Yes, you’ve heard it many times before: Eat better and you’ll feel better. But what exactly does that mean? We know it’s hard to figure out how to fuel your body when there are so many different kinds of diets and trends. Superfoods, keto, paleo, plant-based, counting calories, juicing…The list goes on and on, and there seem to be new scientific articles popping up every week supporting a new diet promising you instant benefits and ultimate results. So let’s take a few steps back, keep it simple and look at the facts that are supported by doctors and health industry professionals alike:
Eat less sugar
Besides the more obvious foods that contain high amounts of sugar, like chocolate, ice cream, cookies, and soda, sugar can be “hidden” in many things we eat every day. Some of these products might even be labeled as healthy. Did you know that common breakfast items like fruit and vegetable juices, bread, certain cereals, and even some brands of peanut butter contains large amounts of sugar—naturally occurring and/or added? You should also be aware that the body converts carbohydrate-rich foods, like rice, pasta, and bread into sugar. Carbohydrates are essential for a healthy and well functioning body but focus on getting it from good sources like whole grains and vegetables and enjoy in moderate amounts.
Eat fewer processed foods
This basically means eat more natural and healthy foods like lean meat, seafood, whole grains and nuts etc, and less canned and pre-packaged goods with additives and preservatives. Many of the processes used to add color, taste, texture, and long shelf life can actually strip a product of its original healthy composition and make it harmful to our bodies.
Eat lots of vegetables and fruits
This one is simple and straightforward. Fresh vegetables, legumes, and fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and some even contain heart-healthy fats and protein. Eat them both cooked and straight up raw, in all different colors and shapes. If you can, choose organically grown produce for fewer traces of potentially harmful pesticides and fertilizers.
Don’t be afraid to eat fat—but focus on the good kind
Fat gained a bad reputation during the ’80s and ’90s high-carbs era, and people thought that fat alone was to blame for the rapid increase in disease and weight gain among the U.S. population. However, that’s not really how it works. Fat provides essential fatty acids, soluble vitamins and fuel for your brain, and is a necessary part of a healthy diet. It’s true that fat contains more calories per gram than both carbohydrates and protein, so stick to a moderate daily intake. The fats everybody can agree you should be focusing on is polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. You can find these kinds of fats in salmon, sardines, nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado etc.
Don’t forget protein
Protein is an important building block of bone, skin, blood, and muscle tissue and, along with carbohydrate and fat, an essential part of a balanced diet. When you’re lifting heavy weights and breaking down your muscle tissue, you need to feed your body enough protein to build it back up – stronger and bigger than before. Good sources of protein are everywhere, no matter your dietary preferences. Meat, fish, dairy, and eggs are high in protein and loaded with vitamins and minerals. But if you prefer a plant-based diet, protein can be found in nuts, seeds, beans, quinoa, and different soy products, just to mention a few.
Your body is 60% water, give or take, and maintaining that water balance is essential to your survival. Make sure to stay hydrated and drink water throughout the day, not all at once. There are many different opinions on exactly how much you should drink in one day, but the 8×8 rule, that means 8 eight-ounce glasses every day, is a general guideline to follow. Trust your thirst. However, during times of increased sweating, like exercise and hot weather, especially in a dry climate, you may need to increase your water consumption.
Listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry
You’re more likely to make poor nutritional choices when you’re hungry. If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store after a long day at work where you skipped lunch because of an important meeting, you know what we’re talking about. Walking around hungry leads to low blood sugar which creates hard-to-resist cravings that will eventually result in binge eating. Also, not eating enough could trigger your body to go into starvation mode. The body will then respond by conserving energy and hold onto every little calorie it’s given.
Eat until you’re full – but no more
You should eat only as much as you need and listen to your body when it’s telling you its sated. Sometimes you end up really, really hungry, or the food in front of you is just so delicious, and you tend to eat too fast and/or too much. This means you could end up with an excessive caloric intake and a stretched stomach. By eating slow and consciously, you’re not only giving your body and mind the chance to feel satisfied, but you’re also more likely to really enjoy your meal. That’s a win-win!
Don’t be afraid to try something new…or old
Do you have memories of trying to finish the broccoli or overcooked Brussels sprouts on your plate as a kid? Did these experiences leave you traumatized, and you just can’t imagine ever enjoying these foods again in your life? Well, what if you could? There are plenty of creative ways to cook all different kinds of vegetables imaginable, and multiple ways to access delicious recipes that are sure to take even the saddest-looking green beans to a new level. Who knows, maybe you’ll have just discovered your new favorite dish.
Next time you’re at the grocery store, take a look at the “Nutrition Fact” label and the list of ingredients. Low amounts of sugar and saturated fats, along with a short ingredient list, is usually the better option. And remember: too much of anything could be bad for you, so try to stick to a balanced diet and eat in moderation. Cook, eat, and enjoy your food consciously!