Go “all-in” or “dip your toes” in 2015: 12 realistic nutrition goals

By Andy Bellatti MS, RD | 2015-01-01 16:54:44 | 4 Comments

Most of us in the realm of nutrition, fitness, and health are not big fan of New Year’s resolutions. They are generally unrealistic, overly strict, easily abandoned, and perpetuate the all-or-nothing thinking that can make healthy living seem extreme, restrictive, and oppressive to so many.

There are nevertheless improvements and tweaks that can always be made to dietary habits. And, while goals like “eating more whole foods” or “eating fewer highly processed foods” are worth pursuing, it can be hard for some to understand how that translates to actual habits.

For that purpose, I compiled twelve measurable and realistic nutrition goals you can tackle throughout this coming year. The idea is to spend one month working on each goal and the maintain that goal as you make your way down the list. You can work on these in any order you want.

Since all change matters, I offer you two choices for each goal – “all in” if you want to make the full commitment and “dipping your toes” if you’re looking to take it more slowly.

1. “All-In”: Eliminate Liquid Sources of Sugar

“Dip Your Toes”: Cut Back on Liquid Sources of Sugar

While most people equate liquid sugar with soda, this also means fruit juice (yes, even fresh squeezed at home), sugary coffee drinks (i.e.: mocha java caramel chip frozen lattes), chocolate milk, and sweetened non-dairy milks (even “plain” varieties contain added sugar; you always want to go for “unsweetened”).

And, yes, this also refers to the sugar (whether it’s white table sugar, ‘sugar in the raw’, agave nectar, or coconut nectar) you add to your morning coffee or tea. One more important detail: the goal here is not to replace caloric sweeteners with zero-calorie artificial varieties.

Why is this important? Added sugars contribute empty calories that do not satiate and offer zero nutrition. Furthermore, they keep our tastebuds used to concentrated sweet flavors.

If you’re not ready to eliminate liquid sugars, work on cutting back. What does “cutting back” mean? To determine that, first figure out how many grams of sugar you drink each day (tally it up over the course of three days to get an average) and slash that figure by at least fifty percent (ideally seventy-five).

Let’s say you take in 30 grams of sugar in liquid form every day. Your goal, then, would be to cap your liquid sugar intake at 15 grams (ideally, 8 grams).

liquid sugar


2. “All-In”: Buy a (Healthy) Cookbook You’ll Use

“Dip Your Toes”: Find – and Make – 4 Healthy Recipes

If I could summarize dietary advice in two words, they would be “just cook!”.

The more you cook at home, the more of a say you have over what goes into your food – and what doesn’t. Remember, the vast majority of restaurants are in the business of making food taste good, which means liberal amounts of oils, salt, and sugar. And that’s fine – when eating out is the exception to the rule.

A good cookbook is key to making more meals at home. For the purposes of this goal, look for a cookbook that is health-oriented (browse through suggested titles here). I highly recommend you leaf through a possible purchase first to make sure the recipes are ones you can actually see yourself making!

The specific goal this month is to make three recipes from your new cookbook each week, for a total of twelve recipes this month.

For a lower-commitment alternative, find four healthy recipes online (either on Pinterest or a health-focused cooking blog, such as Oh She Glows, Plant-Powered Kitchen, or Claudia’s many terrific recipes) and make one recipe a week.

plenty more


3. “All-In”: Minimize Oils & Use Whole Food Fats

“Dip Your Toes”: Use Healthier Oils

When you eat whole foods that contain healthy fats – think nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconuts – you also get the benefits of fiber, vitamins, and minerals (oils, meanwhile, only offer healthful fatty acids).

This month, your goal is to use oils sparingly and get most of your fat from whole foods. So, for example, drizzle this garlic-tahini dressing over steamed vegetables (as opposed to an oil-based salad dressing). Add avocado and sunflower seeds to a salad that you dress with your favorite vinegar, flavored/infused salt, and some lemon juice.

If you’re not quite ready for that leap, focus on making healthier oil selections. Dump corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils. Instead, use extra virgin olive oil, coconut, avocado, walnut, flax, and hempseed oils (refer to this post for more information).

Food with unsaturated fats


4. “All-In”: Eat Beans 4 Times a Week

“Dip Your Toes”: Eat Beans 2 Times a Week

Beans and legumes offer plentiful protein, fiber, and many of the minerals most Americans don’t eat enough of (magnesium, potassium, manganese). And, there is a good body of evidence that supports eating beans several times a week for better heart health. Try bean-based chilis, roasted chickpeas, bean soups, bean dips, and lentil curries.

If you need to ease into it (i.e.: you can’t remember the last time you ate beans), go for two servings a week. If you have digestive concerns, keep in mind that lentils are easier to digest, and you can add kombu, a seaweed, to home-cooked beans to make them more digestible.

Seamless texture with legumes


5. “All-In”: Ditch Breakfast Cereals

“Dip Your Toes”: Choose Better Cereals

By and large, breakfast cereals offer minimal nutrition (don’t be fooled by the long list of vitamins and minerals; most of those are tacked on during processing). Instead, start your mornings with more nutritious offerings like smoothies, chia pudding, overnight oats, avocado on whole/sprouted grain toast, or homemade granola.

If cereal is an absolute “must,” then have some guidelines in mind. Look for a sugar to fiber ratio of at least 1:2 (at the very least, you want fiber grams to be higher than sugar grams). Only a small handful of cereals fit this criteria: Uncle Sam, Engine 2, and Food for Life Ezekiel cereals are available nationwide.

spilled milk:cereal


6. “All-In”: Eat Greens 5 Times a Week

“Dip Your Toes”: Eat Greens 3 Times a Week

From a nutritional standpoint, you can’t get much better than leafy greens, which include kale, collards, mustard greens, beet greens, brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choy, and arugula. Full of fiber, minerals, and phytonutrients, they pack a nutrient punch that is out of this world. Incorporate them into your diet five days a week. If your current intake of greens consists of a few pieces of lettuce on a sandwich, start off with three times a week.

Don’t just think salads, either (although there are some that are innovative and well worth making). You can also add greens to smoothies, soups, pilafs, stir fries, and pasta dishes. Greens also make for wonderful side dishes.

leafy greens


7. “All-In”: Try A New Vegetable

“Dip Your Toes”: Try Your Favorite Vegetable in a New Way

It can be easy to get into a food rut. If you can walk through the supermarket and make your usual purchases blindfolded, then it’s time to switch things up. Choose a vegetable you have never tried before (i.e.: celery root, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, bok choy, nopales, chayote squash) and that is available in your area, look up a handful of recipes, and make at least one during a one-month period.

If you’re not quite as adventurous – or you live in an area where less-common vegetables are hard to come across – then find a way to cook your favorite vegetable differently. Do you usually have red pepper strips dipped in hummus? Try making a red pepper tapenade. Is steamed cauliflower your go-to side dish? Try a roasted version.

celery root


8. “All-In”: Fermented Foods

“Dip Your Toes”: Take a Probiotic Supplement

A healthy intestinal tract is the key to health, and fermented foods go a long way toward helping our digestive tracts remain healthy. Plenty of foods and beverages “count” – kimchi, yogurt (dairy or otherwise; look for plain varieties with no added sweeteners), kefir (dairy or otherwise; great as a smoothie base), miso (which you can use to make dips, sauces, and dressings), kombucha, rejuvelac, and sauerkraut. Aim to eat one serving of these foods three times a week.

If your palate for fermented foods isn’t quite there yet, start by taking a probiotic supplement daily.



9. “All-In”: Make Your Own Salad Dressings

“Dip Your Toes”: Simple Bottled Dressings

Most store-bought salad dressings use unhealthy oils and can often contribute hefty amounts of sodium or added sugar. Start making your own. Keeping in line with the earlier goal of eating more whole-food fats, check out this extensive list of oil-free dressings! If you’re going the “healthier oil” route, here are some good recipes.

Alternatively, you can continue to buy bottled dressings, but you must be an ingredient list detective. You ideally want flax, hemp, or olive oil as the base, and you want no more than two grams of sugar – and 200 milligrams of sodium – per serving.

Andy Bellatti's tahini dressing


10. “All-In”: Go 100% Plant-Based 3 Times A week

“Dip Your Toes”: Vegan Until 6 PM 3 Times a Week

Whole-food, plant-based/plant-strong/plant-centric diets continue to make headlines for their various health benefits. Try to make three entire days of the week entirely meat and dairy-free. This FAQ on plant-based eating from Kaiser Permanente answers basic questions and lists various helpful resources.

If that seems intimidating, then make three days of the week “flexitarian” ones, where you are 100% plant-based until 6 PM. If you need some help with that, check out Mark Bittman’s best-selling book, VB6.

Healthy Tasty Homemade Oatmeal with Berries for Breakfast


11. “All-In”: Hardcore Herbs

“Dip Your Toes”: Softer Spices

Some of the healthiest herbs leave an unmistakeable mark in our mouths – either by heating them up or staying on our breath for hours. Ginger, garlic, turmeric, and cayenne’s powerful flavors are just as powerful as their phytonutrients (“plant nutrients”) and antioxidants. This month’s goal is to eat one of these spices at least three times a week. Some examples: add cayenne to roasted root vegetables, add a nub of ginger to your favorite smoothie, and grate some turmeric into your favorite soup recipe.

If you need to build up slowly, start by incorporating fresh or dried herbs (think oregano, rosemary, dill, marjoram, parsley, and thyme) into your cooking at least three times a week.



12. All-In” & “Dip Your Toes”: Review and reflect

Take this last month of the year to reflect on what you have learned, how you have grown, and to take stock of how you feel. And, if there is one goal that you lost track of as the year went on, use this month to give it another shot.

Whether you incorporated one, four, or all eleven habits over the past twelve months, you stepped outside of your comfort zone and took active steps to improve your health. That is nothing short of commendable.


andy-iconAndy Bellatti, MS, RD is a Las Vegas-based nutritionist with a plant-centric and whole-food focus who takes an interest in food politics, deceptive food marketing, sustainability, and social justice. His work has been published in Grist, The Huffington Post, Today’s Dietitian, Food Safety News, and Civil Eats, among others. He is also the Strategic Director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, a group that advocates for ethical and socially responsible partnerships within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can read more of his work on his Small Bites blog and can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

4 responses to “Go “all-in” or “dip your toes” in 2015: 12 realistic nutrition goals”

  1. JJ says:

    Great article. Very informative with lots of useful, actionable ideas.

  2. anne aderhold says:

    Happy New Year!
    I love your 2015 blog as always. The all in or dip your toes ideas are great. My favorite new cookbook is
    Plenty More with lots of great recipes
    and foodie eye candy to inspire a healthy eating adventure for the new
    year. We are using PM recipes for Fitness Concepts and
    Women’s Wellness workshops.
    Thank you for always adding ideas
    and inspiration to our program.

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Hi Anne,
      You are always so sweet and supportive – thank you so much. Let’s resolve to catch up and exchange ideas this year!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *