By Arricca Elin SanSone
As you're racing from one chore to the next, it's easy to skimp on certain nutrients and overdose on others. The good news: "There's no food or dietary component that you have to eliminate from a healthy diet," says Rachel Begun, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "But you have to plan a little." Here are women's most common nutrition mistakes and how to fix them.
You eat too much sodium.
The recommended daily allowance for sodium is 2,300 mg. But if you're over 50 years old, have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease or are African American, your sodium intake shouldn't go above 1,500 mg per day. Unfortunately, the average American consumes about 3,300 mg daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). "Most of our daily sodium comes from restaurant meals and processed foods, not the salt shaker on your table," says Begun.
The fix: Eat more fresh foods or prepare more foods at home, where you control how much salt goes in. Reduce your consumption of packaged foods. Watch for sodium in condiments too. Even low-sodium soy sauce has a whopping 533 mg per tablespoon. Dine at restaurants that cook to order, so you can ask chefs to prepare items without salt and serve sauces on the side.
Related: See the 50 tastiest foods under 100 calories.
Your sugar intake is too high.
According to the American Heart Association, women should have no more than 6 tsp (24 g) of added sugar per day. But many of us get about 22 tsp per day. "The spoonful in your coffee isn't the biggest culprit," says Angela Lemond, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Sugar is hiding in places you don't expect."
The fix: Learn to identify added sugar in ingredients lists. It goes by names like high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, molasses, honey, agave nectar and barley malt syrup. Watch for added sugar in sauces, dressings and bottled drinks. And be wary of lowfat foods. When companies take out fat, they often add sugar to enhance flavor, says Lemond.
You skimp on fiber.
"Fiber slows the rate at which your body digests food, so your energy levels remain more stable and you feel full longer, which helps with weight management," says Lemond. Fiber may also reduce your risk of constipation, heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer. Women need about 25 g per day, yet most of us eat just 10 to 15 g, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The fix: Up the amount of fiber you eat over a few weeks' time to cut your chances of bloating, and drink more water, which helps fiber move through the digestive tract. Start the day with breakfast cereals that contain 5 g of fiber or more. Eat a variety of beans and legumes, the skins on fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
Related: Stay fuller longer with these 8 foods.
You don't eat enough protein.
Too little protein can't keep hunger at bay, which can lead to mindless snacking and weight gain. "A piece of toast for breakfast isn't going to hold you as well as a protein-rich egg would," says Begun.Women need about 46 g of protein per day, according to the CDC.
The fix: Try an egg or nonfat or lowfat Greek yogurt, which contains about twice as much protein as regular yogurt, for breakfast. Snack on lowfat cottage cheese, lowfat cheese spread on whole-wheat crackers or nut butter on an apple or banana. Sprinkle nuts or seeds over salads and soup and eat more beans, soy products and greens such as kale and Swiss chard at lunch or dinner.
You overdo it on red and processed meats.
Meat is an excellent source of protein, with about 21 g per serving. But according to the American Cancer Society, studies have shown a link between lunch meat, sausage and pepperoni and colon cancer. "Protein portion size is just 3 ounces," says Lemond. That's the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.
The fix: Use meat as a flavor enhancer rather than the center of your plate. A crumble of bacon or sausage is plenty to spice up a dish. Slice up meat on a salad, make a stir-fry with more vegetables than red or processed meat and substitute beans for meat in chili. Choose 95% lean ground beef and lean cuts, which typically contain the word "round," as in top round, or "loin," as in tenderloin.
Related: Learn the 8 most important rules for eating well.
You don't drink enough water.
"Not drinking enough fluids can trigger hunger if you're even slightly dehydrated," says Lemond. While your needs vary each day based on how active you are, how hot and humid it is and how much water-heavy foods you're eating, here's a general recommendation: six to eight eight-ounce glasses per day, according to the NIH.
The fix: Before snacking, drink a glass of water and reevaluate how you're feeling in a few minutes. Up water's appeal by adding berries, mint leaves, citrus or cucumber slices. Drizzle a splash of fruit juice in seltzer water, or try hot or cold herbal teas. Fruits and veggies are about 85% water, and eating them counts toward your daily fluid intake.
You overdose on carbs.
Forty-five to 65% of your total daily calories should come from carbs, according to the CDC. "The problem is we overindulge in them," points out Lemond. Not only are carbs in pasta and bread but also in fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains.
The fix: Focus on carbs loaded with vitamins, minerals and body-regulating fiber. Limit your intake of highly processed foods, such as white bread and pastries, since they've been stripped of fiber. Opt for more whole foods such as oats, beans, lentils and fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Substitute whole-wheat bread, crackers and pasta for white, or use lettuce or a corn tortilla wrap for sandwiches to cut back on bread.
You skip meals.
"This is probably the biggest nutrition mistake on the list," says Begun. "There's consistent evidence that people who skip meals, especially breakfast, are more likely to be overweight. You need calories to burn calories."
The fix: Eat within one hour of getting up and throughout the day. If you don't enjoy breakfast, munch on something simple, such as a banana or nonfat or lowfat yogurt. If you'll be on the go all day, "pack snacks containing a little protein, a little fiber and a little fat so you'll feel fuller longer," says Begun. Good choices include yogurt, lowfat cheese sticks, hummus and veggies or a handful of almonds.