Does Your New (Year) Diet Measure Up?

By Cassidy Hobbs Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston County Cooperative Extension

It’s inevitable that when a new year begins, so do new wellness and health regimens. Whether they are based on research or not, everyone is sure to give you advice on the best diet you should begin in the new year.

Consumers are quick to try anything that shows nearly instant results on the scales, but unfortunately, many of these diets do not teach healthy eating patterns, are not sustainable over a lifetime, and once you reach your goal weight or give up on the diet, typically more weight is gained back than you lost with all of your hard work.

Before you get too far into your new diet, consider the following points to see if it matches up with a healthy eating pattern. Chances are, it is lacking in one or more of the following areas.

Does your diet limit super foods?

Super foods are foods that are shown time and time again to have health benefits. Whole grains such whole wheat and whole grain breads and pastas (make sure it says “whole” on the label), oats, brown rice, quinoa, and even popcorn are forms of carbohydrates that provide us with fiber and nutrients to keep you fuller for longer.

Bread and carbohydrates get a bad reputation, but it’s those that lack fiber that we want to cut from our diet, not the whole grains.

Fruits and vegetables provide us with the bulk of our vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, when eaten with the edible skins, so eat lots of those! They are naturally cholesterol-free and low-sodium.

Beans, legumes, and nuts are our plant-based proteins. This means we should lots of these foods as well. They contain protein and fiber without the saturated fat which should be limited in a healthy diet.

Fiber is incredibly important in maintaining a healthy weight, reducing your risk of chronic disease, managing blood pressure, and managing blood sugar.

The next question you should ask yourself is, “Where does my diet stand on limiting foods associated with chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer?” This is where it gets tough and most fad diets can’t hold up, so brace yourself.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 13g based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Saturated fat is found in animal products such as meats, butter, cheese, dairy, and tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil. This is why health professionals and nutritionists recommend choosing the leanest cuts of meat, low fat and fat-free dairy products, using liquid olive and canola oils for cooking, and reading nutrition labels.

According to the American Heart Association, too much saturated fat in the diet is associated with higher LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Additionally, the American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention inform us that reducing saturated fat in the diet and using olive and canola oils (unsaturated fats) has beneficial health outcomes such as improving cholesterol levels and improving blood pressure management.

The third point to consider about your new diet is where is stands on added sugar. Of course, most diet will not allow for you to drink sweet tea and soft drinks, but if your diet includes unlimited amounts of honey, agave, nectar, or sugars you consider to be natural, just be aware that those are still considered to be added sugars.

Added sugars are sugars that are added to food and drink to sweeten the flavor. A true, natural sugar is contained in dairy, vegetables, and fruit without being added. The difference between added and natural sugars is that natural sugars are contained in a cell wall, making your body do work to break it down, and is accompanied by other nutrients, such as in raisins, skim milk, and plain sweet potatoes.

There is no evidence to suggest that natural sugar from fruit, vegetables, or dairy have negative health effects.

There is evidence, however, to suggest that too much added sugar has negative health outcomes such as inflammation, heart disease, cancers, type 2 diabetes, gout, non-alcoholic fatty liver syndrome, and metabolic syndrome.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25g of added sugar for women and children, and no more than 36g of added sugar for men.

The final thing to ask yourself about your diet, especially if you are purchasing pre-packaged foods, frozen meals, or processed meats, is where the diet stands on sodium.

Americans consume on average 3,400mg of sodium per day. That is well beyond the recommendation. It is recommended to stay at or below 1,500mg of sodium with 2,300 mg being the absolute limit according to the American Heart Association.

Too much sodium in the diet over time causes the arteries to become weak and hardened leading to high blood pressure.

High blood pressure can put you at risk for other chronic illnesses. Foods such as deli meats, bacon and highly processed meats, frozen foods, pizza, canned goods, and broths are loaded with sodium. Be sure to read labels and choose “no salt added” and “low sodium” options when available.

One last final tip is to stay hydrated! Drinking plenty of water will help you on your wellness journey and your body will thank you.

For more information on nutrition decisions, visit

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