What are your goals for healthier 2019?

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For a healthier snack option, eat a piece of fruit for your afternoon snack.
For a healthier snack option, eat a piece of fruit for your afternoon snack.
Lisa Boykin Batts | Times

How many of you made resolutions this month to eat healthier or lose weight?

How’s it going?

It’s not easy to change eating habits.

If you’re used to stopping at a drive-thru for a sausage biscuit and soft drink every morning, it takes some discipline to prepare a healthier breakfast at home. And when hunger strikes at 3 p.m., it’s so convenient to run to the break room and get a bag of chips from the vending machine, but a piece of fresh fruit from home would have been a better option.

Shannon Jackson, clinical nutrition manager at Wilson Medical Center, suggests to first decide on your goal. Is the goal to lose weight or to feel better? Or maybe you want to improve your lab work before the next visit to the doctor. Once you know your goal, make a plan on how to reach it.

Shannon says to start at the grocery store. If you make good, healthy choices at the store, it will be easier to eat as you should at home. (If you don’t buy the junk food, you can’t be tempted to eat it later!) Making a list before you shop is an excellent idea, she added.

When you’re choosing food at the store, read the nutrition label. You might think the food item is healthy, she said, but if you look at the label you’ll have a better idea if it’s something you should be eating. For instance, don’t just randomly grab a bottle of vinaigrette dressing and add it to the cart. Check the sodium content. It could have as much as 400 mg of sodium, she said, and that’s way too much.

Also, pay attention to how many ingredients a food item has. If you don’t recognize half the ingredients, or if sugar and salt are in the first few ingredients, choose something else, Shannon said.

And remember, fresh fruit has one ingredient!

Look for foods with an American Heart Association heart-check certification as well. “If it has the AHA check, I usually feel good about it,” she said.

“Awareness is just so important,” she added, so make a point to know what you are eating.

For instance, if you are focused on heart health, pay close attention to the sodium content and whether the fat is a healthy fat or a bad fat.

If you are diabetic and your focus is carbohydrates, learn what you can consume in moderation. And try to avoid sweets or eat them in moderation. Eat fruit for dessert, she said, and avoid croissants and bagels. A large bagel is the equivalent of four slices of bread for your carb choice, she said.

For all of us who are watching our sugar intake, do not consume sweetened beverages, even those that have natural sugar, such as fruit juice. And look at the sugar content in dry cereals. You will be surprised, she said. My husband and I learned this lesson last year when we started studying the sugar content in our favorite dry cereals.

Specific goals that you can measure can also help you reach your target and empower you. If you are drinking three 20-ounce soft drinks a day, make a goal to drink just one a week, Shannon said.

Once you reach that goal, pick another one.

Shannon encourages people to prepare their own food and not to rely on convenience foods. “You have to make time to make it healthy,” she said.

For instance, winter is a good time for soup. Instead of choosing a canned soup that’s loaded with sodium, make your own soup. But if you do buy canned soups and broths, choose the reduced-sodium or no-salt options.

If you’d like something new to serve your family, try Seared Salmon Zucchini Squash Spaghetti with Chicory Walnut Pesto from Wilson Medical Center’s executive chef, J.P. Murcia.