family eating healthy

When It Comes to Eating, a Little Change Can Go a Long Way Toward Better Health

family eating healthyJust the thought of cleaning up your diet can be stressful and overwhelming. You might envision tossing out most every food in your fridge and pantry, replacing or modifying every meal, snack, and drink.

But what if smaller changes could have big impacts on your overall health? Well, new research in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that they can.

This study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, analyzed data from over 25,000 men and nearly 50,000 women, tracking their dietary patterns across 12 years.

A 20-percentile increase in diet scores (indicating an improved quality of diet) was significantly associated with a reduction in total mortality of 8 to 17% with the use of the three diet indexes and a 7 to 15% reduction in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease with the use of the Alternate Healthy Eating Index and Alternate Mediterranean Diet.

As LiveScience reported, this amount of change can come through something as simple as “swapping out just one serving of meat…for one daily serving of nuts.”

And what about those whose diet quality got worse over the 12 years of the study? They were 6 to 12% more likely to die.

The analysis also found that participants who maintained a high-quality diet over all 12 years had a 9 to 14 percent lower risk of dying, compared with participants who had consistently low diet scores over this period.

A 2009 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also argues for promoting small changes in both diet and exercise, particularly to counter the global obesity epidemic.

With the use of this strategy, obesity rates could first be stabilized in most populations and then, over time, decrease gradually. Supporting data show that small reductions in conscious energy intake and increases in physical activity can reduce excessive weight gain.

So how to start? It can be easiest to start with the low-hanging fruit, kicking out the big offenders and reaching for healthier options. That could be cutting out added sugars or cutting back on refined carbs. It could be forgoing readymade meals to focus on cooking from scratch.

And, yes, there are lots of simple, easy, healthy meals you can make in 10 minutes or less. Want some ideas? Here are 31. And here are another 50. All include options to fit with most any way of eating (gluten-free, Mediterranean, etc.).

Focus on just one area of your diet to improve, and give it a go. Once you’ve mastered it, move on to the next.

Making small changes can be a huge step toward an overall healthier, and longer, life. You might also consider getting your friends or family involved. Maybe everyone gets a week or a month to decide on the small change they would like to see in the meal plan, for example. Making it an activity everyone is involved in can help with accountability and keeping things interesting.

Whatever the change, it doesn’t need to be massive and completely change everything you eat and drink. Think small to see big.

Image by UK College of Agriculture, Food, & Environment, via Flickr