By Joy Saudargas, MA, RD, LDN
When winter turns into spring, we use it as the perfect excuse to throw open the windows, let fresh air in and start cleaning our homes from top to bottom. It’s out with the old dust and germs of the winter and in with the fresh, clean start of spring.
But it isn’t just your home that can benefit from spring cleaning – your diet can too. The cold, harsh winter may have led you to seek comfort and warmth through less-than-healthy food. But now that winter is over and flowers are beginning to bloom, it’s time to clean out that junk from your diet and start feeling as fresh as a daisy.
Here are five ways you can clean up your diet this spring.
1. Ditch Sugar
Start your diet clean-up by getting rid of added sugar, which is the sugar added to processed foods and drinks. The major sources of added sugars are candy, cakes, regular soda, cookies, pies, fruit drinks and juices, and milk products like ice cream and yogurt.
The reason added sugar should be slowly cut out of your diet is because they add many calories without contributing any nutrients, which can lead to weight gain and increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Added sugar can sometimes hide in foods you wouldn’t expect, like tomato sauce, low-fat salad dressings and more, which is why it’s important to scan the nutritional facts and ingredient lists on packaged foods. You’ll know the food contains added sugar if you see these words in the ingredient list:
- Any word that ends in “ose,” like sucrose or maltose
- High fructose corn syrup
- Cane sugar
- Raw sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Fruit juice concentrates
2. Get Colorful
One of the telltale signs that spring is here is the color you see outside – flowers and trees are coming back to life with beautiful blooms and lush greens. Match your cleaned up diet to the colors outside by choosing fruits and vegetables with lots of color. Eating a rainbow of produce will ensure you’re loading up on essential vitamins, nutrients and fiber. The pigments that give your fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors are vital antioxidants, disease-fighting compounds.
Try to get three or more colors in each of your daily meals and one or two colors in your snacks. Some ideas include eggs scrambled with spinach and a red bell pepper, shredded carrots and arugula on your sandwich, blending blueberries and blackberries into smoothies, or adding apricots and strawberries to a green salad.
3. Go Raw
Fruits and vegetables in season are at their peak, which means they taste fresh and crisp right now, take advantage of that by consuming them raw rather than cooking them down. Studies have found that cooking fruits and veggies increases the amount of calories your body absorbs from your food because the heat breaks down its cell membranes – this makes more calories available to absorb. Cooking them also makes digestion easier, leading you to burn less calories when you eat.
When you eat raw food, it tends to require extra chewing, which burns more calories and gives your brain a better chance to recognize you’re full, making you less likely to overeat.
Do this by wrapping your sandwich in a lettuce or collard green wrap instead of bread or a tortilla, snacking on baby carrots or raw nuts, topping your yogurt or oatmeal with berries, or replacing your steamed broccoli side dish with the raw variety.
4. Drink More
Drinking water is one of the most important things you can do throughout the day to improve your overall health – when you’re not drinking enough water, it can slow down your metabolism, leaving you feeling fatigued, hungry and constipated. If the spring weather inspires you to get outside and get more active, you’ll need to drink more water to replenish what you lose through sweating.
5. Spend Some Quality Time in the Kitchen
As nice as it is to be served a delicious meal at a restaurant, it can get expensive and play a big role in weight gain. Studies have found that people tend to eat nearly 300 more calories and 16 extra grams of fat on the days they eat out.
When you take the time to prepare your own meal, you’re in complete control of what ingredients go in the dish as well as the portion size, which directly affects how many calories you consume.
About the Author
Joy Saudargas, MA, RD, LDN
Joy specializes in medical nutrition therapy. One of her favorite things about being a Registered Dietitian at Crozer-Keystone Health System is the sense of community and togetherness she experiences within the system.
To schedule a nutrition appointment, please call 800-254-3258.