The following information was provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla at Ravenouskitchen.com.
The new year has always been a time to reflect on the past and plan for the future by making resolutions. The number one resolution each and every year is to eat healthier, though this is also one of the most commonly broken resolutions. The key to making dietary change stick is to start small and avoid gimmicky diets.
Why is Nutrition so Important?
One of the leading causes of poor health in the U.S. is a poor-quality diet. Even higher than the risk of smoking, a diet high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats is causing more and more Americans to become diabetic, obese and hypertensive, which can result in heart disease.
How Much Can a Healthy Diet Help?
A diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The good news is that we have powerful tools to support optimal health right in our own kitchens. Even small adjustments in diet can yield healthful results in a short amount of time. There’s a lot of information about nutrition out in the world, making it challenging to know what’s good and bad. What we need are realistic, practical habits to help us get healthy and stay healthy.
How to Eat Healthy Everyday
Build Well-Balanced Plates
With hundreds of diets in the nutrition and wellness community, how do you choose? Sometimes you don’t! In it’s most basic form, a healthier diet can be achieved with 3 basic adjustments to meal time:
- Include more fruits and vegetables
- Reduce sodium
- Reduce processed meats
That doesn’t sound so hard, until you go to the grocery store and try to figure out what this diet looks like in your cart. The changes don’t have to be drastic – even small changes for the better can result in big health outcomes. So, how do we shop healthier so we can eat healthier?
Develop Grocery Game Plan
The healthiest area of the grocery store is the produce section. What I love about produce is that it’s fast to shop because there are no labels to read!
Personally, I’m not a fan of food labels, not because I don’t like to read, but because if a food has a label, it has been processed. Processing usually means that other non-healthy items (sodium, sugars, fats, chemicals) have been added and combined to make processed food. It only makes sense that the less food we buy with labels (processed), the better.
Of course, as a label negative person, I love the fresh, pristine food in the produce section. If you want to make a big dent in your sodium, sugar and fat intake, this is the place to stock up. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and nutrients and low in sodium with only natural sugars, so they fill you up and keep you full. The best part of this plan is that it’s not complicated. Here are a few suggestions for getting started:
- Shop the produce section first.
- Aim for half of your grocery haul to contain fruits and vegetables.
- Plan for 5 servings of vegetables and 2 of fruit each day.
- Choose a nutritious sweet potato over a starchy white potato.
- Purchase colorful carrots, tomatoes, greens, red cabbage, oranges, bananas, kale, chard, nuts and berries. These colorful foods contain anthocyanins and folate, which reduce inflammation.
- Plan to make plants the foundation of at least 3 meals per week. Buy greens and vegetables for big salads with a few ounces of chicken or fish, beans or legumes and a light sprinkling of cheese for a treat.
Eating at home is always a healthier option because you can control the amount of sodium and fat in your meals. If you stick with the no-label theme, you’re a long way down the road to a healthier diet, but most of us still need some processed foods to get through the day. Items like canned tomatoes, broth and beans are available with lower sodium contents, so seek those out when possible. Look for low-sugar yogurt and, instead of boxed cereals, opt for oatmeal with nuts and fresh fruit for breakfast.
Processed meats may be high in sodium, so it’s a good idea to choose free-range beef, chicken and fish. I’m a big fan of fresh, wild-caught salmon, which is high in omega-3 vitamins.
What’s for Dinner?
If you’re not sure what to do with all those vegetables, you can never go wrong with soup. There isn’t a more healthy or delicious dinner in the world. It’s the perfect one pot meal. When not making soup, I roast most vegetables and keep leftovers for salads later in the week or use them in frittatas and stir-fry\. When roasted, root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, turnips and sweet potatoes become so sweet, they are almost like candy.
If you keep staples like dried pasta, canned beans and stock, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, whole grains, spices and frozen poultry and fish on hand, you can always make dinner. Think of pasta with lots of veggies, a bean or rice bowl with veggies, stir fry and even one-pan dinners. These can be made in a pinch with little-to-no planning. I love being able to look in a cupboard and discover dinner just waiting to be assembled. That’s when cooking is fun and less stressful.
We all need a snack now and then and it’s not hard to keep it healthy when there’s hummus and crispy vegetables, pears and nuts or even a few squares of chocolate and berries on the menu. Once again, try to steer clear of processed snacks like crackers and deli meats. My personal favorite is a tart/crisp apple with nut butter and a big glass of water.
Speaking of snacks, one of the worst health offenders is sweetened carbonated beverages. Full of high fructose corn syrup, these empty calories are best avoided. If you like something fizzy, try carbonated water with a splash of fruit juice and a squeeze of lime. It’s actually quite refreshing.
Order a Well-Balanced Plate
That just about covers it for eating at home, but what about eating out? There are definitely a few strategies for a healthier restaurant plate.
- Avoid the bread and butter and order a salad right away (-200 calories).
- When you order the salad, stick with oil and vinegar and skip the creamy dressing, which has double the calories. While you’re at it, make an effort to skip the cheese and croutons as well (-300 calories).
- Restaurant portions are double what you’d eat at home, so share a meal or commit to taking half the meal home to eat at another time.
- Avoid creamy pasta dishes and try to stick with grilled, lean proteins like beef, chicken or fish with a healthy side of roasted or steamed vegetables.
- Try to avoid dessert but if you have a sweet tooth, order a dessert to share with the table.
Traveling can also make healthy eating a challenge as we often have to resort to fast food. If you find yourself hitting the open road soon, opt for water or coffee for a beverage and a grilled chicken sandwich or a salad for your meal. Try to keep lunch under 500 calories and you can feel pretty good about it.
There. That wasn’t so hard. Eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting back on sodium and fat and consuming less processed food will enable you to get on track with a healthier diet. If you’re interested in taking your diet a step further, the Mediterranean Diet is definitely worth considering as it is known for using fresh, non-label ingredients.
Eating well doesn’t have to mean flavorless meals or hungry bellies. My hope is that the new year brings you health, happiness and good eating!
The information and recommendations provided above may not be applicable to everyone. Please consult a healthcare professional before implementing any dietary changes.