With the world of fitness and nutrition growing exponentially over the past few years it’s hard to keep up with the latest information. You can search healthy eating in a search engine and articles could pop up created by anyone, which can contain misleading information. It’s very easy for someone to call themselves a nutritionist, so although it seems like they are a good source, you may want to dig deeper.
Ways to avoid following misleading information from any Joe Schmoe is to look for credible sources. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, My Plate, and USDA are a few good ones to check out. You’ll find that once you start your research, the amount of information can be overwhelming. So I am just going to outline some very basic principles to help get you on the right track. These tips will provide a good starting point and you can customize your own nutrition to meet your specific needs.
- Eat a BALANCED diet. Carbs have a bad rep and now everyone is going around on these low carb/no carb diet fads. Carbs are important to provide you with energy to get through the day. If you are not eating enough carbohydrates your body will utilizes fats and protein for other sources of energy to burn. Sounds ideal right? NO. If your body is resorting to protein for energy that means it is taking away from your muscles. The more muscles you have, the faster your metabolism. Ergo less muscle= slower metabolism. The reason these low carb diets work initially is because of the point I mentioned previously about your body resorting to other macronutrients to obtain energy. So of course if your body is burning muscle and fat the weight is going to shed. But the second you start adding carbs back into your diet you’re going to gain that weight back, and then some. My Plate is the perfect place to figure out how many servings of each food group you should be eating per day.
- Consume WHOLE foods as much as possible. When I say WHOLE foods, I mean not processed; they are the way you would find them in their natural state. Ex. A sweet potato. When you buy a sweet potato you buy it in its natural state. Bread, goes through a PROCESS to become bread. You don’t just walk past the bread tree and pick off a loaf. Now, I’m not saying that you should eliminate bread completely and only get your carbs through potatoes, but in a general sense, whole foods tend to be more easily digested and better utilized.
- The orange, the redder, the greener, the better. The more pigmented your fruits and vegetables are, the more nutrient dense they are going to be. Berries are going to be your most nutrient dense fruit, and the same goes for dark green leafy veggies such as kale and spinach. Don’t fret, you can still choose an apple or any other fruit that you prefer. Fresh fruits and vegetables are your best option, but if you are looking to pack something like a fruit cup in your lunch, make sure they are in their natural juices as opposed to syrup. Fruits naturally have a lot of sugar in them and when they are packed in syrup it almost defeats the purpose of eating them in the first place.
- Eat your fats! Yes I said it. EAT. YOUR. FATS. Fats play a role in hormone regulation, absorption of your FAT soluble vitamins (A,D,E, and K), and they also help to keep your hair and skin looking healthy. Keep in mind, some fat sources are better than others. I’m not telling you to get your daily fat intake from french fries and burgers. You want to stick to fat sources like olive oil and canola oil, fish, avocados, and nuts. If you see the word “trans fat” RUN- there is no place in your diet for these. In a generally healthy sense, you should try to keep your fat consumption to about 30% of your total calories, with <10% from saturated fats.
- It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change. This saying has been around for a LONG time; and that’s because it’s true. Yes there are some more aggressive meal plans if you need to slim down quick for a specific event, but those are meant to be short term. When you decide to make that commitment to a lifetime of healthy habits, that beginning period is most likely going to be the hardest, because your body is going to start craving those unhealthy foods that you were previously feeding it. Basically, your body is detoxing and you’re going to need to find a way to fight off those cravings. One of my vices was soda… so I found a way to satisfy those cravings by drinking sparkling water. It was more the carbonation that I craved rather than the actual sugar. (Note: make sure you are reading the food label, some of the flavored waters do have a small amount of calories or a sugar substitute- I personally do not like sugar substitutes for various reasons).
Stay strong when you feel those cravings coming on… after about a week or so you will begin to crave those things less and less. Make sure to eat consistently throughout the day to avoid hunger and binge eating. If you’re finding your new eating habits hard to stick to, you are probably changing too many things at once, which can make this transition difficult and discouraging. Try starting with one or 2 things to focus on initially.
So there you have it… basic healthy eating principles. Probably nothing you haven’t heard before, but sometimes it’s nice to have one simple, concise list to start with and customize from there. There will be some trial and error because everyone’s bodies respond differently so be patient and see what works for you. Good luck on your health journey!