Every time a new year rings in, all the experts at various big-name websites come out with their suggestions for how to stay healthy for the next 12 months. It’s no surprise, because most people make New Year resolutions based at least partly on health, diet, nutrition and overall physical betterment.
Why spend hours culling through all the best lifestyle tips? We’ve condensed, paraphrased, edited and otherwise removed the duplication from hundreds of popular lists, including ever-popular ideas from Consumer Reports, WebMD, and the American Heart Association, a trio of high authority sources for healthy living and eating.
The bottom line: There’s no need to completely revamp your life unless you are very overweight or have some seriously bad habits, like eating too much fast food or smoking. Otherwise, according to those in the know, it’s the little changes over the long term that make the biggest difference. If you do smoke, have a serious weight problem, or face other severe challenges, it’s best to speak with your doctor and find out how to address the situation.
For the rest of us, there are some positive changes that can be made right away; and most of them aren’t that difficult. Consider the following eleven “healthy lifestyle” suggestions that are at the top of everyone’s list for 2017:
- Beware “trendy” foods like jackfruit and dark chocolate. The Consumer Reports nutritionists note that while jackfruit makes a tasty meat substitute and vegans absolutely love it, the hottest new food of 2017 is short on protein and is not a wise choice as a replacement for other protein sources like tofu and poultry. Dark chocolate is another trending item that got a lot of media attention last year when several academic studies noted its heart-healthy characteristics. However, those healthful advantages of dark chocolate pertain only to the real stuff (not chocolate-flavored snacks) and only in very small quantities. As a general rule, when a food is “trendy,” consumers should examine the reasons it gained its fame before adding it to their regular meal plans.
- Riced cauliflower is one of the biggest food trends of the year, having already made inroads in mainstream cuisine at restaurants and even on grocery store shelves. As a lower-carb substitute for pasta and potatoes, riced cauliflower makes sense, but boring old frozen cauliflower (either fresh or packaged) is just as healthful and costs about half of what you pay for the “trend factor” of the riced variety.
- Bean pasta is right up there with riced cauliflower on the trend-o-meter, and it is also a healthy choice for anyone who wants to cut down on processed carbohydrates found in standard pasta and noodles. All sorts of legumes are being turned into pasta these days, primarily chickpeas and lentils. They’re nutritious and gluten-free, which means they fit right into one of the other biggest food trends of all time.
- The American Heart Association notes that some of the healthiest practices for 2017 are free, like reading nutrition labels. While everyone seems to focus on the caloric data, fat content and grams of this and that, the AHA recommends looking at the ingredient list to discover what items are listed first. If it’s vegetables, fruits and whole grains, for example, that’s a good sign. On the other hand, processed things and chemicals listed first are definitely a bad omen. AHA’s experts want 2017 to be the “year of the ingredient list.”
- During holiday parties and special occasion meals, try sampling everything rather than gorging on the one or two items you really like. AKA guidelines note that there’s nothing wrong with eating delicious, sweet or salty foods, as long as we don’t overdo it. Weddings, family reunions, class reunions and office parties are notorious for putting out huge spreads with dozens of different foods. Try to be a grazer rather than a gorger, and your body will be that much better off in the long run.
- Drink water more often. Decades of doctors and health professionals advising people to drink more water has had an effect. While Americans now drink more water per day, on average, than they did two decades ago, the American Heart Association notes that it is wise to begin each day with a glass of water, and to follow that up with about 8 ounces with every meal and a few more servings throughout the day. Water is cheap, readily available, and one of the best things you can put into your body.
- Exercise about 90 minutes or more per week, mixing moderately vigorous activity with a few bouts of vigorous exercise. Always speak with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. The AHA points out that children should get about an hour of exercise per day, while adults need at least a total of one and a half hours per week, or more.
- Eat more seeds: Many seeds contain protein, fiber, fats, and other heart-healthy nutrients like potassium and magnesium. Flax seeds and unsalted sunflower seeds are a wonderful addition to salads, oatmeal, soups and even yogurt.
- Reducing sodium is usually a good idea, unless you are already on a low-sodium food plan. The vast majority of U.S. consumers have too much sodium in their bloodstreams. The likely culprit: too many processed foods. By cutting down on added salt at the dinner (and lunch and breakfast) table, people can take an easy step toward better health. Explore alternatives to salt, like ginger, garlic, nutmeg, cayenne, basil and black pepper.
- Eat more meals at home and cook more often. Eating out is fun and easy, but it also takes a toll on the body and the wallet. Preparing meals at home takes time but is almost always a healthier alternative to fast-food and restaurant cuisine. When you have more control over what you eat, according to the American Heart Association, you can avoid things like too much salt, preservatives, and high-fat foods.
- Get enough sleep. Food can only revitalize the human body when that body is rested and distressed. Most health professionals recommend that active adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. It’s also recommended that those hours occur at the same time each night so that the body can best regulate its internal systems.
Eating right and maintaining good health is not as difficult as it seems. What we eat and drink literally makes us who we are, which is why junky, processed foods and artificial additives seem to be on everyone’s “avoid” list, year in and year out. Have a safe, happy and healthy 2017.