On Health

We are entering into the second half of the year, and some people who made New Year resolutions to eat healthier have met or gotten close to their goals. Others have not. If you’ve been unable to get out of a routine of eating restaurant, takeout, delivery or packaged meals, you wouldn’t be alone.

Many people in the U.S. have a difficult time simply finding healthful alternatives. “Food deserts” are areas whose residents have limited financial or geographic access to healthy, fresh foods. They may do most of their shopping at fast-food locations and convenience stores.

Recently, there have been efforts to bring healthier products to food deserts by opening new grocery stores. While a good idea in theory, the results have been somewhat disappointing. In one report, less than 30 percent of residents in one city used their new grocery stores and among those who did, there was no significant improvement in the intake of fruits and vegetables or their body mass index.

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On the other hand, there are many people who live in “food abundant” areas with access (and the purchasing ability) to a large variety of healthful products and yet they still eat packaged items and fast food or takeout frequently. Or their diet may lack a variety of fruits and vegetables. It would seem as if they, too, live in virtual food deserts.

If access is not the main barrier to a healthier diet for some of us, what is? The answer is certainly multifactorial and can include hectic work schedules, unfamiliarity with new foods, a continued perception that healthy equals expensive, and cultural or family dietary traditions.

If you physically live in a “food abundant” place with easy access to a variety of healthful foods but find yourself in dietary rut, here are some tips:

1. Be deliberate. Behavior change is not a passive process. Actively think about every single food item you purchase and find a new alternative. If you always eat potatoes with your chicken, how about trying roasted Brussels sprouts?

2. Take a healthful-cooking class and a knife-skills class. Knowing how to slice, dice and chop properly will not only prevent injuries, it will also help reduce kitchen frustration by allowing you to prepare foods efficiently.

3. Plant a vegetable. It is satisfying to eat what you’ve grown, and you will look at food with a different lens after you’ve done that.

4. Go to your local farmers market or ethnic grocery store regularly and buy a vegetable you’ve never eaten before. Talk to the farmer or use the Internet to learn ways to prepare it.

5. Consider subscribing to a weekly produce delivery box (like Full Circle), which brings you a rotation of fruits and vegetables from the farms to your door. Companies like Blue Apron and Plated provide ingredients you need to prepare a variety of meals at home every week.

If you haven’t yet gotten a chance to eat healthier in 2014, do not be discouraged. With summer’s bounty, now might actually be the best time to start.

Linda Pourmassina, M.D., is an internal-medicine physician who practices at The Polyclinic in Seattle. She has a blog at pulsus.wordpress.com and can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter @LindaP_MD)