Here is one thing I know. You simply cannot live your healthiest life without getting what you eat dialed in. You might love running or working out or meditating and journaling every day but if you aren’t putting the best fuel in your body possible you are doing yourself a disservice. I learned this first-hand after developing gestational diabetes with my second pregnancy. I lived with the mentality for years that I could eat whatever I wanted as long as I was active enough. This way of thinking came back to seriously bite me in the butt. In the long run it also was a blessing because it ultimately led me back to school to study nutrition but if I could have know all this before and avoided diabetes I would definitely have taken that route.
Food and nutrition are a personal passion of mine but up to this point I’ve kind of avoided writing too much about it in my blog posts. Why, when it’s something I care about so deeply? Well because food is so darn personal and whether or not you even realize it most people have very strong feelings about food going way back to the kinds of things they ate growing up, to being scared that they are going to be told they should never have their favorite comfort food again, to feeling absolutely positive that certain foods should never be eaten by anyone ever, or thinking that changing the way they eat is too inconvenient or hard to the point of being borderline impossible.
People sometimes also discover and can identify with a way of eating so passionately that it is almost a like choosing a religion (I hope that’s not a sacrilegious analogy!). But what I mean is it’s like you find something and it works for you and there is another great big tribe of people out there that agrees and you start to feel like it is “the way”. And it’s possible that’s not a bad thing! – you’ve found something that makes you feel great and resonates with the way you want to live. You “become” Paleo or Vegan or Vegetarian or Gluten-free or whatever it is and if it’s working for you (and your doctor agrees) and you remember that a different way might work better for other people I say that’s great!
But just in case you have not found that perfect food lifestyle that is working for you and would like a little guidance I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned through my studies over the past few years. It’s a place to start and it’s backed up by science and just like many religions share some overarching principals many nutrition scholars would agree that these are the foundation of a healthy diet:
- Cut out the processed food – This is the number one thing on my list, if you do nothing else that I suggest do this. Become a label reader. If you don’t know what an ingredient is there is a very big chance you don’t need it in your life. A great rule of thumb when looking at labels is to look for items with less than 5 ingredients and all things that you recognize. Here is a great list of ways to cut out processed food by one of my favorite real food bloggers.
- Steer Clear of Added Sugar – This another biggie. Sugar is pervasive. You may have heard the increase in sugar consumption in the American diet has been tied in studies to the increase in the obesity epidemic (and many other health issues) that our country now faces. When I first started learning about this stuff I was shocked by how many things sugar is in that you wouldn’t expect – I mean stewed tomatoes! Really?! Consumers are getting smarter about this but so are marketers. Did you know there are over 50 different names for sugar? They are just different names for something your body doesn’t need. The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 25 grams of sugar/day (or 6 tsp). It adds up quickly! To put that in perspective a Starbucks mocha contains 35 grams of sugar putting you over your daily recommended value right there.
- Add in More Fruits and Veggies – I love this because instead of being about things you shouldn’t eat it’s all about things you should eat and fruits and vegetables are beautiful and delicious and just so good for you! Crowd out those foods that aren’t serving you with more fruit and vegetables. Try planning your meals around whatever fresh fruits and vegetables you have available. Most people do not eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and veggies. Here is a great visual to give you an idea of just how much you should be aiming for each day.
- Include Healthy Fats-Fat has gotten a bad rap over the years but the latest nutrition studies are showing that healthy fats actually play a really important role in contributing to good health. This is such a great shift in the way people are thinking about food not only because it leads to better health but because there are so many healthy fats that are really delicious! Avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, coconut, dark chocolate, whole eggs, full-fat yogurt are all great sources of healthy fats. Yum!
- Stick to Complex Carbs-In a nut shell ditch your refined and simple carbs (white flour, white rice, sugar) and replace them with complex carbs. Carbs have also been demonized over the years and here is part of what I think about it. The gluten-free movement has exploded and for people with a true gluten allergy or intolerance that may be a great thing. For most people though when they cut out gluten they start feeling better because along with the gluten they are cutting out simple carbs (refined flour and sugar) that are often found in the same foods. Complex carbs on the other hand – and there are so many great ones – are an important fuel for our bodies and should make up about 50% of our diet!
- Eat Lean Protein (Mostly Plant-Based) – Last year the World Health Organization published it’s findings that processed meat is carcinogenic and that red meat is most probably carcinogenic. It was a pretty big deal. People often ask me what big changes I’ve made to my diet over the past couple of years of really diving into this stuff. This has been the most challenging change for me. Growing up steak was my favorite dinner. Still occasionally if my parents are BBQing steak or if a friend gives us some great elk burger I will still partake but now we almost never purchase red meat – we stick to getting our protein mainly from plants, fish, and poultry.
- Bonus! Amp Up Your Superfood Intake – Although it sounds kind of trendy and maybe a bit mystical the term superfoods is just a word for foods that are rich in nutrients. They are often high in antioxidants and micronutrients. There is no definitive list of superfoods out there – it seems a new superfood is always being “discovered” but here is a list of common ones that are easy to incorporate more of in your meals.
Does that seem like a lot? Hopefully it’s not too overwhelming! I know this was a longer post than usual but it’s a really big important topic that we’ll be visiting together often. Really most of it can be boiled down to one of my all time favorite quotes by one of my all time favorite authors.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. -Michael Pollan
In school they liked to use the analogy of our bodies being like cars. We wouldn’t put anything in a car other than the right kind of fuel because it wouldn’t run well and eventually it would break down completely. While I appreciate the straightforwardness of this analogy I don’t particularly love it – mostly because I think it lacks poetic intrigue. The way I like to look at it is:
Feeding ourselves nourishing healthy whole foods is a form of gratitude and self-respect.
On a final note I just want to say it’s not about being perfect. It’s not about never having another piece of chocolate cake in your life (oh! just writing that down makes me sad). I truly am not one to judge someone for eating a burger. Honestly despite considering myself fairly healthy I did not give most of this a second thought just a few years ago but I wish I’d had a friend or coach or someone spell it out clearly for me back then. Hopefully, if is something you want to learn more about, I can help be that person for you.
Be happy, be healthy, be well!
P.S. Eating well starts with a good plan – sign up here to download my free Menu Planning Tips and Tricks and Menu Planner.
I’d love it if you would join my mailing list for updates on tips, tricks and inspiration for living a healthier, happier life.