Earlier this year, I gave you my top 5 suggestions for where to begin with healthy eating. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so now as this post is not as useful if you aren’t already doing those things at least most of the time. If you are following those guidelines, then you probably realized that was just the beginning, and there is more if you want to fully harness the power of food.
In this post, I want to give you my next 5 suggestions for fixing your eats. These are meant to take your health to the next level by improving your food choices just a bit more. After all, we are incredibly intricate and complex systems, and our food isn’t the same as it used to be. By making informed and conscious choices, you can put the best in so you can get the best out of your phenomenal body.
As in the first post, these are listed in priority order, so you get to decide how many changes you make at one time. (Note: I’m starting with #6 to show that these come after the first 5.)
6. Commit to eating real food and cutting out fake stuff.
As you know, Big Food companies care less about your health than they do about their bottom line. They will unapologetically pack your food with any and every lab-created chemical, if it means production is cheaper and/or you will buy more of it.
These lab-created substances, such as preservatives, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors and flavors, and “natural” colors and flavors serve lots of purposes… but none of them are your purposes. If you want to be healthy, then you absolutely must eat real food as often as possible and ditch foods loaded with crazy scientist creations.
How do you do this? Buy food as close to its natural state as possible (you know, in the produce, meat, seafood and dairy sections of your grocery store) and read the labels of anything you buy in a box, bag or bottle.
7. Cut out soda and other sweetened beverages, like sweetened water and sports drinks.
I realize I may lose you on this one as the notion of giving up your Dr. Pepper or Diet Coke may be a non-starter. If you’re anything like me, you grew up drinking soda and watching your parents drink soda and probably don’t think anything about it. Unfortunately, not thinking about it doesn’t change that those sugary drinks are screwing up our bodies.
Of course, you may have switched to non-soda beverages that you think are, but may not be, healthier. That water with vitamins that seems to be so healthy? Or maybe the sports drink that seems so necessary when you’re working out? Yeah… we need to rethink it.
Most of these bottled beverages have chemicals of some sort (refer back to #1), especially high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners/flavors/colors. Many have caffeine, but none of the antioxidants that coffee has to make it a pick-me-up as well has having some health benefits. In short, they’re more like liquid versions of edible food-like substances than anything that’s actually good for you.
How do you cut them out? Choose a healthy and hydrating beverage… like water, herbal tea, pure coconut water or diluted 100% fruit juice. And if you must drink a sweetened beverage, count it as a “treat” (see #4 below) and pick the best option (i.e., the one with the least number of chemicals).
8. Learn to cook and make it a habit.
Before you get angry with me for not understanding how busy your life is, please know that I know you are doing an awesome job of balancing all of the demands on your time. You have a challenging job and may be going to school at the same time. You are trying to build a business while raising your precious children. You volunteer in your community, spend quality time with your friends and family, and try to keep your home cleaned up. You are amazing with all the balls you successfully keep in the air.
What I am pointing out here is that food you prepare at home is almost always healthier than food you buy away from home. Processing food such that it can be frozen/canned/dried, packaged and reheated kills valuable micro- and phytonutrients and usually requires added ingredients so that the food is edible once it finally ends up on your plate. As such, we’re better off to make it ourselves so we know what’s in it and can get the most out of it.
How do you do this? Begin by learning to cook a few simple, healthy meals. Then expand your repertoire one simple dish at a time. Two examples to get you started: a grilled chicken breast with steamed broccoli and sauteed yellow squash slices, or pan-fried salmon with roasted cauliflower and sauteed kale. (For more ideas, check out my Instagram feed.)
9. Ensure indulgences are a treat and not routine.
I’ve been open with you that dessert and wine are my two weaknesses when it comes to eating healthy. I also am a sucker for really good French fries, and once stuffed myself stupid two vacation days in a row at the same restaurant because it was hands-down the best pizza ever in the history of ever. I’m not willing to give up my treats, and I will never suggest that you do either.
The key is to recognize that they are and treat them as indulgences. If you start having them every day, then they are just part of your regular eating pattern. They are part of your routine. The end result is that they are no longer special, you start to expect them, and they prevent you from realizing your health goals.
How do you keep them as treats? Get my top four suggestions in the blog post The Solution to Eating Food You Enjoy.
10. Optimize your intake of healthy foods.
My top 5 suggestions for healthy eating focus on how you can be sure you are putting good things in your body. Now it’s time to optimize your intake of those healthy foods to be sure you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs. As always, these are listed in priority order:
- Eat 6 or more servings of vegetables and 2 or more servings of fruit every day (so long as fruit isn’t a problem for you).
- Have protein and healthy fat with (almost) every meal and snack to help you feel satisfied
- Divide your produce intake across the rainbow of colors
- Only count whole vegetables and fruits (and not juice) toward your target number of servings, since one of our goals is to get plenty of fiber
Now you have my top 10 suggestions for healthy eating (5 from the original post and 5 from this one). If you do these 10 things most of the time, you will be well on your way to using the power of food to help you be the healthiest, most vibrant version of yourself.
If you want to take it even further, check out my last 3 guidelines. If you can do all 13, you’ll be following the same eating pattern that I have built for myself over time.