After a rainy, cold winter, warmer temperatures and sunny skies are a welcome sight. They’ll draw a lot of us outside for walks, bike rides or lawn care. But spring also tends to make us want to go through our homes, remove clutter and deep clean, perhaps because we’ve been cooped up and stuck indoors for most of winter. And while some will dig in and clean out a closet, basement or garage, spring cleaning can be applied to lots of aspects of our daily lives, including what we eat.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says the changing season is the perfect time to rethink our eating habits so we can feel lighter and healthier in the run-up to summer. “There are some key steps we can all take to spring clean our nutrition,” Tillman said. “First, start where your nutrition starts: the kitchen. A behavioral study published in the journal ‘Environment and Behavior’ reported that people who had disorganized kitchens were prone to eating more calories and sweets than people who had neater kitchens. The study found that having chaotic surroundings created anxiety that generated feelings of hunger. So, it’s worth your time to really get in the refrigerator and pantry to see what is good for you and what isn’t, and do some organizing,” she explained.
“While you’re doing so, take a look at those excess sources of sugar on the foods you’re eating,” Tillman continued. “Sodas and prepackaged foods often are loaded with hidden added sugars, which increase our risk for obesity and heart problems. The American Heart Association recommends keeping added sugars to less than six teaspoons a day for women and less than nine teaspoons for men. Just one 12-ounce regular soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar, so it's easy to overdo things fast,” she explained. “If you’ve already cut the sugar, but you’re consuming lots of foods that contain artificial sweeteners, you may want to look at reducing those, too, as artificial sweeteners have been linked to weight gain, increased appetite and increased cravings for sugary foods,” she added.
And Tillman says while you’re cleaning out your pantry, it’s important to evaluate the processed foods you’re eating. “You want to really explore how much of your diet comes in boxes, cans and packages,” she said. “Take this time to clear out all the things that are far removed from anything you might find in nature, such as packaged cookies, chips, sugary sodas, sugary cereals, canned soups, and boxed meals and side dishes,” she said. “Try replacing these with brightly colored vegetables and fruits, such as spinach, broccoli, carrots, red peppers, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. Make an effort to add a colorful veggie or fruit to each meal and snack,” she added.
Lastly, Tillman says part of spring cleaning your nutrition means cutting out dining out and spending more time cooking meals at home. “Eating at restaurants not only drains your wallet, but it also can contribute to weight gain,” she said. “A University of Texas at Austin study found that people consumed 253 more calories and 16 extra grams of fat on the days they dined out. Start with a few simple recipes that you can practice cooking at home. Personally, I like to keep weeknight meals super simple by starting with a meat or other protein source – ideally grilled, broiled or roasted – and a vegetable or two. Not only will you be eating healthier, you’ll be learning how to hone your cooking skills and saving money in the process,” she explained.