The National Center For Health Statistics reports that 49.1% of U.S. adults tried to lose weight in the last 12 months, 56.4% of which were women and 41.7 of which were men. Further, the percentage of adults who tried to lose weight increased with family income and with weight status category. The methods people used to lose weight varied from exercising (62.9%), and eating less food (62.9%), and consuming more fruits, vegetables, and salads (50.4%).
With obesity levels at almost 40% of adults in the United States, weight loss is a big deal. For most people, there is also a recognition that weight loss is synonymous with better health. From decreased heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other health conditions, losing weight dramatically improves our health. However, that does mean it is easy.
Kathryn Ross, who is an assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions has noted that people who experience significant weight loss tend to put on between one third and one half of the pounds they shed within a year of their initial success.
She explains, “While there is a lot of individual variability – some people can maintain their weight and even some who were able to keep losing – on average, this isn’t the case. People start regaining weight right away.”
So where does this leave us? Just what can we do to start healthy eating habits and actually keep them?
Switch From Processed To Produce
Surprisingly, processed foods account for 25-60% of the American diet. With a dizzying array of packaged, processed, and pre-prepared options, it seems like it is all too easy to opt for the quick fix. But chemically processed foods, also called ultra-processed foods, are typically incredibly high in sugar, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates and trans fats – all things your body doesn’t really need.
This is also why processed foods are a major contributor to worldwide levels of obesity and illness. With their added sweeteners and flavors these foods are like the nutritional freeloaders of our diet – they contribute way too many calories without offering much (if any) nutritional value.
One study, of more than 100,000 adults, found that eating 10% more ultra-processed foods was associated with more than a 10% increase in the risks of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disorders. And this conclusion was reached after accounting for saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and fiber intake.
Another study, involving almost 20,000 adults, found that eating more than 4 servings of processed food daily was linked with an increased risk of all types of mortality. For each additional serving, that figure increased by 18%.
So, the next time your reach for the ready-made meal, the quick bag of chips, the “healthy” breakfast cereal, the reconstituted meat, or the tasty looking granola bar, instead stop and head toward the produce section.
Trade Sodium For Potassium
Sodium and potassium are necessary minerals to regulate muscle contraction, body temperature and nerve responses. However, too much sodium and not enough potassium can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Because as a country we tend to consume high levels of processed foods that are high in sodium, we get way more than we need, and this is reflected in our levels of hypertension, heart disease and stroke.
But there is also a simple fix. By shifting to foods that are high in potassium, we can not only begin to regulate our sodium-potassium balance, but also lower your sodium levels. Potassium is found in vegetables, fruit, seafood, and dairy products. Other good sources of potassium include leafy greens, sweet potatoes, beans, and bananas; dairy products, such as yogurt; and seafood, such as salmon and clams.
Another simple fix is to stop the next time you reach for the salt shaker, and instead consider using spices, such as garlic, turmeric, paprika, pepper, or vinegar or lemon juice for flavor. Not only does this reduce your sodium intake, many come with their own health benefits.
Trade Carbonation For Hydration
While it can seem so easy to reach for a soda, energy drink, or sweetened water, we consume way more sugar in soft drinks than we realize. According to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC), sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) or sugary drinks are the leading sources of added sugars in the American diet.
For this reason, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain/obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis.
Perhaps even more concerning, drinking SSBs regularly is associated with a variety of other not so healthy behaviors, such as smoking, not getting enough sleep, not exercising, eating fast food, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, and even too much screen time.
And if it is hydration you are looking for, anything over 6% sugar content takes longer to absorb from the stomach, meaning, it won’t offer much hydration effect. What’s a better option? No surprise here – just plain water.
Go From Saturated Fats To Omega Fats
There are fats and then there are fats. Unhealthful fats, like trans fats, saturated fats, or refined seed and vegetable oils are the economy version in the fat department. While they are cheap to use and last a long time, they also increase inflammation, raise bad cholesterol levels, and decrease good cholesterol levels.
Even more, eating trans fats is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. In one 2019 study, a 2% increase in energy intake from trans fats is linked with a 23% increase in cardiovascular risk.
Omega fats, on the other hand, are unsaturated, and because our body cannot produce them, are considered “essential fats”. Some examples are coconut oil, olive oil, and oils found in raw nuts and seeds.
Because omega fats improve heart health, support mental health, stave off dementia, reduce weight, decrease liver fat, support brain development, decrease inflammation, promote bone health and prevent asthma, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating at least two portions of oily fish, per week, which is rich in the omega-3s EPA and DHA, as well as increasing consumption of olive oil, coconut oil and raw nuts, while decreasing consumption of trans fats.
Eating healthy in today’s world takes consistent and conscious effort, but by choosing produce over-processed foods, incorporating more potassium in your diet, shifting from carbonated beverages to water, and trading out trans fats for omega fats, you can make a significant shift toward a healthier diet.