Take small steps toward better health with these simple eating solutions and good-for-you snacks.

Everyday Choices

Being healthy doesn't mean you have to run 10 miles a day or give up your favorite foods. There are lots of little things you can do to improve your health without drastically changing your lifestyle. Follow these tips to see how making simple changes can increase motivation and maintain balance in your life. Read on for quick and nutritious snack recipes.

Choose Wisely
With all the hype about what to eat these days, it's nearly impossible to get through a meal without feeling guilty--not to mention the pressure from tracking carbs and fat grams. If math is not your forte, stop counting, and repeat after me: "There are no bad foods, just bad choices." These guidelines show that you can enjoy the foods you love while still eating healthfully.

  • Eat smart carbs, such as fiber-rich, whole-wheat breads and pastas. Fiber not only lowers cholesterol, but it also increases satiety and reduces the tendency to overeat. Look in the pasta aisle for 100% whole-wheat semolina spaghetti and other varieties.
  • Get your daily dose of vitamins and antioxidants this cold-and-flu season by eating a combination of at least five fruits and vegetables a day. Add berries to cereal, or make a yogurt-fruit smoothie. Having trouble getting the kids to eat their veggies? Add chopped zucchini and squash to their favorite spaghetti casserole, or drizzle a cheesy sauce over steamed broccoli.
  • Choose nutrient-dense snacks that give you more energy and keep you satisfied throughout the day. Eat a handful of heart-healthy nuts or trail mix instead of reaching for potato chips and candy.

Keep a Food Diary
Most of us are not aware of how much we're eating on a daily basis, according to Dr. John P. Foreyt, a clinical psychologist, expert in diet modification, and professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "In order to change your eating behavior," says Dr. Foreyt, "you have to know what your eating behavior is."

  • Documenting everything you eat in a food diary is one way to observe habits and patterns that you may not otherwise notice. Not surprisingly, many diary keepers find that they are eating more than they should. Though seeing your food summary on paper may be a painful discovery, Dr. Foreyt says it can prompt change. "Self observation raises awareness about daily habits and encourages discipline and control."
  • First, choose a favorite journal or notebook, and write down the general times of all your meals, snacks, and drinks, leaving space for extra nibbles. Take your diary with you to each meal, and simply document what and how much you ate. (Figuring the amount of food on your plate can be tricky, so turn the page for guidelines on serving sizes before estimating.) After one week, review your diary, and take inventory. Then, make moderate changes, such as eating one more vegetable or walking 20 more minutes a day.

Healthy Benefits

  • A diet moderate in monounsaturated fat, such as that found in nuts and peanut butter, and low in saturated fat helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Walking just 20 minutes burns about 100 calories.
  • As part of a healthy weight-loss plan, research indicates that increasing your dairy servings to three or four a day can help you lose significantly more body fat than by cutting calories alone.

How Do Your Servings Size Up?
Did you know that a jumbo bagel may equal up to 6 servings of bread? Let's face it, many of us are overeating simply because our portions are too big. In fact, we've become so accustomed to larger serving sizes that feeling full requires more food--and unwanted calories. The good news is that we can easily adapt to smaller serving sizes and still feel satisfied if we practice a little portion control.

  • Grains and breads (6 to 11 servings a day): 1/2 cup cooked cereal, brown rice, or whole-wheat pasta; 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal; 1 slice sandwich bread
  • Meats and other proteins (2 to 3 servings a day): 1 (2- to 3-ounce) chicken breast or lean pork chop (about the size of the palm of your hand); 1 egg; 1/2 cup cooked beans; 1/3 cup nuts; 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • Vegetables (3 to 5 servings a day): 1 cup raw leafy vegetables; 1/2 cup cooked vegetables; 4 grilled asparagus spears; 3/4 cup vegetable juice
  • Fruits (2 to 4 servings a day): 1 small apple, banana, or other whole fruit; 1/2 cup berries; 3/4 cup 100% fruit juice
  • Dairy (2 to 3 servings a day): 1 cup low-fat milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese; 1 (1.5-ounce) slice cheese

Note: Number of servings depends on individual calorie needs and activity levels.

This article is from the January 2005 issue of Southern Living.