We are half way between last summer and next, but that doesn't mean we need to toss out some of those diet habits typically saved for the sunshine months. Summer often is the healthiest time of year with an abundance of sun, activity, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Bring some of that healthy into your winter routine with these 6 summer habits you should keep year around from Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Sexy.
1. Drink plenty of water
Water is the perfect beverage. It is fat-free, sugar-free, and calorie-free, and it works with, rather than against, our bodies' natural thirst and hunger systems. Replace the typical 19 ounces of soft drinks, energy drinks, vitamin waters, or bottled teas guzzled daily by each American with plain water and you will quench your thirst and cut almost 250 calories from your daily diet, the equivalent of a one-pound weight loss every two weeks, or 26 pounds in a year.
Follow the 8x8 rule: Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. That's about how much fluid your body losses just staying alive. Of course, that's just a guideline and some people will need more than the basic 8x8, including people who exercise, live or work in hot climates, or perspire heavily, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The bottom line: You need at least eight glasses, every day, seven days a week, preferably sipped, rather than gulped. How can you make this a habit?
Fill a 64-ounce pitcher with water. Place it, along with a glass, somewhere handy, like on the kitchen counter if you work from home or on your desk at work. Or, fill eight glasses with water and line them up on the dining room table. Take eight big gulps of water every time you pass a water fountain (1 slurp = approximately 1 ounce). Bring a water bottle with you, if you commute to work or when picking up the kids from daycare or school. Need a little incentive to drink water? Try dressing it up with a twist of lemon, lime, or orange. Or, mix a little fruit juice with sparkling water and ice.
2. Load the plate with fruits and vegetables
Nutrition is not a black and white science. But there is one absolute: produce. Thousands of studies spanning decades of research consistently and repeatedly find that the more colorful fruits and vegetables you consume, the lower your risk for weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, cataracts...you'll even look up to 15 years younger! Vow to include at least 2 servings at every meal and at least on at every snack. Focus on the good ones, such as watermelon (not just a summertime treat, but available year around!), loaded with vitamins A and C, potassium, and two compounds that lower heart disease risk, arginine and citrulline. The benefits are in the color, so choose spinach over head lettuce, sweet potatoes instead of baker potatoes, and beets instead of radishes.
3. Keep it light
In the summer, we are apt to keep meals light and to snack more throughout the day. Good idea. Research shows that people who eat small meals and snacks throughout the day are more likely to maintain a desirable weight and lower their risk for heart disease and diabetes. Of course, those snacks can't be chips and fries. Bring foods with you, such as a clamshell of berries, yogurt, nuts, and bottled water. Then eat when you are comfortably hungry. If you wait until you are ravenous, you are likely to choose all the wrong foods and eat far too much.
4. Grill it
While it's too chilly to be barbecuing on the back deck this time of year, choosing low-fat cooking methods is a good habit to adopt year around. Instead of using butter, margarine, or other fatty ingredients in cooking, grill, poach, bake, or saute in chicken broth. Keep in mind, a tablespoon of fat, whether it is butter or olive oil, has 100 calories. That is just enough every day to add a pound of body fat each month.
5. Get your vitamin D
Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. Our bodies can make it when exposed to sun (that is, if you don't use sunscreen). Research shows this vitamin is essential for a whole lot more than bones. Preliminary research suggests it aids in the prevention and/or treatment of muscle weakness, gum disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, and certain cancers, including colon, breast, pancreas, and prostate cancers. Vitamin D also reduces the incidence of falls by up to 60% in seniors, while a deficiency can mimic symptoms of fibromyalgia. Next time you have blood work done, have your vitamin D levels checked. In the meantime, make sure to either add several servings a day of vitamin D-fortified foods or take a supplement that contains at least 1000IUs of this important vitamin.
Staying physically fit is THE most important habit you can adopt to slow, stop, and even reverse the aging process, as well as lower your risk for all age-related diseases, maintain a healthy weight, and stay mentally sharp. No excuse. Walk the escalator, not ride it like an amusement park ride. Walk whenever possible, even while talking on the phone or brushing your teeth. Ride the exercise bicycle when watching TV. Join a gym. Walk the dog. Whatever it takes to stay in shape!