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Easy Diet Changes to Make to Live Longer (and Happier)

Natalie Stein
September 9, 2020
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Most people know that they should eat healthier, but not everyone knows that the effects of healthy eating can go so far as to extend your life and make you happier. As with other lifestyle changes (covered in this article), changes to what you eat can be small and still have a significant impact. These are easy dietary habits that can help you live longer and happier.

1. Swap bad carbs for good ones.


An abundance of research shows that some carbs are better than others. Healthier carbs include fresh fruit, beans, lentils, starchy vegetables, and whole grains such as oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice. Many of these foods have been linked to lower risk for chronic conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In contrast, sweets and refined carbs, such as white bread and rice, can have negative effects.

Unless your doctor has put you on a low-carb diet, there is no reason to avoid healthy carbs. It is easy to swap them in for less-healthy ones. For example, putting fruit on a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread instead of jam on PB on white bread increases fruit and whole grains while lowering sugar and refined starch. 

2. Eat a little less.


Regardless of what you eat, eating a little less of it can help you lose weight or prevent weight gain. That is good news for the two-thirds of Americans who are overweight or obese.

Maintaining a healthy weight lowers risk for chronic conditions, which can increase life expectancy. It can also make you happier if you feel more confident about yourself and have more mobility. Strategies for eating less include eating slowly, serving yourself a little less than usual, and using smaller dishes.

3. Try Meatless Monday…and Beyond.


A plant-based diet can be higher in fiber and lower in cholesterol and saturated fats. Your heart may thank you! Start with just one meatless meal a week if you are used to having meat every meal. Then grow your meatless meals from there!

Meatless meals can be delicious and comforting. A soy-based substitute is a perfect sub for ground beef in tacos, chili, stuffed peppers, and meatballs. Meatless chicken can go into stir fry and wraps, and soy bacon can help you start your day off in a happy way.

4. Order a side salad.


Adding veggies while cutting out starch and/or fat from fries, mashed potatoes, or white rice can improve health, and help with weight loss, too.

It is not so hard. You might try limiting the fattier or starchier sides to once a week and going for a side salad the other days. That can make you feel proud without feeling deprived, and feeling proud of yourself is a great way to get happy.

5. Eat dessert.


Eating dessert every day can add pounds and contribute to higher risk for diabetes and hypertension, but why live longer if you cannot enjoy it? If you have a sweet tooth, what about eating dessert just once a week? The other days, maybe some fruit, a bit of low-fat cheese or peanut butter, or yogurt can do the trick.

That way, it is easier to savor and enjoy your hard-earned dessert when it comes. You can get more pleasure out of choosing the one you really, really want instead of just eating whatever happens to be around. 

6. Enjoy olive oil.


A Mediterranean-style diet has consistently been a contender for best weight loss diets, best diets for heart health, and more. Olive oil is among the key components of this type of diet, with fruits, whole grains, and fish also looking hopeful. Olive oil may also boost mood.

Olive oil can go into salad dressing, on roasted chicken and vegetables, and into baked goods. Peanuts, peanut butter, nuts, and avocados are also chock-full of healthy fats.

7. Eat more slowly.


Eating slowly helps you eat less and enjoy it more. That is a win-win strategy for health and happiness. Approaches include chewing each bite more times, taking smaller bites, focusing on flavors and textures, and getting involved in conversations at the table.

8. Be a picky eater.


What if you ate only what you wanted, and did not eat what you did not want? Done right, picky eating could make you healthier and happier! It can help you eat less, and can let you appreciate your food more.

To practice being a picky eater, get into the habit of asking yourself whether you really want something, or if you are about to serve or eat it out of habit. There is no reason to eat tortilla chips and pour yourself a beer when eating tacos just because everyone else does. Thinking twice before eating can make all the difference.

9. Limit alcohol.


Excess alcohol consumption can lead to liver and heart problems, weight gain, nutrient deficiencies, and risk of depression. Staying away from alcoholic beverages, or keeping them to moderate amounts if you choose to drink, can help. Women should have no more than 1 drink and men should have no more than two per day.

10. Drink more water and other low-calorie beverages.


Drinking more water can help with weight control, and getting enough fluid is necessary for your immune system, digestive system, and kidneys, to name a few. Staying hydrated can keep you happier by preventing dehydration headaches and afternoon energy dips.

Drinking liquids with calories can lead to weight gain, and caloric beverages often have sugar. Fruit drinks, soda, and flavored coffee beverages are examples. Instead, plain water, decaf coffee and tea, and water with fruit or herbal infusions are naturally low-calorie choices.

Author
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health