12 Teeny-Tiny Tweaks That Can Make Your Diet Healthier

Nudge yourself toward better food choices

Stephanie Thurrott
Dec 20, 2020 · 6 min read
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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

There must be people who love to follow complicated rules, because a lot of trendy diets are full of them. With Whole 30 you cut out entire categories of food, then painstakingly add them back in. With the Military diet, you follow a rigid meal plan for three days out of seven. One meal is just plain tuna, plain toast, and coffee — seriously? The Atkins diet’s restrictive list of acceptable foods includes seven different ways you can cook eggs, I suppose to make it seem like there’s more you can eat.

I just want to eat a little bit better. I want to maintain my weight, keep my brain healthy, and get the nutrients I need. So I dug into the research.

Here are 12 little changes that can make a big difference in your diet.

When you order pizza, get a salad too

At the end of the week, it’s nice to take a break from cooking and get takeout or delivery. And I’m a big fan of a nice thin-crust pizza topped with burn-your-mouth melted cheese. But let’s face it, pizza is mostly processed carbohydrates and fat. You don’t have to give it up, but if you add a salad to your order, you can scale back your pizza and still enjoy it. Plus, you’re getting more vegetables.

Get your groceries delivered

More and more grocery stores now offer delivery or curbside pickup, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. When you order online, it’s easier to stick to what you need. You can pull out a few favorite recipes — or try something new — and add the ingredients to your order. You can easily check to see if you’re out of something. And, you avoid those end-of-aisle impulse buys that tempt you when you shop in person. You’re also a lot less likely to toss a candy bar in a virtual cart!

Make your meat a little bit smaller

You don’t have to go 100% plant-based to improve your diet. Even the top-rated Mediterranean diet includes some meat. But take a look at your portion size. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a serving of meat is three ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards. You probably throw a six- or eight-ounce steak or pork chop on your plate — that’s easily double what the AHA recommends. If you scale back the size, you can still enjoy eating meat and make your meal healthier.

Feed your gut bacteria

Your gut is full of bacteria. You want that bacteria to be the healthy kind that can help you digest food, kill cells that can cause disease, and make vitamins. Eat more of the foods that keep that bacteria strong and healthy. It’s not that hard — garlic and onions top the list.

Keep track of what you’re eating

There are probably some hidden calories in your diet that you could easily trim, even if you think you’re making healthy choices. I found about 500 calories to cut from my diet every day.

You don’t have to obsess over measuring every tablespoon and weighing every ounce. According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, jotting down what you’re eating on paper is enough to trigger behavioral changes that can lead to weight loss,

Batch up some brown rice

Adults need six to eight ounces of grains a week, and at least half of them should be whole grains. Most of us eat enough grains, but we should eat more whole grains and less refined grains. You can make a batch of brown rice and have it handy to use whenever your meal could stand a whole-grain boost. Add it to soup, use it as a base for a grain bowl, or eat it as a side dish with Mexican food like burritos or enchiladas.

Make one more meal a week at home

When you cook your own food, it’s usually healthier than the food you buy from restaurants. A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reviewed the diets of almost 12,000 people. It found that people who cooked at home ate more fruits and vegetables, got more vitamin C, and were less likely to be overweight.

If you’re in a takeout or delivery habit, start small — swap out one prepared meal a week for something you make at home.

Get your vitamin D

This one’s a bit tricky. Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium and supports your immune system. You can get vitamin D in your diet but it’s tough to get enough unless you eat a lot of fish. There are good amounts of vitamin D in certain types of fish and mushrooms, dairy foods, soy and almond milk, fortified orange juice, and hard-boiled eggs. You can also get vitamin D from exposing your skin to the sun, but that’s tough in northern climates, especially in the winter. Your best option might be a supplement.

Eat some spinach

Green leafy veggies like spinach are nutrient powerhouses. Spinach contains a lot of vitamins A and K, beta-carotene, and lutein, and it’s low in calories. Plus, it’s versatile. You can make a salad with raw spinach, sauté it as a side dish, or chop it and add it to omelets, soups, and stir-fries. Still not a fan? Pick another veggie to cook creatively and add to your diet.

Phase out sugary drinks

We’ve known for a long time that soft drinks aren’t a great choice nutritionally. Back in 1942, the American Medical Association recommended that people reduce added sugar in their diets, and mentioned soft drinks as something to limit.

But judging from the size of the soft-drink section at the supermarket near me, a lot of people still drink soda. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people who drink soft drinks are more likely to consume extra calories, crowd out other nutrients, and develop diabetes.

And scale back the sugar in your coffee drinks, too. Beverages like a Starbucks Grande Java Chip Frappucino can pack 60 grams of sugar.

Eat from a smaller plate

Eating from a smaller plate can help you rein in the amount you eat. Research published in the International Journal of Obesity reports that people overestimate portion sizes on plates that have wider rims. Reach for a salad plate instead of a dinner plate if you’re trying to lose weight.

Snack on popcorn

Popcorn is a whole grain! And it’s got some fiber! If you’re looking for a crunchy snack, it’s not a bad choice. It’s lower in calories and fat than most packaged chips. To keep it healthy, pop it at home on your stovetop or buy air-popped popcorn so you’re not getting all the fat, sugar, and salt that comes with most packaged popcorn.

Bonus tip: Improve your sleep

It’s not exactly a diet tip, but it’s important. Not getting enough quality sleep can trigger changes in hunger and in what you eat. A meta-analysis published in 2019 in Sleep Medicine Reviews examined 41 sleep studies. It found that people whose sleep was restricted felt hungrier, consumed more calories, gained weight, were less sensitive to insulin, and saw changes in their brain activity in response to food.

The bottom line

You don’t have to drastically overhaul your diet to eat healthier. You’re not likely to stick with huge changes in the long haul, anyway. Try these teeny-tiny tweaks and nudge yourself toward better food choices.

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Thanks to Michelle Loucadoux, MBA, Alice Goldbloom, and Kristina Segarra

Stephanie Thurrott

Written by

I write stories that make our lives better. I learn something with everything I write, and I hope you do too. Get my newsletter: stephaniethurrott.com/medium

In Fitness And In Health

A fast-growing health and fitness community dedicated to sharing knowledge, lessons, and suggestions to living happier, healthier lives.

Stephanie Thurrott

Written by

I write stories that make our lives better. I learn something with everything I write, and I hope you do too. Get my newsletter: stephaniethurrott.com/medium

In Fitness And In Health

A fast-growing health and fitness community dedicated to sharing knowledge, lessons, and suggestions to living happier, healthier lives.

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