We know how it is. You're busy. Life is hectic. Who has time to cook a healthy meal? Before you know it, you're in a real food rut—too rushed to try a new recipe or explore new flavors, too time-crunched to rethink your routine. Sticking with the same old eating habits—and maybe letting the healthy ones slide—is a recipe for weight gain. Culprits like added sugars, sodium and processed foods can start to pack on the pounds.
It's time for a change. For one week, try ditching the four foods below. They can sneak in calories and increase your risk for health problems down the road. If it sounds hard, remember: it's only one week! With just a few baby steps, you'll be on your way to a cleaner diet. Best of all, you'll be building healthy new habits—some you may want to keep for life.
Here's why: They're one of the biggest threats to your heart health. Added sugars—lurking in sodas, energy drinks, flavored yogurt, salad dressings, cereals and much more—account for more than 10 percent of Americans' calories every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Consuming that much sweet stuff raises your risk of high blood pressure, chronic inflammation and weight gain—all risk factors for heart disease.
What to try: Skip the condiments aisle and make your own tasty dressings and marinades—they'll taste fresher and have way less sugar, not to mention weird additives you can't pronounce. Rather than ordering those sugary (and pricey) morning lattes, try flavoring your coffee with cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa or a splash of vanilla.
Here's why: Americans have been hearing for years about the health benefits of whole grains: they're loaded with fiber, iron, B vitamins and other heart-healthy nutrients. A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that whole grains may help with weight loss by speeding up metabolism and aiding digestion. In the six-week study, whole-grain eaters lost almost 100 extra calories a day compared to people who ate refined grains.
What to try: Swap regular pasta for whole-wheat varieties. Trade white rice for brown, and choose whole-grain bread instead of squishy white. Don't fall for "multigrain," "bran" or "100 percent wheat" varieties—they're not necessarily whole grain. Check the ingredients list. Branch out with grains like quinoa, wheat berries and farro.
Here's why: Most of us eat too much salt, upping our risk for high blood pressure, kidney problems, stroke and heart disease. New research also suggests excess sodium can lead to weight gain. In one small study from Australia, people who ate a salty pasta dish were more likely to overeat, consuming 11 percent more calories than those who had a low-salt dish. Other studies show a link between high-salt diets and obesity in children.
What to try: Go through your pantry and set aside the soy sauce, crackers and packaged snacks for the week. Canned beans can be swimming in extra sodium, so consider soaking and cooking dried beans in a slow cooker rather than popping open a can. If you do use canned beans, be sure to rinse them well to get rid of excess salt. And instead of eating out, save yourself the money (and sodium, calories and unhealthy fats) and cook at home instead.
Here's why: Alcohol does have health benefits: research shows moderate drinking (1 drink a day for women, 2 for men) can help protect against heart disease and stroke. But over time, too much drinking can cause liver problems and increase the risk of some kinds of cancer. Plus, those colorful cocktails can be deceptively high in calories.
What to try: Skip the alcohol and sip a trendy mocktail instead. Or try hydrating more with sparkling water or green tea. Entertaining? Dress up nonalcoholic drinks with fresh fruit or mint—your guests will never miss the booze.