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6 Eating Habits You Can Improve Today

Some daily diet routines may contribute to excessive intake of calories, sugar, and salt. Here's how to tweak them and eat healthier.

Updated on October 24, 2023

woman looking at juice on shelves at market
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Do you pride yourself on being a healthy eater? You may have all the best intentions and do your best to pick the most nutritious foods for meals and snacks, but even some eating habits generally considered to be healthy can contribute surprising amounts of added calories, fat, sodium, and sugar to your diet. Learn about common diet pitfalls, how to avoid them, and what to eat instead with these insights from Lauri Watson, RD, of Summerville Medical Center in Summervile South Carolina.

woman drinking orange juice
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Habit #1: You drink fruit juice.

Just because juice is made from fruit doesn’t make it good for you. “Juice, in general, has around 30 grams of sugar per cup,” says Watson. She recommends staying away from any liquids that have sugar. What about smoothies? It depends on the ingredients, but Watson generally recommends not going overboard on those either.

Instead of drinking fruit juice, try getting your fill of fruit from the whole fruit itself.

"You're going to get a lot more fiber, vitamins, and minerals from eating the whole fruit than if you were to drink the juice," says Watson. That's because many of the beneficial nutrients in fruits are stripped out during processing or juicing. If you do like to make smoothies, use no more than a half-cup of fruit and mix it with a protein source, like Greek yogurt, she says. 

view of pizza on a table, multiple hands pulling out a slice
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Habit #2: You banish your favorite foods.

Do you love pizza and French fries but refuse to take even a nibble? Though the intention may be right, vilifying certain foods can backfire in the long run.

"You end up pitting 'good' food versus 'bad' food and then it becomes this forbidden thing to have this piece of chocolate—or whatever that special food is. When you do eat it, you may be tempted to binge on it," says Watson.

Instead of forbidding your favorite foods, work on eating them in moderation. Incorporate a day once a week when you have a reasonable portion of your favorites. Or allow yourself to eat what you want when you go to a nice restaurant, suggests Watson. "Certainly it's not something you should do every day, but it's finding that happy place with food that’s important," she says.

hands holding almonds
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Habit #3: You overload on nuts.

You probably know to avoid eating an entire bag of chips in one sitting. But did you know that the same concept applies to nuts, even though they're often touted as one of the best snacks out there? While nuts have many health benefits, they also tend to be high in calories and fat (albeit healthy fats).

Whether you're adding nuts to a salad or just snacking on them, try to manage your portions. Roughly speaking, that means enjoying about 1 ounce daily. One ounce is about 24 almonds, 14 walnut halves, 48 pistachios, 35 peanuts, or 18 cashews. Another good rule of thumb: Limit your portion to what fits in the palm of your hand.

"Put them in little small bags if you buy a big bag of them, or buy the little pre-packaged portioned bags and keep those nearby for a quick snack," suggests Watson.

glass of sparkling water with berries
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Habit #4: You drink diet soda.

It’s best to avoid diet drinks altogether, especially those with aspartame, an artificial sweetener that can be up to 200 times sweeter than regular sugar, says Watson. Artificial sweeteners are so sweet they can have a tendency to stimulate your taste for sweetness, causing you to seek more sweet foods elsewhere. Research also suggests that increased diet soda consumption is linked to greater accumulation of belly fat in older adults. Belly fat (as opposed to the kind the lies just beneath your skin) is linked to a range of health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

If you have a daily diet soda habit, try by cutting back gradually. Have a glass of iced tea or seltzer water with natural flavoring instead. "Another great idea is to get a diffuser pitcher and mix fresh fruit or cucumbers to give water a little flavor," says Watson.

closeup of a plate of scrambled eggs over toast with arugula while an unidentified woman's hands uses a fork and knife to cut into it
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Habit #5: You skip meals.

Hoping to cut calories by skipping meals? That tactic may actually make you hungrier and more likely to overeat later, says Watson. "Meal skipping is the number one problem I consistently see when I work with patients on weight loss," says Watson.

To jumpstart your metabolism and burn more calories throughout the day, start your morning with a healthy breakfast rather than skipping the morning meal entirely. "Breakfast doesn't have to be a big deal. It can be as simple as Greek yogurt with a serving of fruit, or cottage cheese and some strawberries and some blueberries, or a couple of eggs and a piece of toast," Watson says. To stay fuller longer, eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.

man looking at ingredients of yogurt at grocery store
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Habit #6: You ignore food labels.

Some foods that are advertised as healthy actually may be full of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. (Think flavored instant oatmeal and sweetened granola.) Even some bottled salad dressings can have as much as 2 teaspoons of sugar per serving.

It takes an extra step at the grocery store, but it helps to get into the habit of reading food labels. “A good rule of thumb is to avoid processed foods with ingredients that a third grader can’t pronounce,” says Watson. "Focus on shopping the perimeter of the grocery stores, staying away from the inner aisles.” That gives you a better chance of filling your cart with fresh produce, rather than packaged and processed foods.

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