8 healthy habits to adopt in 2016

Click to play video: 'New Year Fitness Resolutions'
New Year Fitness Resolutions
January is a busy time for gyms as people make fitness resolutions. Amber Zenith from High Fitness teaches us how to get in the right mindset and maintain a healthy lifestyle – Jan 3, 2016

On Jan. 1, you promised to eat more fruits and vegetables, work out more and ditch the fast food. While you had good intentions, three weeks later, you’re back to your old vices.

It’s hard to stick to resolutions when they’re generic, nutritionists say. It’s around this time that gym memberships and vows to avoid junk food fall to the wayside.

“The New Year is when people think of turning over a new leaf, but it’s important to continue that throughout the year. Most [resolutions] don’t last beyond January because they aren’t specific and goals that are small, gradual and sustainable,” Andrea Miller, a Whitby, Ont.-based dietitian and spokeswoman for the Dietitians of Canada (DoC), told Global News.

She cites the SMART rule in goal-setting. The resolutions you carve out need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

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READ MORE: 9 diet and weight loss mistakes you’re making

If you say you want to eat more fruits and vegetables, determine how many per day or per week and when, for example. If you say you want to work out more, schedule concrete time at the gym.

Miller and other DoC experts provide eight healthy habits they say Canadians should adopt in the New Year. Deciding when and how often you’ll work these habits into your daily life is up to you.

READ MORE: 6 misconceptions about nutrition and healthy eating

Try to pick up one lifestyle change to see how your health improves, they suggest.

Eat plain nuts as an afternoon snack

If you tend to head to the coffee shop or vending machine for your 3 p.m. fix, Miller suggests you take up eating a handful of nuts instead.

Almonds, walnuts, pecans – these days, medical research has been touting nuts as nutritional powerhouses.

READ MORE: Why are nuts good for us and how many should we eat?

“They’re very heart-healthy. Those who consume nuts on a regular basis have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. They’re a source of protein and fibre and they decrease cravings for other foods throughout the day,” Miller explained. They also help with brain health, skin, nails and hair.

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Reach for about 15 to 20 nuts. They shouldn’t be salted, sugar or chocolate-coated, either.

Incorporate protein into each of your meals

Making sure protein is worked into your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, is important because it satiates appetite, decreases cravings and keeps you fueled for the day.

Miller says this habit is hard for Canadians who grab breakfast on the go.

READ MORE: 6 (more) common misconceptions about nutrition

“We eat very little protein in the morning, a little a lunch and then a lot in the evening. It’s not very efficient,” Miller warned.

Think of your slice of toast with jam or butter in the morning, for example. Build on that breakfast with one or two eggs, Greek yogurt or oatmeal made with milk and chopped nuts. If you don’t have time, swap out the jam for peanut butter or cheese on your toast.

At lunch, include lean meats or fish in a sandwich, add chickpeas to your salad and at dinner, make sure one serving of protein – about the size of a deck of cards – is on your plate.

Cook dinner from scratch one more time than you do now

Right now, 43 per cent of Canadians say they don’t cook balanced meals for themselves and their loved ones on a regular basis, according to an Ipsos Reid poll conducted for the Dietitians of Canada.

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If you’re cooking at home, say, twice a week, increase that number to three, Andrea D’Ambrosio, a Waterloo, Ont.-based dietitian, says.

READ MORE: What’s the best way to cook vegetables? Steaming, study says

The experts aren’t talking about defrosting and heating up prepackaged goods or relying on canned sauces.

“We just want people in their kitchens cooking meals more often with basic ingredients like whole grains, beans and pulses, vegetables and fruits, lean proteins and milk,” D’Ambrosio explained.

Look for recipes online, in cookbooks and in magazines or even ask your family members for their go-to dishes, she said.

Miller says home cooked meals help with controlling portion sizes, calories, fat, and sodium content. It also means your family reconnects over a healthy meal.

Aim for eight hours of sleep every night

Getting a good night’s rest helps with concentration, keeping your emotions in check and maintaining a healthy immune system, to name a few benefits, according to D’Ambrosio.

As your brain rests, your systems are rebooted from memory, to mood, attention and pain management. Your body takes a much-deserved time out.

READ MORE: Canadian doctor shares her tips for falling asleep and staying asleep

“Lack of sleep can increase hunger, decrease energy or mood and increase impulsivity or poorer decision-making,” she explained.

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Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening and limit your screen time on your smartphone or laptop while you’re getting ready for bed.

Work non-starchy vegetables into lunch and dinner

Potatoes, yams, squash and parsnips are tasty, but Saskatoon-based dietitian Brooke Bulloch says that Canadians should work on adding non-starchy vegetables onto their plates whether they’re cooking at home or ordering out.

Non-starchy vegetables include lettuce, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes, for example.

READ MORE: The 41 most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables

“Because vegetables are fibre-rich, water-filled and nutrient-dense, they help to fill us up quicker and add balance to our meals. It gets people thinking outside of the box,” she told Global News.

If you’re working with leftovers, warm them up over a bed of spinach. This works with leftover soup, steak and potatoes, chili and frittatas, for example.

WATCH: Dr. Mitch Shulman is here to give his top tips for how to make realistic resolutions for the New Year.

Use herbs, citrus to pack flavour into your meals

If you’re watching your sugar and sodium intake – and you should be – Cathy Paroschy Harris, a Thunder Bay, Ont.-based dietitian, says fresh herbs, lime and lemon zest can season your dinners without hurting your waistline.

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Mint, chili flakes, lemongrass, crushed garlic and vinegar are also healthy options to cook with.

READ MORE: 9 tips for healthy grilling

“I do at times find the fresh herbs will go bad fast, so I wash and dry them, and freeze them in a bag for easy access. I put them in my kitchen freezer, so I need only to grab the kitchen scissors to snip a bit for recipes or meals,” Paroschy Harris said.

If they look wilted or browned after freezing, it isn’t a problem for cooking, she says. The flavours will still do their jobs.

Stack your habits

If some of these habits are already routine for you, take it up a notch, Miller says. If you’re already eating breakfast, try to forge a habit of eating a piece of fruit with breakfast each morning, for example.

“Stacking habits is often easier and more realistic than starting something totally new. This can be a motivating way to start the New Year,” she said.

Make time for yourself

Your schedule may be packed from morning meetings to evening appointments with friends. You need to work downtime into your daily life to unwind and focus on your health, said Kate Comeau, a Halifax-based dietitian.

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READ MORE: 5 healthy fast food swaps

“When I find myself saying things like I’m too busy to get groceries or I’m too tired to go for a jog, I know this is exactly the moment when I need to reset my priorities,” she explained.

Dutifully carve out time for you instead of your laundry list of responsibilities.

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