Part of the key to a long, healthy life, is a healthy diet. They virtually go hand and hand. With that in mind, here are seven ways you can improve your diet:

1. Drink fewer sugary drinks

Soda and other sugary drinks are hurting you. Did you know that most calories you get from these types of drinks are basically “empty” calories and contain very little nutritional value? You feel good for a short period of time, but that charge-up wears off very quickly. Try gradually phasing out the amount of sugar you drink. Instead of soda, try flavored water. Instead of high sugar juice, try a ‘light’ lemonade or another fruit drink. Take it one step at a time, and you will see the progress gradually if you stick with it. Your waistline and your dentist will love you for it.

2. Plan ahead

If you have an approximate idea of your daily and weekly schedule, be prepared for cravings before they strike. Pre-purchase your healthy snacks at the grocery store earlier in the week, and keep them in a place that you can access them easily.

If you snack during your commute, keep some healthy food options in the car beginning on Monday. If you normally find yourself craving something to eat during the afternoon, store a few pieces of fruit or other veggie snacks in your desk. Keep good food easy to access so that you can stay on track without too much effort. Planning ahead will help to streamline that process for you.

3. Try vegetable-based options

Do you typically eat meat-based protein at every meal? Try some vegetable-based protein options and see how tasteful and exciting these alternatives can be.

Unless your doctor has advised you otherwise, skipping meat for a few meals is a great way to slim down and feel healthier too. In recent years, soy and other vegetable products have grown in popularity, and the difference in taste (from real meat) is barely recognizable. Check out vegetable recipes online, or talk to a local farmer’s market organization to learn more.

4. Clarify your goals to those around you

Do you spend a lot of your free time around people who eat unhealthily? Consider how that situation may be impacting your overall health and diet.

Many people tend to eat poorly because ‘everyone else’ is doing it. During a work outing or family get together, you may find yourself consuming more fries, chips, or junk food than you should! If you explain to friends or loved ones the reason why you want to eat better – they may also be inspired to change. If you know healthy options won’t be available at a certain event, bring something healthy with you that everyone can enjoy. You might end up being a role model for others around you!

5. Invest in yourself and your health

Nutritionally poor food choices are sometimes made for economic reasons. Did you know that most fast-food restaurants flourish in poor neighborhoods? Quick, cheap food is big business because all of us like to save money, even if we aren’t living on the poverty line.

Instead of worry about saving that extra dollar right now, look at it in a different way. Invest that money into your health. Choose to spend a little extra on a meal or snack that will benefit you exponentially in the future. The cost of proactively preventing digestive problems or keeping obesity under control is tiny compared with how eating poorly could impact you in the future. Would you rather pay for heart bypass surgery later on, or three extra dollars every day at lunch for higher quality food? Choosing the slightly more expensive but healthier option is an investment in your future and your life.

6. Check out new flavors

Instead of just seasoning your food with salt, try healthier spices. Check your local grocery store for salt-free seasoning options that can benefit your heart and keep foods from being dull.

Sometimes, people perceive healthy food to be boring. Healthy doesn’t need to be boring! Check out the many recipes and flavors that other people have created online. Boosting the taste factor in your healthy food also provides a greater incentive for you to eat it on a regular basis, instead of other options that are not good for you.

7. Be intentional about your food choices

Don’t let food just happen to you – take control by making intentional choices. Don’t choose the path of least resistance; instead, learn to embrace the idea that some difficulty is normal and that you can proactively change. Be intentional by setting daily, weekly, and monthly food goals. Enlist the help of a partner or a coworker to help keep you on track. Above all, believe in yourself and don’t allow negative self-talk to discourage you from moving forward. Be intentional, be proactive, and take those steps forward by gradually moving toward a healthier you.