Lose Weight, Improve Your Health: 5 Easy Ways (cont.)

"Two weeks should be enough time to see a benefit with a higher-fiber diet in terms of constipation [as long as fluid consumption is adequate]," says Collins. She says this may also be enough time for people with diabetes or insulin resistance to see improved blood sugars.

The trick to switching to whole grains is to keep trying products and brands until you find one that works for you and your family. Once you find brands of whole-grain hamburger buns, sandwich bread, hot and cold breakfast cereals, crackers, and pasta you like, sticking to this resolution will be a snap!

Easy Resolution No. 4: Switch to Healthier Fats

When cooking, it's best to replace butter, margarine, or shortening with an oil that has more of the "better" fats and less of the "worst" fats -- like saturated fat -- whenever possible. If a bakery recipe calls for adding melted butter, shortening, or margarine, that's your clue that you can probably switch to canola oil without any change in texture.

Canola oil contributes two "smart" fats -- monounsaturated fat and plant omega-3s. It also has a neutral flavor that doesn't compete with other flavors, and is reasonably priced and widely available.

Olive oil is also high in desirable monounsaturated fat and low in saturated fat. Further, it contains more than 30 phytochemicals from olives -- many of which have antioxidants and prompt anti-inflammatory action in the body. Just remember to drizzle, not drench, your food in oil because even healthy oils add more than 100 calories per tablespoon.

Katz also suggests switching from margarine or butter to a spread with added plant sterols, like Benecol or Take Control. "They are designed to help lower cholesterol and could do so within weeks," he says.

Easy Resolution No. 5: Cut Down on Sodium

Sodium is a problem for lots of Americans, especially those with high blood pressure. And the key to cutting back, says Collins, is to eat fewer processed foods.

"People need to realize this is largely meaning a change in processed food use," says Collins. "Just using the salt shaker less won't touch the source of excess sodium for most Americans."

Eating fewer processed foods could also make room in your diet for more fruits and vegetables, which increase potassium -- a mineral that has been linked to lowering blood pressure.

According to Collins, people with salt-sensitive high blood pressure who cut down on sodium may see a drop in blood pressure within two weeks. Some people with hypertension are not salt-sensitive, however, so they may not see results so quickly (though cutting sodium will benefit them in the long run).

Some quick tips to help you cut sodium include:

  • Read the labels on processed and package foods.
  • Switch to sodium-free herb blends for seasoning food in cooking and at the table
  • When you have a choice at the supermarket, buy lower-sodium choices in soups, crackers, salad dressings, canned tomatoes, and other products.

Medically Reviewed December 26, 2007.

SOURCES: David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine; medical contributor, ABC News. Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, Distinguished Nutrition Professor, Penn State University. Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition advisor, American Institute for Cancer Research, Washington ,D.C. Bravata D.M. et al. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 21, 2007; vol 298. Johnson J.L. et al., The American Journal of Cardiology, Dec. 15, 2007; vol. 100: pp 1759-1766.

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Last Editorial Review: 12/20/2007