Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Clean your Diet

By August McLaughlin from

Spring isn't just a season -- it's an action. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "spring" as "to grow, to begin or come into being."

The season is named for the flowers and plants springing from the ground and the renewal of life after months of seemingly lifeless winter.

Rather than simply refreshing your wardrobe, polishing your floors and decluttering your cupboards this spring, why not spring into the act of revitalizing your diet?

"Spring is such a great time to change our diets," said nutritionist Randi Luckman, who said she believes that springtime brings natural taste shifts toward fresher, cooler and more hydrating foods. "It starts with taking a mental inventory and then examining your pantry."

Take Inventory

If you consume a typical American diet, you eat less than one of the recommended three-plus servings of whole grains and fewer than the recommended 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day.

You may think you have a good idea of your total intake of different food groups, but if you write it all down, you might be surprised.

Keeping a food journal for just a few days each week can reveal patterns worth changing, Luckman says, and it doesn't take more than a few minutes. "You're going to benefit, but you've got to do the work,"
she said.

Use any method that's convenient for you, but be sure to record each meal and snack right before or after you eat it. If your journal reveals multiple meals devoid of fruits or vegetables, make a point to incorporate colorful produce into every meal. If most of your breads, pasta and cereals are white, focus on adding whole grains. Your diet should also contain healthy fat sources, such as plant-based oils, nuts and seeds, and lean protein sources, such as fish, lean meats, low-fat dairy products and legumes.

Registered dietitian Robyn L. Goldberg recommends investigating your emotional desires as well. Before opening a restaurant menu or your refrigerator, she said, "Ask yourself, what do I want? Would I like something cold? Something hot? Something crunchy? Then you're really able to think from within rather than what you 'should' be eating, which results in you not being emotionally satisfied, which results in overeating."

Note your emotions in your food journal as well, she advised, and avoid using it as a means of self-judgment. If writing your food intake and emotional observations down seems cumbersome or ineffective, try snapping photos of your meals or using a voice recorder.


The "clutter" in your diet can take multiple forms. When Luckman examines someone's dietary lifestyle, she starts with the refrigerator.

"I look for and get rid of commercial salad dressings and really high-calorie dips and spreads. Also blue cheese and mayonnaise," she said. These rich sources of saturated and trans-fats are linked to fatigue, inflammation and heart disease. Prepare a healthier option using olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning.

Processed meats, such as bacon, sausage and hot dogs, also contain unhealthy fats and leave less room in your diet for beneficial protein sources, such as cold-water fish, legumes and yogurt.

To cut back on added sugars, which raise your blood sugar levels and may lead to weight gain, replace sugary breakfast cereals with 100 percent whole grain oats, barley or quinoa, and throw out the sugary soft drinks in favor of herbal tea, water and fresh juices.

Keeping high-quality sweets you truly enjoy, such as your favorite dark chocolate bars, on hand in modest amounts may help prevent a sense of deprivation.

Decluttering your diet doesn't have to mean completely eliminating sugar, carbohydrates or fat. Goldberg recommends incorporating what she calls "play foods" in your diet and eliminating negative food attitudes, such as the false belief that bananas or potatoes are inherently "bad" or that a healthy diet involves stringent calorie-counting. Once people let go of fad diet rules, Goldberg says, they find pleasure in food and find that their bodies naturally gravitate to a healthier state.

"The place you were at 20 years ago when you played football may not be where your body can be today," she explained, but you'll likely grow more in tune with your dietary needs and find a new level of comfort with yourself.

Freshen Up

The winter holidays bring on a lot of heavy, warm foods, but when spring arrives, your taste buds naturally crave lighter, fresher foods. "Think about it," Luckman said. "Salads don't taste as good in the winter."

Because growing seasons vary by geographical regions, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to fruits and vegetables. Your best best is either seasonal, fresh fare, such as items purchased at a farmers market, or frozen produce.

"People are often afraid of frozen produce," Goldberg said. "When it's picked, it's flash-frozen, so it retains the nutrients." Fresh grocery store produce, on the other hand, is often picked before it's ripened.

It may appear luscious and nutritious, but its taste and nutrient content may have suffered.

In springtime, Goldberg is a fan of clementines, which are easy to peel and less acidic than oranges -- an important attribute if you're prone to acid reflux. She also recommends artichokes, which are excellent sources of potassium, phosphorus and calcium, as well as asparagus -- "a fantastic source of vitamin K and folate."

Beans, which are often overlooked in Americans' diets, are fiber-rich, satisfying and versatile meal additions. Canned beans retain their nutrients and require little cooking or preparation. Top brown rice with mixed vegetables and beans, or roll black or pinto beans in a whole-grain tortilla for a nutritious burrito.

Get Organized

Does your kitchen make you want to cook?

That's a question that organizational expert Peter Walsh asks in his book "Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less." If stepping into your kitchen or opening your refrigerator fills you with dread or a sense of chaos, it may be time to invest in food containers, such as glass jars to hold your pasta, whole-grain flour and beans, a sleek drawer organizer for your stash of spoons and spatulas, and dishcloths and oven mitts in attractive colors.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet also requires planning. Stock up on frozen vegetables for easy additions to rice dishes, pasta and soups.

If you lead a hectic lifestyle, set aside several hours once a week to purchase and prepare at least one healthy, satisfying meal and fresh-chopped fruits and vegetables that you can enjoy for the next several days. Freezing leftovers allows for simple, convenient meals without the excess sodium and other additives in many commercial frozen entrees.

"Quitting junk food and eating healthy meals together is an instant way to reconnect," says Walsh. Cooking and dining at home may also inspire creativity, save money and heighten your appreciation for all that food preparation entails.

Your diet should contain more fruits and vegetables than other foods
-- so should your shopping cart. Create shopping lists before you head to the store, preferably including foods from all nutritious food groups. Keep nutritious, satisfying food in your kitchen or workplace and aim for an overall balanced, varied diet.

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