Health & Spirit

Small Changes for the New Year

Charlyn Fargo on

It's January, and in most of the country, too cold to think about taking a walk outside to get our steps for the day in. Yet, we've all made those New Year's Resolutions to eat healthier, move more and take charge of our health. We're excited about making a fresh start. It's so easy to get derailed and feel defeated. Baby steps are the way to go when it comes to long-term success.

I've gleaned six easy tips to get you started.

--Make small changes. Most of us aren't going to go from not working out to working out every day for an hour. So let's break it down. Start with two workouts a week and build from there. Can you take a few laps at the mall? Clean off the treadmill in the basement and walk while you watch your favorite tv show? Start small -- even 20 minutes makes a difference.

--Don't eliminate, moderate. Keep carbs and fat in your diet. You can eat what you like if you're sensible. Take a balanced approach to eating like you do investing money and driving. This is the idea behind Weight Watchers new Freestyle program, which encourages less counting because many foods are now considered "free" or zero points. We used to call that portion control or moderation, and it works.

--Make half your grains whole. We're not talking about eliminating carbs here, just making sure the grains we choose (carbs) are whole grains like brown rice or whole wheat, which are key to a healthy diet. They help lower the risk of heart disease and hypertension, improve digestion and they may lower the risk of some cancers. We need them in our diets. You can tell if a product is primarily whole grain if the first ingredient on the labels says whole wheat, brown rice, buckwheat, oatmeal, whole oats or whole grain cornmeal. A recent Tufts University study found that compared to refined-grain eaters, those who opted for whole grains burned 92 more calories per day.

--Eat more veggies. Sounds simple, right? It's the one thing that everyone agrees on, and the headlines don't change -- veggies are the key to a healthy diet. Most of us only get half of the recommended servings of vegetables a day. Choose leafy greens and root vegetables, whole tomatoes, beets -- try something new. A recent review of 95 studies published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that for every 7 ounces of produce you add each day, the risk of all major disease, including cancer, heart disease and stroke, drops significantly.

--Stock your kitchen with healthy, ready-to-eat foods. Having ready-to-eat snacks and meals-in-minutes on hand sets you up for success. You'll be less likely to hit the drive-through or order a pizza if you can throw together a healthy meal in five or 10 minutes. Keep on hand frozen vegetables, whole-grain pasta, reduced-fat cheese, canned tomatoes, canned beans, pre-cooked grilled chicken breast, whole grain tortillas or pitas and bags of salad greens. Canned beans, for example, are a great source of protein and fiber and are linked to longevity.

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--Drink more water. My dietitian mentor/friend Connie drinks a glass when she wakes up. People often confuse thirst with hunger, so you can end up eating extra calories when an ice-cold glass of water is really all you needed. If plain water doesn't cut it, try drinking flavored sparkling water or brewing a cup of fruit-infused herbal tea. Carry it with you and keep a glass handy at work.

Q and A

Q: Does taking extra calcium help lower your risk for colon cancer?

A: Your dietary pattern does help determine your risk for colon cancer. To lower your risk, maintain a healthy weight and eat a diet low in animal fat and processed meats and high in fruits, vegetables and fiber. Also, if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. There is evidence from clinical trials that taking 1,200 mg of supplemental calcium per day could reduce the chance of precancerous growths in the colon, called polyps. If you prevent polyps from forming in the first place, it could reduce the chance of developing cancer. Although not all studies have found this to be the case, it would be reasonable for you to consider taking extra calcium in addition to maintaining a healthy weight and eating pattern. There really isn't any big risk to taking calcium supplements, although it can cause constipation in some people and at doses exceeding 1,000 mg per day, has been linked to a slightly higher risk for kidney stones. Keep in mind, though, that if you want to get the full potential benefit of calcium supplementation, you are going to have to take it daily for an extended period, since nutritional strategies to prevent colon cancer require you to adhere to them for a very long period. - Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter.


Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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