If it tastes good, spit it out? Wrong!

Want to make healthier choices? Want to break some habits that are promoting the risk for heart disease, diabetes, increased blood pressure and cholesterol? Want to enjoy food without feeling guilty? Feel like if it tastes good, it can’t be healthy and you should spit it out? Know you need to increase physical activity, but feel like you don’t have time?

Food is everywhere. There are all varieties, high-fat, low-fat, reduced-calorie, low-carb and so on … how do you make up your mind? It can be very overwhelming, to say the least.

First, let’s start with a little attitude adjustment. It takes forethought to start making healthier choices. Set realistic goals that will be reachable and positive. Pick a few habits to change first. Don’t try to change everything overnight. Keep in mind that it takes time and practice to make changes for better health. Think positive – it’s time to take control and get your attitude straight about healthful eating.

To live a healthier lifestyle, you need to consider not only the foods you eat, but also how much physical activity you do on a daily basis. Foods and exercise go hand in hand. Again, set realistic goals. Research shows that even small amounts of physical activity can improve health. If you are not exercising at all currently, talk to your physician for advice before starting. Keep in mind that you don’t have to run a marathon. Ten to 20 minutes once or twice a day can improve health. Work up from there. For weight loss, work up to 45 to 90 minutes as many days as possible.

Starting your day with breakfast will help you fuel up for the day. Breakfast helps your body wake up and be more powerful. Quick starts may include whole wheat toast with peanut butter, yogurt and fruit, or simply a serving of whole grain cereal with skim milk. Research has shown that by eating breakfast, you are more likely to get the nutrients your body needs each day.

Try taking meals to work part of the week instead of eating out every day. It will help you save calories. Pair a turkey or ham sandwich with baked chips and yogurt or fruit. If you do eat out, try to keep portion sizes in mind. Choose a grilled chicken sandwich and small garden salad. You can even have a hamburger and fries every now and then, keeping in mind that it needs to be a small hamburger (without mayonnaise and cheese to help cut down on fat and calories) and a small order of fries. Team it up with a small garden salad to increase vegetables.

Modify recipes at home. Try low-fat sour cream, low-fat/low-sodium cream soups for casseroles and 2 percent or part-skim cheeses to reduce calories and fat but keep flavor and texture. Choose lean meats like chicken/turkey breast without skin, tuna/chicken packed in water, fish and seafood. Grill, bake, broil or steam of course, instead of frying. Substitute ground white turkey or chicken or soy in casseroles and spaghetti for a lower fat/cholesterol alternative. Watch portions. Just because a recipe or food is modified doesn’t mean you get all you want.

Unsure about portions? You can use your hand: 3 ounces equals about the size of the palm of your hand; 1 ounce of cheese equals four dice, stacked; one serving of fresh fruit equals about the size of a tennis ball. Try measuring foods at home to get an idea of portion sizes so you “visualize” when you eat out.

Ready to get started? Keep a positive attitude and take one step at time. Each step gets you closer to a healthier lifestyle! Set a few goals for this week. Include a goal or two for old habits/changes that you want to tackle first and set a goal or two for increasing physical activity.

Keep in mind, the foods you eat can taste good and be healthier, so enjoy, don’t spit it out!

Leanne Davis, R.D., L.D., is a clinical dietitian with North Mississippi medical Center in Pontotoc and Hamilton.