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Tips for Tuning Up Your Nutrition

Eating healthier food to improve your health or reduce your waistline isn't as difficult as you may think. Small dietary changes, made gradually, can result in substantial improvement over time, according to nutrition experts. 

Nutrition experts offer the following guidelines for improving your diet and your health.

Look for variety

Varying your food provides a much greater range of nutrients. Eating the same foods over and over supply your body with the same vitamins and minerals every day. However, add a little variety and your nutritional gain is great! To add variety: Try recipes from new cookbooks or search the Internet for sites with healthy recipes you can download. Check out a different ethnic restaurant or recipe each week. Pick one night a week to create a meal you've never tried.

Cut fat, boost fiber

One way to do this in soups, stews, and casseroles is to replace a quarter to half of the meat with cooked brown rice, bulgur, or cooked and chopped beans. Another option is to cook the meat as a soup base, then refrigerate the soup until the fat rises to the top and solidifies. When you remove the fat, you'll be left with a low-fat soup stock, to which you can add vegetables and grains for fiber. Some commercial soup stocks also contain little fat.

Increase your starches

Your diet should include plenty of starches, which are digested more slowly than sugars. Starches are found in vegetables; legumes; whole-grain products, such as bread, cereal, and pasta; couscous; oatmeal; and potatoes. Although a label may state whole wheat, look at the ingredient list. Whole grain or whole wheat should be the first ingredient. Fruits are mostly sugars.

Eat more legumes

Beans, dried peas, and lentils supply protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, and B vitamins. Plus, they're the only high-protein food that provides ample amounts of fiber.

Choose lean protein

The leanest sources of protein include turkey breast, skinless chicken breast, egg whites, lean red meats, low-fat yogurt, skim milk, low-fat cheese, beans, lentils, most seafood and fish, split peas, chickpeas, and tofu. (Some seafood and fish, including eel, herring and tuna, are high in fat; other seafood, including lobster and shrimp, is high in cholesterol).

Go low-salt

Seek low-salt condiments if you're trying to reduce your sodium intake. Ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, powdered sauces, soy sauce, and steak sauce are all high in sodium.

Add vegetables

You can add vegetables to (almost) everything you eat. Add pureed carrots or roasted red peppers to pasta sauce. Replace some of the oil in nut breads and cakes with canned pumpkin or unsweetened applesauce. Substitute pureed green peas for half the amount of avocado in guacamole and other recipes. Put in a layer of vegetables instead of ground beef when preparing lasagna.

Consider soy

If lactose intolerance is a problem, substitute soy! Pour soy milk over your breakfast cereal. Blend soy flour into pancakes, muffins, and cookies. Add tofu to soups, dips, stir-fry dishes, and stews. Sprinkle dried soybeans on salads and into stir-fries. Soy sauce is the exception; regular soy sauce is high in sodium. If you use soy sauce for flavoring, look for a low-sodium version.

Cook with good fats

When you cook with fat, use the monounsaturated kind. Olive oil, peanut oil, sesame-seed oil, and canola oil are high in monounsaturated fat--the kind that helps lower blood cholesterol.

Choose brown over white

If you eat rice, make it brown rice, because it contains more fiber than white rice. Instant rice has the least fiber.