It may sound cliche—but you do you in 2022, because all foods can fit.
The first quarter of every year seems to be overwhelmingly focused on the most extreme exercise regimens and on intense fad diets that eliminate whole food groups. Yikes! As a registered dietitian, trust me, I think healthy eating is great—in fact, I think it is essential year ’round, not just following the two most food-focused American holidays, celebrations that leave us feeling like stuffed butterballs.
I am going to share some foods in this column that aren’t stellar for optimal health and tips for how you can limit them in your diet. But always remember that all foods can fit. It’s just that, with some, you have to practice moderation and be mindful of how these foods can foster addiction and create unnecessary temptations to eat more.
Now, about those foods that we need to minimize in our diets.
SWEET TREATS like ice cream, candy, and my dad’s scrumptious homemade cinnamon rolls have high sugar content and, the truth is, sugar can be chemically addicting. Some studies suggest that sugar impacts the body’s dopamine levels, leading us to crave more sugar—and excessive sugar consumption can lead to overall health concerns. The American Heart Association recommends specific parameters around added sugar per day, but generally, if you aim for less than 50 grams a day, you will be on your way to healthier intake. Try to avoid beverages with added sugar, like sodas and that southern West Virginia sweet tea. Substitute oatmeal instead of sugary cereals we all love. You should probably keep your hand out of the candy bowl at work and shoot for sharing your dessert with a friend to cut that portion size down.
FRIED CHICKEN Actually, put a small portion of it back on the table, because what Southern girl doesn’t love a good piece of fried chicken? We aren’t just beating up on fried chicken here; really, all of those deep-fried delicacies are on trial. Don’t hate me yet—not all fats are bad, and eliminating fat from a diet entirely is not the answer. But you do need to investigate the types of fats you are consuming. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that a general goal is for 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories to come from healthier fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and less than 10 percent from saturated fats. A few times a week, choose a leaner cut of meat, grill it instead of frying it, cut down the portion size, and throw in some extra veggies.
SODIUM I hope I haven’t made you salty, because a good dietitian wouldn’t miss an opportunity to address America’s sodium intake. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 90 percent of Americans 2 years old or older consume too much sodium. Americans’ average daily sodium intake is over 3,400 milligrams, while the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we consume less than 2,300 mg each day. And it’s not always just the salt shaker—often, high sodium content can be found in items you might not expect, like cheese, soups, pizza, hot dogs, and cold cuts. The best way to reduce sodium content is to pay close attention to nutrition labels, even for items you don’t suspect are sodium heavy-hitters. It’s also advantageous to prepare more meals at home, limit grab-and-go convenience items, and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Oh and, for heaven’s sake, you can’t eat just one chip—none of us can—so don’t go down that path unless you are mentally prepared for it.
According to the CDC, more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or have obesity. Bottom line: Processed foods, deep-fried creations, and high-calorie and sugar-laden foods must be minimized from routine dietary intake to optimize overall health. Toss the doughnuts, the french fries, and those sugary coffees that get you through the day, and only indulge on occasion. Increase your fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Here’s to a healthier-eating you in 2022.