1. You eat too much sodium--The recommended daily allowance for sodium is 2,300 mg. But if you're over 50, 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 takes in about 3,300 mg daily. Most of our daily sodium comes from restaurant meals and processed foods. 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 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.
2. Your sugar intake is too high--According to the American Heart Association, women should have no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day. But many get about 22 teaspoons per day. The spoonful in your coffee isn't the biggest issue. Sugar is hiding in places you don't expect. 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 aware of low fat foods. When companies take out fat, they add sugar to enhance flavor.
3. You skimp on fiber--Fiber slows the rate at which your body digests food, so you feel full longer and that helps with weight management. Fiber can also reduce your risk of constipation, heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer. Women need about 25 grams per day, but most women eat just 10 to 15 grams. Raise the amount of fiber over a few weeks' time to cut chances of bloating. And drink more water, which helps fiber move through the digestive tract. Start the day with breakfast cereals that have 5 g of fiber or more. Eat beans and legumes, the skins on fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
4. 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. Women need about 46 grams of protein per day. Try an egg or nonfat or low fat Greek yogurt, which has about twice as much protein as regular yogurt. Snack on low fat cottage cheese, low fat 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.
5. You overdo it on red and processed meats--Meat is an excellent source of protein, 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. That's the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. Use meat as a flavor enhancer instead of it being 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.
6. You don't drink enough water--Not drinking enough fluids can lead to hunger if you're even slightly dehydrated. Have six to eight eight-ounce glasses per day. Before snacking, drink a glass of water and reevaluate how you're feeling in a few minutes. Add 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.
7. You overdose on carbs--Forty-five to 65% of your total daily calories should come from carbs. The problem is we overindulge. Not only are carbs in pasta and bread but also in fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. Focus on carbs loaded with vitamins, minerals and body-regulating fiber. Limit your intake of highly processed foods, like white bread and pastries. Go for more whole foods like 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.
8. You skip meals--This is probably the biggest nutrition mistake on the list. There's evidence that people who skip meals, especially breakfast, are more likely to be overweight. You need calories to burn calories. 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 low fat yogurt.