WHY eat healthfully?
Healthful eating seems to take some effort. It’s not always convenient or popular, but definitely worth the effort. You may have heard that “following a healthy diet can significantly lower your risk for disease” but that is not always a powerful motivator for everyone.
Below are some relatively immediate rewards you can experience when eating healthfully MOST OF THE TIME. Don’t pressure yourself to be a perfect eater…….. that causes a different set of issues.
- Nourishes the body for optimal functioning
- Sustains physical energy
- Provides mental clarity
- Stabilizes mood
- Increases resilience to stress
- Manages body composition
- Supports immune system
WHAT should I eat?
The definition of “healthy eating” is often misunderstood and full of controversy and rumors. Much of what is declared as “fact” often comes from the diet industry or a bribed/coerced agency out for their financial gain.
The truth is: there is a place for ALL foods. Every food serves a purpose. Some are full of nutrients and nourish the body. Others are low (or empty) in nutrients but can provide psychological benefit. Only eating nutrient-dense foods (especially with perfect obsession) can limit joy and social interaction. Would you decline a piece of cake at your best friend’s wedding because it has low nutrient-density? Hopefully, not. Only eating foods that provide psychological pleasure can leave your body undernourished, stuck in a craving cycle, and at risk for health problems. It’s all about balance and moderation.
Approach your food choices not with a “good” or “bad” list, but like a traffic light. Food Frequency
- Green. Nutrient-dense foods are a definite “go”. They have the power to keep you running.
- Yellow. Moderately nutritious. Although you can still move forward with eating these foods, just “slow” your intake.
- Red. Low or empty in nutrients. Take a moment to “stop” and think of how often you eat them. If you eat such foods infrequently, then go ahead and enjoy. If you eat these foods often, you may want to find a nourishing alternative. It’s always your choice.
Here are some characteristics of healthful eating:
You own a real body and need to feed it real food. Focus on the ingredients list, not the numbers on the Facts Panel. Real foods have ingredients that are recognizable and often found in a real person’s pantry. The calorie content is no indicator of the food’s nourishing power. It is simply the amount of energy the food provides. Avoid skipping “high calorie” foods and only choosing “low calorie” foods. Nutrient-dense and empty foods exists throughout a spectrum. For example: Nutrient-dense = Peanut butter (high calorie) and Fruit (low calorie); Empty = Chocolate cake (high calorie) and 100-cal pk. Cookies (low calorie). Here’s a way to have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too: Aim for treats/desserts that are made with real ingredients and prepared in your, or someone else’s, kitchen.
Limit Engineered/Processed “Foods”
Just because something looks like food, tastes like food, or smells like food, doesn’t mean it’s really food. Some of what is packaged and sold in stores (or gas stations) are substances engineered in a lab by a scientist…….. not cooked in kitchen by a chef. Because such foods are artificially crafted, the manufacturer can use chemistry to intensify palatability (flavor and texture) and make the food-like substance incredibly desirable. Eating an abundance of these “foods” can train your taste buds, and brain, to prefer them over natural foods. Consume in moderation. Use caution as these “foods” can often behave like drugs, activate the brain’s dopamine pathway (our feel-good system), and become rather addictive.
No. You don’t need to become a vegetarian to eat healthfully. (Although, if done correctly, it can offer amazing benefits). The idea is to balance plant foods with animal products — include fruits, vegetables, legumes and/or whole grains at meals. Meat, eggs, and cheese shouldn’t always take center stage.
A “whole grain” has 3 parts (bran, germ, and endosperm) that work together providing a nutrient-dense, energy-sustaining carbohydrate. Aim to make at least half your grains whole and vary the type. Wheat is okay but don’t forget rice, oats, quinoa, and barley. High starch vegetables such as corn and potatoes can offer similar benefit.
Limit Added Sugars
Sugar found in fruit, vegetables, and complex starches (whole grains and legumes) is balanced naturally and beneficial to your health. An abundance of added sugars (cane sugar, corn sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, etc.) can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems/diseases. Foods containing added sugars can also promote a strong preference for “sweet” making natural foods seem tasteless.
Fiber is the most under-consumed nutrient. It not only promotes good digestive health, but can add satisfying volume to a meal, lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and sustain the release of energy from food.
Moderate? Wait, what? Aren’t we suppose to gobble all the protein we can get? Isn’t high protein a “healthy” way to eat? Afraid not. Like all things in life, moderation is where health and balance thrive. Sure protein helps to sustain the energy from a meal or snack. However, too much protein (which is typical for the American diet) can weaken your bones.
Unsaturated oils (specifically omega-3 fatty acids) have very positive effects on the body. They can improve your cholesterol levels, reduce your risk for heart disease, add flavor and satisfaction to food, and even help resolve inflammation..
Water as Predominant (not only) Beverage
Your body is made of 65% water. Staying hydrated is critical for overall health, function, and performance. Drinking pure water is a direct way of replenishing the body. Other fluids require the body to sort through the “extra additives” to find the free water. If intake is adequate, your body will enjoy other beverages in moderation. Aim for a minimum of 48 fl.oz. daily.
Caffeine is not a source of real energy. It is a stimulant that fools the body into feeling alert. Meanwhile, it depletes nutrients and masks sleep deprivation. Limit intake to a maximum of 200mg daily.
HOW should I eat?
The demands of life can leave us feeling overwhelmed with no other option but to grab fast food. Finding a strategy to consistently nourish your body can take time and experimentation. However, once you experience the rewards of healthful eating, it will be well worth it. Make small, realistic changes over time.
Here are some things to consider:
Balance Nutrients. Your body needs carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Each nutrient provides the body with something unique. Carbohydrate is the body’s primary fuel source and quenches hunger. Protein builds, maintains, and repairs tissues along with creating a sense of meal gratification. Fat is flavorful and filling. It also provides the body with components necessary for various physiological processes. Vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber. Eliminating an entire nutrient can leave the body depleted. Low-carb can contribute to mental and physical fatigue. Low-fat can decrease your HDL (“good”) cholesterol and contribute to fatty acid deficiency (which is linked to depression). Balance your plate to nourish your body and achieve meal satisfaction. Balance your plate
Reasonable Portion Sizes. If you reviewed the Balanced Plate link above, you’ll notice it not only identifies what type of food should be included at each meal, but also their relative proportion.
There’s really no need to do math or weigh/measure your food*. You can also estimate portion sizes with common items such as:
- baseball = 1 cup of fruit/veg
- deck of cards = 3 oz. of meat
- 1/2 golf ball = 1 tablespoon of salad dressing
- computer mouse = rice, pasta, or potato
WHEN should I eat?
- Establishing a stable meal pattern, or regular eating schedule, is helpful in providing your body with a consistency of fuel and nutrients. It is also a good strategy for managing hunger…….. especially the kind that makes you feel irritable, lethargic, and desperate for high-sugar/high-fat foods.
- Aim for 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day. Staying fueled approximately every 3-4 hours can keep your body and brain energized. NOTE: Caffeine is not a source of real energy. It is a stimulant that fools the body into feeling alert. Meanwhile, it depletes nutrients and masks sleep deprivation.
- Skipping meals can set you up for intense hunger and the desire to eat large portions very quickly.
- Remember, nourishing food (ie, oatmeal) typically digests slower than empty food (ie, toaster pastry). So waiting until your body is screaming for fuel may make it difficult to consider healthful choices.
Mindfulness, or focusing on the present moment, is incredibly beneficial to the mind and body. In a world that seems to chase after the next best thing, worry about the next task, and continuously plug-in or tune-out, we miss the rewards of the moment. It’s no surprise that eating often takes a back seat to television, texting, driving, etc. Although the body may be receiving food in those distracted moments, the mind is not in-the-game and cannot be satisfied. Here are the steps to engage in your meal, snack, or treat:
- Establish a comfortable, non-distracted space.
- Allot plenty of time to eat.
- Ideally, arrange for a colorful plate, placemat, and food options. This can be more stimulating to the eye.
- Eat slowly. Notice how the food feels and tastes.
- Engage the senses. Spend time looking at and smelling your food. Maybe listening for a crunch is applicable.
- If your mind wanders to a list of chores, re-focus and remind yourself that you deserve to be nourished.
You know you need to eat. Therefore, why not plan for it? If you don’t have, or want to use, the brainpower to invent a meal or snack multiple times per day, try meal planning. By carving-out a chunk of time (ie, once per week) to plan, shop, and pre-prep meals and/or snacks, you can rest assured that it’s all there….. ready to go…. taken care of…… done (or at least with minimal last steps).
- Make a list of 7-10 well-balanced meal ideas.
- Identify the ingredients you already have (pantry inventory).
- Choose which meals you’ll eat over the next few days or week (menu). Some meals may provide enough leftovers for multiple days.
- Identify which ingredients you’ll need to buy (grocery list). This will save time and money at the store.
- Depending on the recipe or nature of your meal, pre-preparation may be possible. Can you pre-chop, pre-assemble, even pre-cook? A crockpot (slow-cooker) may be helpful by cooking the meal for you while you’re away.
* However, carbohydrate counting is often necessary for those with insulin-dependent Diabetes.