Many people wrongfully conflate “healthy eating” with “bland, unfulfilling eating,” when nothing could be further from the truth!

While things like salt, sugar and fat can generally trigger pleasurable reactions within our brains, these components are often ironically layered atop of bland ingredients, like processed corn or meat by-products. By using wholesome, whole ingredients within your cuisine, you can trade out “empty” ingredients for ones packed with flavor and nutrition.

Changing your diet does not have to be a dramatic shift, either. By making small, positive changes, you can begin to reduce your reliance on unhealthy ingredients and explore an entire world full of delicious — and healthy! — culinary alternatives. Here are three ways you can get started:

Learn Your Nutritional Needs

Your first step is to become aware of exactly what your body needs to be healthy and function properly. Review the daily recommended nutritional values for the average adult.

Chances are that you are like the majority of Americans in that you get too little of certain vital nutrients and too much of carbohydrates, fat, sodium and sugar. This is okay! Your goal at this point isn’t to feel bad or to pretend you can get 100% optimal nutrition; instead, you need to establish a baseline so that you can become more aware of the types of consumption choices you make. If you want to increase your iron intake, for instance, you can make a can of beans as a side dish instead of frozen french fries.

Research proves that people who are more aware of their nutritional needs tend to eat a wider variety in their diet and make choices that reduce the calories they consume, all subconsciously! Learning about nutrition and reading product labels is an important first step in making healthy choices and behavior changes.

Start Cooking New Recipes at Home with Featured Ingredients

One of the biggest culprits behind malnutrition and overconsumption of calories lies in the limited choices we have when eating out. Restaurants tend to skimp on expensive ingredients like fresh vegetables while hiding things like sugar in dishes to make them more palatable.

To begin transitioning to a healthier diet, promise yourself that you will try new recipes at home. You can start by focusing on particular ingredients that carry nutrients you tend to get too little of — like how black beans can provide iron, dietary fiber and more. Rice, black beans and oven-baked breaded chicken tenders sprinkled with a 1/8 cup of jalapeno jack cheese, for instance, can provide a delicious, filling evening meal that makes for great lunchtime leftovers.

Add More Fresh Veggies and Fruits to Your Meals

As mentioned before, many Western foods tend to take out nutrition. Add it back in by finding ways to sneak fresh vegetables into your diet. For instance, on taco night, you can sauté mushrooms, onions and bell peppers and then add it to drained, browned ground beef, enhancing both the flavor and nutritional profile of the dish.

Other tricks include:
  • Adding fresh baby spinach to hot pasta
  • Including kale or other dark greens in breakfast smoothies
  • Sautéing squash, onions and poblano peppers while you boil macaroni noodles and adding it to the final product
  • Eating freshly cut fruit at breakfast to reduce portions of calorie-rich foods like bagels, breakfast cereals or donuts
  • Adding fresh berries to dessert to help you feel fuller and decrease portion size
  • Including sliced tomatoes and spring mix greens on every sandwich
  • Making fresh pico de gallo as a topping for grilled meats and southwest dishes

Eventually, you will realize that you miss these delicious ingredients when trying more basic recipes or eating out!

Commit to Broadening Your Healthy Food Horizons

All of the above changes may not sound like much, but they certainly add up! With practice and patience, you will come to realize that restaurant dishes feel like they are missing extra ingredients and flavor. Over time, you can enhance your nutritional profile while hopefully reducing the amount you consume throughout the day.

If you want to learn more about how to eat healthier, you can find delicious recipe ideas in our Nutrition at Home section. Bon appetit!

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