s easier to resist sweets if you’re already full. Eat balanced meals, and carry nutritious snacks around with you. Decide in advance which treats you enjoy most so you can save up your sugar calories for a cannoli or an ice cream cone.
6. Go cold turkey. Maybe you want to give up refined sugar entirely. Experts say the cravings pass in about 72 hours, so you’ll be in good shape if you can outlast the temporary discomfort.
Eating Fewer Processed Foods
1. Shop the perimeter of the store. The inner aisles of most supermarkets are full of chips, frozen pizzas, and other foods with lots of unhealthy ingredients. Fill your cart with produce and low-fat dairy and meat products instead.
2. Skip diet foods. Beware of low-fat and no-fat versions of junk foods. They often add more sugar and salt to restore the flavor.
3. Learn quick recipes. Fast food and frozen dinners come in handy for busy families, but you can prepare healthy meals just as quickly. Pick up a cookbook or browse online for ideas.
4. Experiment more. If you’ve been eating instant macaroni and cheese for years, you may not realize all the alternatives available. Sample a wholesome new food each week like quinoa or tempeh.
Eating More Whole Foods
1. Watch portion sizes. The whole foods Americans eat most are meat, fruit, and dairy products. If you’re trying to lose weight, ensure you limit your portion sizes of meat to 4 ounces or less, and choose lean cuts of meat and low-fat or no-fat dairy products.
2. Focus on vegetables and fruit. Most produce is high in nutrients and low in calories, so aim for at least 5 servings a day. Eating whole fruit rather than juice will provide more fiber and fewer calories.
3. Be selective. You may be surprised by how processed or unprocessed some foods really are. Shop carefully, and stay informed. For example, frozen edamame typically has far more natural ingredients than frozen soy burgers.
What you eat most of the time has a big impact on your overall health and wellbeing. Make whole foods that are low in sugar the mainstay of your diet.