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Resolving to eat healthy foods in 2012

USA Today, December 28, 2011

New Year's resolutions to eat better are often rife with dietary deprivation. Vowing to avoid sweets at all costs, giving snacks the boot and swearing off burgers and fries can quickly derail your commitment to good nutrition. I see it happen all the time.

Why not take a more positive approach to changing eating habits for the better in 2012 and beyond? Instead of concentrating on what you can't eat, plan your eating pattern to include more nutrient-rich choices.

I reached out to my colleagues, some of the country's top health experts, and here's what they recommend you put on the menu in 2012 and every year.

Pumpkin. It's packed with antioxidants as well as immune-boosting vitamin A , and it's simple to incorporate into your everyday diet. Use canned pure pumpkin to work this super-nutritious vegetable onto the table any time of the day. Stir a cup into your favorite bean chili recipe; use 1/4 to 1/2 cup canned to replace some of the solid fat, such as margarine and butter, in recipes for baked goods; or add a few tablespoons of pureed pumpkin to fruit smoothies.

- Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD, and Liz Weiss, MS, RD, aka The Meal Makeover Moms (authors of No Whine With Dinner: 150 Kid-Tested Recipes from the Meal Makeover Moms)

Beans. Whether purchased in a can or bag, beans provide more nutritional and culinary versatility than any other food I know. They are one of the best natural sources of fiber you can bring to the table with an average of seven grams of fiber in every 1/2 cup serving of cooked beans. Beans are also a good-to-excellent source of six other vitamins and minerals including folate, potassium and iron.

When trying to meet the ChooseMyPlate recommendation to fill half your plate with produce, beans can help because they are vegetables. When you have plenty of other vegetables on your plate, your beans can count as a protein source instead. Now that's versatile!

-Robyn Flipse, MS, RD (co-author of The Wedding Dress Diet)

Lentils. Nutrition-wise, lentils are a powerhouse and are budget-friendly. Lentils are a great source of protein and one cup cooked provides about half your daily fiber needs. Lentils are rich in iron, and they also provide other minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, copper, and potassium. Lentils are fat-free and cholesterol-free, too. And lentils are versatile – there's actually nine different varieties to use in soups, curries, grain salads, and to mix with ground beef or rice. You can eat them hot or cold and easily substitute lentils for rice or pasta. No need to soak lentils overnight – they only need about 20-30 minutes of simmering.

- Danielle Omar, MS, RD

Chocolate. But hold the guilt! Eating a food you truly love is a wonderful way to nurture yourself. When you enjoy chocolate regularly and mindfully, without thinking of it as an indulgence, you eliminate the unconscious feelings of deprivation and guilt that lead to paradoxical overeating. Instead of "giving in" or sneaking it, savor your chocolate fearlessly and joyfully!

- Michelle May, MD (author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle)

Seafood. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest eating at least 8 ounces of seafood weekly; the average intake is around three ounces a week, so we have a long way to go.

Seafood fills two nutrition voids for many people — it's a lean source of protein that makes a great replacement for a meat at least once a week, and a source of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats, which few people get enough of. In my experience, many people decide very early in life that they don't like seafood. But tastes change, and with an open mind there's bound to be some sort of seafood you like. If it's not fish, it might be shrimp or scallop; even canned tuna is a good choice. Make 2012 the year you experiment with seafood and find out what you like best!

- Hillary Wright, MEd, RD (author of The PCOS Diet Plan: A Natural Approach to Health for Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)

Nuts. They provide healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, as well as vitamin E, fiber, and potassium, a nutrient that the USDA has identified as one of four that most Americans don't get enough of. Pistachios, for example, offer 8% of the daily value for potassium, more than any other nut, and are one of the highest-fiber nuts with 3 grams of fiber per serving. Nuts also contain phosphorus, B-vitamins, copper, manganese, iron, magnesium, zinc, and folate. Since most nuts provide a nice balance of protein, healthy fats, and some carbohydrate, just one handful makes for a nicely balanced snack to promote sustained energy and feelings of satisfaction after eating.

The 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines recommends eating 4 ounces of nuts, seeds, or soy per week, which can average out to about 1/4 cup of nuts four times per week. Snack on nuts, toss them into salads in place of croutons, stir into baked good recipes, and serve with cheese and fruit as a snack or dessert.

- Michelle Dudash, RD (author of the upcoming Clean Eating for Busy Families

100% orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Orange juice is naturally loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and folate. Fortified brands supply and calcium and vitamin D, two nutrients that are lacking in the diets of children, teens, young adults, and women. Just one serving a day of fortified OJ helps boost immunity, iron absorption, and bone health. Keep daily intake to 4-6 ounces for children under 6 years, and 8-12 ounces for older kids and adults.

- Jill Castle, MS, RD (author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School

Oatmeal. It's a whole grain and it provides a good dose of fiber and a little protein; the fiber/protein combination is a dynamic duo that helps to keep you full. Top oatmeal with fresh fruit (a few sliced strawberries, a sliced banana, or 1/2 cup blueberries work well) or stir in 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce or one tablespoon of dried fruit (with no sugar added) for added flavor and texture. Make oatmeal with fat-free milk to boost your calcium, protein, and vitamin D intake, and add a tablespoon or two of walnuts or flaxseed for more protein, fiber and healthy unsaturated fats. Old fashioned oats are lower in sodium and sugar. When using instant or quick-cooking oats to save time, choose brands without added sugar.

- Elisa Zied, MS, RD (author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips)

Nonfat Greek yogurt.It's so think and creamy, you won't miss the fat. I love the way it tastes and the fact that it contains probiotics, friendly bacteria that take up residence in your gut and protect your health. Greek yogurt is packed with bone-building calcium. Because it's strained, it contains more protein and less carbohydrate than other yogurt, making it a filling choice for breakfast or snack. Use it in dips, add it to soup or chili and use as a base in cold soups, use in place of some of the mayonnaise in potato and pasta salad, blend with frozen fruit for a smoothie, and make a parfait out of Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and granola.

- Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD (author of the upcoming Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week