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10 easy ways to kick-start a new healthy eating lifestyle

There is a huge amount of sometimes conflicting, often confusing, nutrition and diet information available. Therefore, it's very understandable when people become discouraged about selecting an eating plan for themselves. Even scientific studies often contradict each other. How can we figure out how best to eat for overall health or weight loss?

Woman Eating Apple
We can focus on the basics

Unless you're going to follow a strict diet that restricts or eliminates certain food groups (which should be carefully studied prior to starting), you can begin by striving for balance in your diet. Below are some common-sense guidelines that you can use to identify what kind of an eating plan works best for your lifestyle and your body. 1. Start drinking more water. Most experts recommend eight (8-ounce) glasses per day. The easiest way to do this is to spread out your water intake throughout the day and use containers that will help you keep track how much you drink. If you aren't drinking much water currently, try easing into it. You can add one cup every few days until you reach eight or more per day.

2. Strive to eat one to two servings of fruits or vegetables at each meal or snack. This will add up to several servings a day which is recommended for optimal nutrition.

3. Switch to whole grains. Go for the healthier whole grains in breads, pasta, tortillas and cereals. Also eat brown rice instead of white. You'll be taking in more beneficial fiber and gaining all the other benefits of whole, rather than processed, grains.

4. Get your sweet tooth under control. Start to slowly reduce the portion sizes and frequency of your intake of any sugared treats. Try switching to unsweetened breakfast cereals. Go from full-sized candy bars to bite-size. And, if you are accustomed to eating dessert after every meal, switch to fruit as a dessert a few times per week. The less you eat the sweets, the less you'll crave over time (really!).

5. Switch to lean meats. Avoid highly marbled beef, high fat pork ribs and chops, regular ground beef and other fatty cuts. Try substituting lean ground beef and turkey, pork tenderloin and flank steak, along with fish and shellfish.

6. Switch to lower fat dairy products. You can really influence your calorie and fat daily totals by switching to lower fat milk, cottage cheese, cheese, sour cream and more. If you enjoy fat-free, work your way down to that. If you really don't enjoy the taste, then go to the lower fat varieties (that's what I do!).

7. Find a couple of lower fat salad dressings that you enjoy. With all the vegetables you'll be eating as part of your new eating style, a couple healthier dressing options will go a long way toward making them more enjoyable. In addition to using on salads, you can use dressings for marinade, dips, sandwich spreads and whenever you can use some extra flavor.

8. Slowly reduce your portion sizes. Most people who are carrying around some extra weight probably are eating too much food. By slowly reducing your portion sizes, you'll feel less deprived as you make your way down to a portion size you feel comfortable and satisfied eating.

9. Learn how to read and compare nutrition label information. This will help avoid common mistakes made by people experimenting with healthier foods, such as overeating low fat items even though they contain as many calories as the full-fat varieties. Look at things like fiber, protein and sugar content to help you understand what you're feeding your body and how it makes you feel.

10. Although this isn't directly an eating issue, increase your activity! Healthy eating is only half of the equation. For ideal health, your body needs to move and move often. Again, start slowly and gradually increase your activity. This doesn't necessarily mean hard exercise walking, housework, gardening and running around with your kids can lead to healthy changes in your fitness level.

Many experts recommend 30 minutes of exercise three times a week as a minimum for overall health. Each person should talk with their doctor, and determine what type and level of exercise will best suit them.

Even though you may determine you want to make additional lifestyle changes, these basic healthy tips will give you a great start toward improved health. Take it at your own pace and make changes that fit into your lifestyle. You don't need to eat foods you don't enjoy just because they are healthy.

It would be better for you to experiment to find foods you do enjoy, so that you are motivated to keep eating them. Always keep in mind that you're making these changes to become a healthier person that will live a longer, more active life!

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