I am not really one for diets — I mean, just take a look through the archives and you will probably find just as many dessert recipes as healthful ones! My general attitude is one that looks at food as our sustenance, what powers us — we truly are what we eat.
Therefore, it is less important that we count calories/carbs/fat/etc, and more important that we concentrate on getting the nutrients that we need while avoiding ingredients that benefit the industrial process more than our bodies.
To me, this attitude manifests as eating LOTS of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and sourcing from local and organic producers whenever possible. I minimize processed foods, but aside from meat, I don’t *strictly* avoid anything — we all have our days where we just want to eat an entire box of cheez-its, right? ;).
But, I do believe that healthiness begets healthiness, and the more we eat healthfully, the more we will WANT to eat healthfully. So if your goal in the new year is to revamp your diet, start small, and build from there.
I’ve always found the sharing of ideas and strategies to adopting a healthier diet to be helpful myself — there are always some things that stick with me and other things that don’t, and the more I hear about, the more likely I am to find a strategy that works. Below are a few things that I’ve found have worked for me, but I’d love to hear your input and ideas too, so leave a comment!
Learn to love vegetables
As humans we are meant to be powered by vegetables. They are the healthiest things we can possibly eat, packed with more vital nutrients than anything else on earth. A diet rich in veggies is by extension rich in nutrition, and is known to prevent certain cancers, heart and metabolic disorders, and other lifestyle diseases.
But don’t think that eating more vegetables means eating boring salads all the time. I don’t even like salads! There are tons of creative and delicious ways to incorporate vegetables seamlessly into your diet. Here is one article I just read with some good ideas; some additional things that work for me:
–Experiment with new preparation and serving methods. I thought I hated brussels sprouts until I realized they taste awesome roasted. Plain raw carrot sticks or other veggies make a pretty boring snack, but chopped up and wrapped in a spring roll, they are fabulous. I never was a huge fan of broccoli growing up, until I started eating it alongside my favorite foods, such as spaghetti and macaroni and cheese. Actually, I love all noodles, and realized that just about anything tastes good when tossed with pasta to me.
The truth is, even I, a most devoted vegetable lover, will admit that eating a serving of straight up plain vegetables is BORING. So don’t do that. Learn ways to cook veggies into your favorite dishes.
–Keep frozen vegetables on hand. Frozen veggies are actually more nutritious than fresh, because the nutrients that would have been lost in transport are locked in right from the start. I always keep a bag of frozen spinach, broccoli, and peppers available to toss into stir fries, with pasta, add to spaghetti sauce, soups, stews, or even scrambled eggs. You’ll be surprised how creative you get when you always have a stock of certain things on hand.
—Focus on aesthetics. This sounds strange, and maybe it is only me, but I am always enticed by meals that are colorful and fresh and interesting-looking. I am like a kid in a candy shop at the farmer’s market and the produce section. Look at all the pretty colors!!! Rainbow chard, persimmons, funky-looking squashes, multi-colored carrots? Um, yes please! I really have to restrain myself when surrounded by bunches of beautiful vegetables.
Truth is though, color is a good indication of nutrient content, and constructing meals around color is a good technique. When it comes to veggies, it’s okay to be guided by your inner three year-old — choose things by how neat they look to you, and find a recipe later.
Eat more fruit
Generally speaking, fruits have more sugars and calories and fewer vitamins than vegetables. But they’re still a part of a wholesome diet and a great way to get more fiber. I find that breakfast is a more natural time of day to incorporate fruit, and I make a point to eat one every morning — I now no longer can start my day without an apple, banana or a couple clementines!
Cook more from scratch
I post a lot about cooking, and it is now one of my hobbies, but it wasn’t always. It is something that I have grown to love over many years. I have realized that by cooking your own meal, you not only control the ingredients yourself but the end product is so much more satisfying. And not just because of the hard work you put into it.
Think about it this way: you have your own interests at heart. Restaurants and prepared food companies do not. Start taking a closer look at ingredients. Where you would use extra-virgin olive oil, a healthy and delicious fat, they are using canola oil. Where you might use a teaspoon of salt, they will have a tablespoon. Where you might grate on a bit of wonderfully aged, imported parmesan — well you can bet they are not using that.
When you start cooking your meals yourself, your favorite restaurants suddenly begin to lose their appeal. The hot food bar at Whole Foods becomes completely unappetizing. Nothing is ever as good as you can make in your own kitchen. Not because of any particular skill — but because you are not cutting any corners.
Really, it’s your body — don’t sell yourself short. On both health AND taste.
Choose organic ingredients
I read a news article recently speculating that chemical pesticides may be “obesogens” and contribute to our national obesity crisis. This article was certainly not published in a peer-reviewed journal, so take that for what you will. But the bottom line is that pesticide residue CAN be found in the fruits and veggies we eat, with completely unknown consequences. And contrary to what the dairy lobby would have you believe, bovine growth hormone DOES affect humans, also with unknown but potentially scary consequences.
But you needn’t empty your bank account and purge your cabinets of conventional ingredients. The link on the right to the EWG guide to pesticides gives a succinct, prioritized list of what to buy organic and what to forego. But the gist is: items where you eat the actual plant — particularly greens — should be organic, because these receive a direct spray on the parts you ingest. Items where you eat the fruit are not clear-cut — sometimes the plants are sprayed before it starts to fruit. If you are shopping at the farmer’s market, just ask. Items with thick rinds or peels that you remove are fine to eat conventional.
Keep in mind that these guidelines are only in terms of your health — not the environment, worker safety, etc. I could (and will!) write a whole post on this.
Remember: it’s a journey, not a destination
Being healthy is a lifestyle, and accordingly, it is achieved over a lifetime! As I said above, we all have our moments where we just want to eat cheez-its and french fries all day. When that happens, don’t fret. Just start up again when you’re ready. Don’t focus too heavily on forcing a 100% vegan/paleo/clean/other fad diet from the beginning. Start small and build from there. The better you feel, the more you will crave that feeling and want to eat healthfully.
Anyway. That’s enough of my rambling. What advice do you have?