Spring Clean Your Diet: Tips to Kick Off a Healthy Spring
Never mind the all-or-nothing New Year’s resolution crash diet, which sticks only about 10 percent of the time. Instead, deep-clean your health routine with these moderate changes that can have lasting impact.
Makeover the pantry
First, sweep out processed foods from your kitchen or desk drawer. Look for sugar and salt in the ingredients list, says Bethany Thayer, registered dietitian and director of Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion & Disease Prevention. “The less natural the food is, the more likely it’s been stripped of nutrients and has too much added sugar and salt,” Thayer says.
As you scan ingredients, don’t just look for the word “sugar,” Thayer advises. Food manufacturers use dozens of names for sweeteners, sometimes three or four in a single list. Sugar stand-ins include the obvious, such as high-fructose corn syrup, as well as innocent-sounding terms, including brown rice syrup, agave nectar or evaporated cane juice.
When restocking your kitchen with less-processed options, place them front and center. “Place healthy foods at eye level or out on your counter. The foods you see after a long day at work are what you’re likely to reach for,” Thayer says.
Refresh your menu
Next, add fruits and vegetables to your daily fare. It’s a simple way to fill up on high-fiber, vitamin-rich food while crowding out the empty calories of processed choices. With asparagus, strawberries and Michigan’s famous morel mushrooms in season, spring is the perfect time to switch. Keep it going in summer with collard and mustard greens, bell peppers, carrots and cherries. Fall brings apples, cranberries and squashes.
No need to skip your favorites when the temperature dips and they’re out of season. “You can enjoy fruits and veggies any time of year if you buy canned or frozen,” Thayer says. “Just make sure there’s no added sodium, syrups or sauces.”
Grow new habits
You’re buying more natural foods, and your diet bursts with fresh produce. Now retrain your taste buds. “This time of year, people talk about juice cleanses, but that’s not a good idea,” says Thayer, who explains that fasts and detoxes mean missing out on nutrients your body needs, and people’s healthy livers can handle detoxifying just fine. Instead, wean yourself off sugar and salt, which can limit your ability to taste other flavors. “Get more creative with spices and herbs,” she suggests. “Reduce sugar with cinnamon and nutmeg, and try oregano, sage, rosemary and/or thyme instead of salt.”
Sugars often hide in soda or juice, which are prime sources of empty calories and provide no nutrients. Switch to flavorful beverages that don’t rely on sweeteners. For example, sip from a water bottle infused with berries, cucumbers or mint, or stir vanilla extract into your coffee.
Try Veggies for Breakfast
Take advantage of the day’s first meal to squeeze more nutrients into your diet. Instead of plain scrambled eggs, stir-fry kale, broccoli and onion and add an egg for protein. Whip up a smoothie packed with apples, carrots, beets and spinach. Top your toast with avocado, and layer on tomato and cucumber slices. If you can’t pass up pancakes, fold in canned pumpkin, carrots or sweet potato, with a bit of maple syrup for dipping.