By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Bold resolutions to maintain a healthier diet are common in the new year. But the secret to sticking with nutritious eating isn’t a big, complex plan. Keeping it simple can lead to success.

A healthy diet can be affordable, too, especially if thought is put into meal planning and grocery shopping.

1. Take it slow and steady

Remember the saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” That’s certainly true for starting a new approach to eating, nutrition experts say.

Try to think of the undertaking as a gradual lifestyle change, not a crash course, and set realistic goals toward achieving heart health and other long-term positive results. Sudden weight loss shouldn’t be the aim. Consider the resolution just one step toward achieving heart health and other long-term positive results.

In this fast-food society where dining out is common, it can be easier to add healthy food to your diet rather than take something away.

“Choose something simple, something that you know you can achieve — and start small,” said Dr. Linda Van Horn, the Division Chief of Nutrition in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Many Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, so consider adding a piece or two of fruit each day. It’s fairly easy and may help you gradually shift away from bad habits and toward healthier eating.

If weight is an issue, adding calorie-burning physical activity along with healthier eating leads to quicker results.

2. Enjoy home cooking and save money

Preparing meals at home can be more nutritious than eating out — and less expensive.

Look for fresh produce on special at a neighborhood grocery store or local farmer’s market. Some large discount stores offer produce at even lower prices. Just try to be selective in choosing the best quality available.

Fresh is best, but frozen vegetables without additives are an alternative. And for those who live alone and worry that fresh food may spoil before it’s used, canned fruits and vegetables are another option.

Paying attention to can labels will help with nutrition goals. Consider selecting fruit canned in its own juices, not in sugary syrup.

Fresh fish or lean meats are good protein selections, and occasionally using rice and beans as menu ingredients will supply protein while reducing costs, Van Horn said.

Shop for success: Try to maximize grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store to find produce, meats and minimally processed foods. Processed packaged foods with higher salt, sugar and fat content — and fewer nutrients — tend to be on center store shelves and in the freezer. And despite what some say, you can eat healthier, unprocessed foods on a budget.

3. Be strategic when eating out

Dining out means relinquishing control over food preparation to someone else who is probably more interested in taste than nutrient quality. And it costs more than eating at home.

Realistically, though, restaurant meals are part of many families’ lives. So it can help to approach eating out with a strategy.

Consider restaurants that are amenable to requests for using oils such as corn oil or soybean oil (high in polyunsaturated fats) and olive oil and canola (those high in monounsaturated fats). Consider asking for more vegetables instead of french fries or mashed potatoes, and avoid heavy cream-based sauces.

Look for restaurants that offer vegetarian options, fresh seafood and whole grains. Stay away from deep-fried foods.

4. Beware those ‘popular’ diets

Plenty of companies attempt to profit from weight loss at New Year’s resolution time. That might involve selling their foods and shakes as heavily advertised diets.

Again, remember, there’s no quick fix — no matter what you see on TV.

Evidence-based results are preferable to popular diets that boast only of marketing study results. The American Heart Association and other health organizations support the DASH diet — which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension — because of its research track record.

This heart-healthy diet helps with blood pressure control and weight loss by emphasizing foods low in saturated fat, total fat, cholesterol and salt. No special foods are required. The diet relies heavily on fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods as well as whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts.

The eating plan is supported in research sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The National Institutes of Health details the DASH plan and related health information on its website.

Although DASH is recommended, some plans that offer group support also can be effective for some people, particularly as they’re getting started, noted Van Horn, a member of the AHA’s nutrition committee.

5. Drink to your health

Try to drink your way to better health and pocket some extra money with a simple change: Choose water instead of soda or other sweetened beverages at meals.

Skim milk, black coffee or tea without sugar or cream may be OK for adults. For children, milk or water are best.

If you indulge in alcohol, consider limiting wine, beer or spirits. The AHA recommends limiting intake to one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Specialty coffee drinks can be a calorie and sugar culprit, as well, if they are loaded with sugar, syrups and creams.

Medical studies have also found links between added sugar, including sugar-sweetened beverages, and increased risks of heart disease.

So, think of ways to eat healthy foods, not drink unhealthy calories.

Avoiding or limiting all types of sugary drinks can help with overall health — and the pocketbook.

That applies to the bigger picture with your resolutions as well.

Even if you’re looking to make dramatic changes in the new year, cut yourself some slack. Try taking small steps. Look for small, doable ways to improve your health and your budget. Over time, those small steps can lead to big success.

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