7 Small Tweaks to Improve Your Diet Quality Instantly
They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and the same is often true for the journey of more nutritious eating. Though some people may do well making drastic dietary changes overnight, for most of us, incremental modifications lead to greater positive change. Fortunately, taking things slow and steady doesn’t mean some small changes don’t pay off fast. Tweaks like incorporating nutrient-dense ingredients into meals, opting for lower-sugar beverages, and even swapping out better-for-you choices just half the time will give your diet’s nutrition a sizable boost. Try these small changes that improve diet quality like that.
1. Choose a fruit-based dessert
Fruit provides all sorts of important nutrients, from fiber to essential vitamins. But even if you’re a fruit lover, it can be tough getting the daily recommended 1 1/2 to 2 cups per day. One simple way to add to your daily quota is to squeeze the fruit in as dessert.
This doesn’t have to look like a boring banana in place of chocolate cake. There are plenty of creative options for making fruit-based desserts exciting — from fruity crisps and crumbles to fruit and cheese skewers with jalapeño honey. Or, for a natural caramel-like flavor plus potassium, magnesium, copper, and vitamin B6, try stuffed dates. Slice open a couple of the Mediterranean fruits (we’d suggest Joolies organic Medjool dates), stuff with peanut butter, and you’ve got a 2-minute sweet-and-fruity treat.
2. Switch to whole wheat bread half the time
The USDA’s recommendation to “make half your grains whole” isn’t just catchy, it’s great advice to improve diet quality. Opting for whole grains over refined ones around 50% of the time means you’ll take in more fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and other nutrients. According to the Whole Grains Council, eating more of the whole version of this food group has been linked to reduced risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and heart disease, as well as better weight maintenance and lower inflammation.
Because we’re talking small changes, though, let’s distill it down even further: try simply purchasing whole wheat bread over white half the time (say, every other week). Each time you do, you’ll load up on nutrients galore.
3. Add flax seed meal to baked goods, oatmeal, or smoothies
Flax seed meal is a veritable secret weapon for upping the nutritional ante of a wide variety of foods. It blends beautifully into smoothies, muffins, bread, oatmeal, and more, almost disappearing without a flavor or texture trace. Popping a 2-tablespoon serving into a recipe adds 3 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, 6% of the Daily Value of iron, and — most notably — abundant ALA omega-3 fatty acids. These fats have been associated with heart health protection.
The other bonus of flax seed meal: considering how long it takes to get through an entire bag, this nutrient boost is pretty cost-effective, too.
4. Add diced veggies to mixed dishes
Hmm, is that a carrot chunk in your chicken taco? Or diced zucchini in your beef lasagna? Who’s to say? Chopped vegetables like onions, celery, carrots, zucchini, greens, and beets have a way of disappearing into mixed dishes like casseroles, pasta, tacos, and curries, making them a surprisingly easy fix to improve diet quality. And since only one in ten of us eats enough veggies, we say get ‘em any way you can. “Sneaking” cut-up veggies in alongside ground meats and tasty sauces rounds out any meal with added vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
5. Replace butter with olive oil for sautéing
We’ve all heard the accolades of olive oil; its benefits for heart health, its excellent fat profile, and its anti-inflammatory perks. So you might be under the impression that this oil should replace other fats like butter entirely. But if a life without any butter sounds like a sad prospect (we’re with you), consider where you might selectively use olive oil in its place.
One option: any time you haul out your sauté pan. Olive oil makes an excellent medium for browning veggies, pan-frying meats, and starting sauces. Leave butter for spreading and schmearing and keep the olive oil carafe handy as a starter for savory, heart-healthy meals.
6. Use dark leafy greens in salads
Step away from the iceberg! The white lettuce may provide hydration (it’s 96% water), but it can’t compare nutritionally with options like spinach, kale, and chard. When crafting a salad or topping a burger, bump up the nutrition by using any of these dark, leafy greens. You’ll load up on fiber, iron, magnesium, and antioxidants. Plus, you’ll add gorgeous emerald color, making for Insta-worthy food photo posts (if you’re into that sort of thing).
7. Sip on sparkling water instead of soda
The health outcomes of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages are the opposite of sweet. Research has linked high-sugar drinks like soda and energy drinks with health issues like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and gout. Since they typically don’t contain much besides sweetener, artificial color, and water, these drinks have few redeeming qualities.
When you’re hankering for something fizzy and flavored, try reaching for sparkling water instead. Brands like Waterloo and LaCroix offer soda-like flavors (hello, Cherry Limeade and Limoncello) for zero calories and zero sugars. And if you’d really like a sweet splash in your drink, go half and half with your favorite juice. Most fruit juices will add vitamin C — win-win!
Good food brings people together. So do good emails.