To boost your energy, add protein, nuts, leafy greens, fruit to your diet – The Washington Post

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Americans frequently vow to adopt better eating habits. But despite making a sincere effort, most don’t reach their goal. Why? Often it’s because they think that eating healthier means overhauling everything.

The truth is, even little tweaks in your meals can have significant impacts on your energy, mood and overall well-being. “Small, manageable changes are sustainable, and they give you a sense of success that keeps you motivated,” says Dolores Woods, a registered dietitian at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health.

The rewards can be huge. A study published in 2021 in the journal Nature Food found that trading just 10 percent of your daily calories from beef and processed meats to more nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and fish, can increase your healthy life span. So you may not only live longer but also extend the amount of time you live free of serious illness. For someone eating 2,000 calories, that means trading just 200 calories — roughly one snack or side dish a day. Want to try this and our other expert-advised ideas? Here’s how to make a few small changes every day.

Add protein to your breakfast

We tend to lose muscle and strength with age, but getting enough protein can help protect against this, Woods says. Plus, protein takes longer to break down than carbs, which slows the release of blood sugar. According to a 2017 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who had a high-protein breakfast (30 percent of calories from protein) experienced a better insulin response and blood glucose level after four hours compared with those who had mostly carbs.

Yet nearly half of older adults don’t get the recommended amount of protein per day (54 grams for a 150-pound person, which you can get by eating, for example, 3½ ounces of chicken breast, a half-cup of low-fat Greek yogurt or a half-cup of white beans). To get a head start, add some protein to your morning meal. Top toast with cottage cheese or an egg, stir nut butter into oatmeal, or pair cereal with Greek yogurt and chia seeds. Bonus: You’ll feel fuller and have a steady supply of energy throughout the morning.

Try new grains

It’s no secret that whole grains are healthier, with more fiber and B vitamins, than refined ones. This extra nutrition is particularly important for older adults. A study published in 2021 in the Journal of Nutrition found that people age 55 and older who ate at least three servings of whole grains daily had better markers of heart health — smaller increases in waist size, blood pressure and blood sugar — compared with those who got less than half a serving. Bored with brown rice and oatmeal? Try amaranth, buckwheat, farro or quinoa.

Add one more fruit or vegetable to your plate

While experts recommend five or more servings of produce a day, even smaller amounts boost heart health. A 2014 study in the BMJ found that every extra daily serving — up to five — slashes the risk of dying of heart disease by 4 percent. Each fruit and vegetable contains its own combination of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that fight inflammation, says Judy Simon, a registered dietitian with the University of Washington.

For the biggest benefit, choose an assortment of colorful fruits and vegetables. According to 2023 research in the Journal of Nutrition, people over age 50 who consumed the biggest variety of produce were 21 percent less likely to die of heart disease over a 15-year span compared with those who had the least. Simon suggests tossing extra veggies into your main course. You can also add greens to soups and sandwiches, broccoli or cauliflower to stir-fries, and mushrooms, peppers or zucchini to pasta dishes.

Eat your greens first

Leafy greens have been shown to help protect brain health, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are potential cancer preventers, and green peas can improve digestive health. So when you sit down to a meal, start with your greens to make sure you’re getting them in your diet, Woods says. Plus, eating veggies before the rest of your meal can lower your blood sugar response afterward, according to scientists from Cornell University. This may help people with prediabetes and diabetes — close to half of Americans — keep their conditions in check.

Learn about labels

“Made with whole grains” and “multigrain” products are often made with mainly refined white flour. Look for the words “100 percent whole grains,” says Vijaya Surampudi, an associate professor of medicine at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. “Or check that a whole grain is listed as the first ingredient.”

Snack on nuts

Many snack staples, such as pretzels, cereal bars and crackers, are highly processed. A diet high in these packaged foods has been linked to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and dementia. But a review of research published in the journal Antioxidants suggests a diet high in nuts may protect against conditions like these. “They’re high in healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals,” says Simon, the University of Washington dietitian. Aim for an ounce — about a handful — of nuts a day.

Pair treats with healthy foods

You don’t need to give up ice cream and chips, Simon says. Serve yourself a small portion with food that’s high in fiber or protein. Top ice cream with fresh fruit, dip chips into hummus and mix chocolate with nuts. These additions slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream, she says, which can stave off a blood sugar spike and the energy crash that follows.

Copyright 2024, Consumer Reports Inc.

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