Give Your Diet a Nutritional Tune-up

Between spending long days at work and evenings and weekends attending to personal and family concerns, few Americans have time to eat right. But you don't have to overhaul your diet completely to improve its healthfulness.

Nutritious and delicious foods can easily be added to any diet. Below are some suggestions.

Fruits and vegetables

Eating at least five to nine servings (or 2½ to 4½ cups) of fruits and vegetables each day can help you prevent cancer, heart disease and other health problems.

To add more fruits and vegetables into your diet:

  • Add finely grated carrots to spaghetti sauce. Carrots are loaded with beta carotene, an antioxidant important in eye health and skin growth. You can also add kale or spinach to the sauce for extra fiber, vitamin C, and iron.

  • Fortify your salad. Top lettuce with chopped bell peppers, onions, carrots and tomatoes. Remember that what goes into a salad simply depends on your taste--the sky is the limit! Some suggestions are jalapeno peppers, green peas, cauliflower, corn, thinly sliced purple cabbage, onion, cucumber, beans, sprouts (barley, bean, radish), mushrooms, and more exotic vegetables including bok choy, sauteed eggplant, or squash, Chinese broccoli, jicama, and white asparagus. Certain fruits also add a slightly sweeter flavor to salads. Raspberries, blueberries, mandarin oranges, mango, papaya, and kiwi make flavorful and nutritious additions. Remember to use a fat-free or low-fat dressing.

  • Go green with spinach. The disease-fighting antioxidants in spinach are better absorbed from cooked spinach with a little added fat, such as olive oil. You also can add it to salads, sandwiches, pasta sauces, and pizza. Spinach is packed with vitamins and minerals including the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which reduce the risk for vision loss and macular degeneration. Spinach also is the richest plant source of folic acid, which helps prevent birth defects and suppresses homocysteine, a blood factor that, according to some studies, is considered a marker for increased risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, and Alzheimer's disease.  

  • Add more color to your diet with berries. Enjoy berries plain, with pancakes, or mixed into salads, cereals, or yogurt. Whichever berries you choose, you'll benefit from their fiber and phytonutrients. Blueberries have the highest antioxidant content of all fresh fruit. Strawberries are a rich source of the antioxidant vitamin C. Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from oxidants, unstable molecules that are produced by natural body processes, but damage healthy cells. 

Low-fat dairy products

Low-fat dairy products are high in calcium, which helps prevent bone-weakening osteoporosis.

These tips can help you add at least three servings of calcium-rich foods a day:

  • Switch to skinny lattes (2/3 skim milk to 1/3 strong coffee) instead of regular coffee.

  • Drink calcium-fortified orange juice instead of the regular kind. You'll get as much calcium as if you drank a glass of milk.

  • Cook oatmeal and other hot cereals with low-fat milk instead of water.

  • Choose yogurt for a snack. Enjoy it plain or add chopped fresh fruit or a handful of nuts. This nutrient-dense food is an excellent source of calcium, containing more of the bone-strengthening mineral than an equivalent serving of milk. The calcium, potassium, and magnesium in yogurt can help reduce your risk for hypertension, osteoporosis, heart disease, and stroke. Choose yogurt with "live and active cultures" to help aid in digestion. 


Iron deficiency can be caused by too little iron in your diet. (Other reasons for iron deficiency are inadequate absorption of iron and excessive blood loss.) Because iron helps carry oxygen to the blood and deliver it to cells, you may feel sluggish and fatigued without enough of it. Women of childbearing age (especially those who have heavy menstrual periods), pregnant women, preterm and low-birth-weight infants, older infants and toddlers, and teenage girls are at greatest risk for developing iron deficiency anemia because they have the greatest need for iron. For these people, iron supplements may be necessary to prevent iron deficiency anemia.

To add more iron to your diet, include red meats, fish, and poultry. Plant foods, such as lentils, beans, spinach, kale, pumpkin seeds, and iron-fortified foods are also common sources of dietary iron. to increase the absorption of iron coming from plant foods, eat with a food high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits.


A high-fiber diet reduces the risk of heart disease.

Add more fiber into your diet by using these ideas:

  • Toss beans into salads and soups.

  • Try hummus or black-bean or pinto-bean dip with raw vegetables and chips.

  • Sprinkle wheat germ on yogurt or into a cobbler or a crust.

  • Serve brown rice or wild rice instead of white rice.

  • Snack on fruit instead of cookies or other sweets. 

  • Buy bread and crackers with "whole wheat" listed as the first ingredient. Remember that just because the food label says "wheat," it does not guarantee that the product contains whole wheat. In fact, many products marketed as a wholesome wheat food are made of white flour, which is very low in fiber.


Nuts--almonds, in particular--are rich in vitamin E and monounsaturated fat and are a useful calcium source. They may help reduce the risk for heart disease and lower blood cholesterol levels. In addition to almonds, other good choices include hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts. Choose nuts that are not salted or roasted most of the time.

The American Heart Association's recommended Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet suggests four or five servings of nuts a week as part of a diet to control high blood pressure. One serving of almonds is 1-1/2 ounces or about one-third cup. Besides eating nuts as a snack, you can add them to vegetable dishes, salads, baked goods, pastas, and casseroles.  Keep in mind that nuts do contain a fair amount of calories, so eat them in moderation.