Should you eat a big breakfast, or starve until noon? Are you better off noshing on beef or brown rice? It’s not easy to sift through the enormous and ever-changing body of research on the best way to eat to stay healthy and fit.
With that in mind, we asked top nutrition and wellness experts to give us their single best piece of advice for the coming year—not just for weight loss, but for long-term health. Below are their responses.
Pack protein into your breakfast
Samantha Cassetty, samanthacassetty.com
As you rest at night, your body is busy breaking down the proteins needed to rebuild muscles. “Routinely skimping on protein in the morning can lead to a sluggish metabolism that can result in weight gain and strength losses as you age,” Cassetty says.
Cassetty suggests aiming for 20 to 30 grams of protein in the morning, which might take the form of Greek yogurt and a protein powder smoothie, or a slice of toast with scrambled eggs and lox, paired with lots of produce.
Take a daily food hiatus
Abbie Gellman, Culinary Nutrition Cuisine
You may have heard about a trendy diet called “intermittent fasting” where you pick a short window of time each day, like 5 or 6 hours, to eat. So you might, say, eat only between 12pm and 5pm, or 2pm to 8pm.
Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. But the underlying strategy is sound, says Gellman: Focusing on when you eat—not just what you eat—can help you regain control of your eating habits and re-sync your food intake with your body clock.
Gellman suggests following a 24-hour eat-and-rest cycle, where you consume food only during a specific 12 hours, then let your body rest and renew for the other 12.
Shifting to a plant-based diet can help you reach or maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of chronic diseases, says Palmer: “Replace
animal foods and highly processed foods, and replace them with more whole plant foods.”
Good choices include whole grains like wheat berries, quinoa, brown rice, and sorghum; lentils, beans and dried peas; pistachios, almonds, chia, and hemp seeds; and most fruits and vegetables.
De Santis suggests swapping dairy milk for soy-based alternatives. “Don’t be afraid to use tofu or legumes as your primary protein source at dinner a few times a week,” he says.
Focus on a 365 day-diet
Fad diets promise short-term results. But “you’ll get a lot more benefit from small changes that you can sustain long-term than from some 30-day diet or 3-day detox,” Reinagel says.
“Choose one or two small changes that you can stick with for the long haul, and then build on those. For example, you could start by adding an extra serving or two of vegetables every day,” she says.
One relatively easy way to do this, suggests Lakatos: Add a red, green or orange vegetable or fruit to every meal.
“When you concentrate on getting one of these colors at each meal, you’ll get an excellent source of high-fiber, disease-fighting nutrients and you’ll crowd out the less healthy items,” Lakatos says.
Try adding vegetables to omelets, sandwiches, pizzas, wraps, and burritos; using nori (an edible seaweed) or lettuce in place of bread for sandwiches or wraps; topping baked potatoes with steamed vegetables; and mixing pureed canned pumpkin into oatmeal.
Re-think your relationship to food
“Ditch the diet mentality. It costs us not only financially, but emotionally, physically, and socially as well,” Langer says. “Most diets are punishing and eventually make us feel even worse about ourselves.”
Instead, Langer suggests, learn to eat intuitively: That means eating when you’re hungry, and stopping when you’re full.
“Try eating on a regular schedule, and see when those feelings of hunger creep up. Hunger is a normal physiological reaction, so don’t be afraid of it,” she says.
Watch for signs of fullness, too. “Try to eat slowly and without distractions, and be mindful of how you’re feeling in terms of satisfaction,” Langer says.
Getting in touch with your hunger signals isn’t always easy. But don’t dwell on slip-ups. Overly high expectations often lead to big disappointments, says Mathis.
“Set a routine that includes small, attainable health habits and commit to adapting those habits to your lifestyle,” Mathis says. “Even something as simple as reducing your sugar intake can make a huge difference.”