It's hard to believe that with the unpredictability of March’s weather, springtime is right around the corner. Regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil said a short month ago, spring officially begins on March 20th. In addition to the changing of the seasons, March is also National Nutrition Month. Started by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 1980, National Nutrition Month is “an annual nutrition education and information campaign focusing on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits,” which comes at the perfect time considering that winter is notorious for poor eating habits. During the cold and dark months, we typically hibernate to our couches and are warmed by hearty comfort foods and Netflix binge-fests to escape the harsh winter weather.
As winter finally comes to an end, spring is the perfect time to rethink old habits, make healthy swaps, and get a fresh start. While you’re wiping away the cobwebs of winter and making space in your home for the long-awaited warmer months, there is no better time to clean up your diet. If you’re beginning to emerge from being holed up in the comforts of cozy socks and blankets not quite ready to start shedding those layers, it’s time to make some needed changes to your diet. Read on for the top five recommendations to help you spring-clean your diet to make room for spring and summer’s glory.
Control Added Sugars
As winter comes to an end, so does candy season. It starts with a chocolate heart showing your partner’s love on Valentine’s Day and a giant candy Easter egg as spring begins to emerge. Candy overload is in full effect and a sugar detox is the perfect fix to the overindulgence that most have experienced in their diets.
A 2013 study conducted followed 5,000 participants over a 30-year span and found that participants’ calorie intake from added sugar increased by about 50 percent over that time period. Not surprisingly, as sugar consumption increased, so did their waist size. Added sugars deliver empty calories and encourage overeating, both factors leading to weight gain. Too much sugar has been linked to an increase in disease risk, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
When shopping, strive to look for products with natural sugars coming from only fruits and dairy and practice reading ingredient labels to look for hidden sugars disgusted by names such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, etc. Sweeten foods naturally by adding fresh or frozen fruit to get a delicious treat filled with extra vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to fuel your healthy lifestyle.
Choose the Rainbow of Colors
With the seasons changing, now is the perfect time to head out to your local grocery store or farmers market to start stocking up on spring’s bountiful colors of fruits and veggies. This time of year, eating the rainbow has never been easier. Choosing a wide variety of colors is a great way to load up on fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other disease-fighting compounds. The more colors you eat daily, the better. Each pigment that gives fruits and veggies their colors are composed of vital antioxidants that can help the body recover from workouts and can help you maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
Choose foods from the following colors for a balanced and delicious menu: reds (peppers, tomatoes, strawberries), oranges and yellows (sweet potatoes, beets, peaches), greens (broccoli, lettuce, avocado), blues and purples (eggplant, blueberries, plums), and whites and browns (cauliflower, mushrooms, onions). Try to incorporate at least two colors into each meal and get creative by using a plethora of produce in smoothies, salads, soups, stir-fries, and possibly challenge yourself and your family to create a meal using all five color categories.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
Water is vital for every organ in the body to function optimally. During the cold winter months, water intake tends to take a nosedive in lieu of warming lattes, egg nogs, and other calorie-laden thawing beverages. Dehydration can negatively impact your metabolism, leaving you sluggish and tired, and trick your mind into thinking you’re hungry. A good general guideline is to consume about 0.5-1 oz. of water for every pound of body weight. If you find plain water to be boring and hard to down, strive for hydration to come from water spruced up with citrus fruits and herbs, green or herbal teas, coconut water, seltzer water, unsweetened iced tea, as well as water-rich produce such as cucumbers, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, and fruit.
Declutter your Kitchen
Could an organized kitchen help you meet your health goals? A study conducted by the journal Environment and Behavior reported just that. The study found that individuals with disorganized kitchens ate twice the calories, most of those calories being sweets, than people with neater kitchens. Investigators hypothesize that messy settings can cause anxiety, which tends to turn on our hunger hormones, often leading to binging on whatever we can get our hands on. Unfortunately, in this state, we tend to choose processed foods that are both calorie and sugar bombs with nutrient-void ingredients.
Make your way into the kitchen during the next few weeks and prioritize giving your pantry, fridge, and freezer an inspection. Throw out or donate any expired foods or items that sabotage your health and wellness goals. Get rid of any foods that trigger you to lose all control once you start eating them. Bring these to the office or give the items away to get them out of your house. Also, try organizing your space where healthy options are front and center and easy to grab when hungry and get rid of unnecessary items to keep the space tidy and clean. Keep binge-worthy foods out of sight and try lining the countertops with fresh fruits and veggies to encourage eating more of these.
Prioritize Home-Cooked Meals
With the days getting longer, consider spending more time in the kitchen preparing home-cooked meals. Eating out drains your wallet and can easily add pounds to your waist with restaurants using inexpensive and unhealthy ingredients, while serving up portions that could easily feed a family of four. A recent study found that individuals ate about 250 calories more and 16 extra grams of fat on the days they ate out. Doing this everyday can lead to a whopping weight gain of over 20 pounds a year!
With a little bit of preparation and planning, you can whip up quick and tasty meals that are nutrient-dense and budget-friendly. Try signing up for a cooking class with a friend, buy a fun new kitchen gadget (spiralizers are cheap, and the possibilities are endless), or try recipe swapping with friends and family members. Have a plan when you go to the grocery store and never underestimate a Google search for easy, inexpensive, light, and tasty recipes.
As the days get longer, temperatures being to rise, and spring finally sets in, taking some time to spring-clean your diet can have wonderful effects on both your mind and your body. Aim to control added sugars, choose an array of colorful fruits and veggies at all meals, keep your body hydrated, declutter your kitchen, and go back to the basics and enjoy the pleasures of cooking for yourself and your family and friends. Incorporating these tips into your spring-cleaning routine can help to have you feeling light and airy for the rest of 2019.