A healthy eating diet is the key to wellness.
There is no question that what we eat and how we eat plays a major role in how we feel and particularly, how well we are. For this reason, I would like as many people as possible to become more aware of what healthy eating involves, and of the extreme benefits that can be found in being conscious of what and how we eat. Although wellness is about more than what we eat choosing to eat healthy is a giant step towards helping you live long and feel well.
Here is a list of ten tips that will help you in your pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. These are not listed in any particular order, since each one is important in its own way.
1. Make fresh, whole foods a large part of your diet.
When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the futuristic cartoon show “The Jetsons,” especially the part where they showed mealtime, which, consisted of little pills dispensed by a clever machine. A meatloaf pill, a mashed potato pill, with a cherry pie pill for dessert. Yum!
Although we haven’t gotten to the point of eating pills instead of food yet, there are plenty of products in the grocery store aisles these days that would barely qualify as real food, when you take into account nutritional value, lack of fiber and the potentially harmful ingredients they contain.
Even if you are on a limited budget, try to choose as many fresh, whole foods as you can afford, and leave the over-processed, “Jetson-type” foods on the shelf.
2. Drink water as your beverage of choice.
When bottled water first hit as a beverage choice on fast food menus and in vending machines, I can remember a friend being shocked that I would actually pay money for plain water. A soft drink, she could understand, but water? I told her then that water is a better value for your money than any soft drink, and I still believe that today.
Our bodies need water in order to function well. Not soda. Not energy drinks. Not coffee. Not juice. Not tea. Clean, pure water. Of course, when we drink any liquids, or even when we eat juicy foods, we get some water into our system. The problem is that everything that we eat or drink, except water, has to be digested and filtered and processed in varying degrees by our bodies, and that requires more water!
Rather than saving that beautiful stemware just for when you are drinking wine, fill a glass to the brim with the best beverage around—ice cold, crystal clear, thirst quenching water. Then, relax and sip your way to vibrant health.
3. Buy local, and even organic, if possible.
There is a whole movement of people who are making the choice to buy from local growers and foregoing out-of-season items and items shipped in from far away places. The advantages of this choice are many, including that your food will cost less, be fresher, you will support your local economy and you will have fewer worries about the growing practices that may affect the wholesomeness of your food.
In addition, the advantage of buying from farms and orchards that are not only local, but also organic, is that you will be consuming fewer toxins for your body to contend with and encouraging fewer chemicals to be added to our soil and water.
4. Limit your consumption of meat.
Treat meat more as a condiment or side dish. Even if you are a meat lover, it is better to eat smaller portions in favor of items from the other food groups, including whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits.
Although meat, especially if it is grass-fed, free-range, organic, is an important source of nutrients in a healthy diet, it does not take a lot of meat to provide your protein requirements for a meal. Several servings a day that are the size of a regular deck of cards will do—and keep in mind that many of the other foods you eat have some protein, too.
In this way, you can reduce the amount of fat in your diet as well as increase your intake of fiber and other nutrients, and make your meal easier to digest. You might even try some meatless meals once in a while! After all, even Popeye ate a meal of spinach at least once on every show!
5. Eat lots of fresh, colorful vegetables—either raw or lightly cooked.
Vegetables are the mainstay of any healthy eating plan, and the pigments that give them their vivid colors seem to protect us from many health-destroying maladies. Vegetables are loaded with nutrients, low in calories and are available in so many varieties as to satisfy any palate.
Keep in mind that cooking may destroy some of the nutritional value in vegetables, so choose methods such as steaming or lightly sautéing whenever possible.
When you were a child, and your mother said, “Eat your vegetables,” she was giving you excellent advice!
6. Wash all fresh produce.
Use a commercial vegetable rinse—sometimes called a “Veggie Wash” —or a weak solution of vinegar and water or baking soda and water. Don’t just use plain water. Even if you are removing the skin, such as with melons or avocados, wash the item first to avoid contaminating the inner flesh.
It goes without saying, that you should keep meat separate from fresh produce, both in the refrigerator and during preparation, sanitizing your utensils and cutting boards in between uses.
Caveat: I would also caution you against using dish soap or other poisonous products to wash fresh produce. Instead, use a product that will clean, without harm, should any residue inadvertently remain on the food. It would surely be counter-productive to get rid of the bacteria only to get sick from the soap!
7. Know the difference between good carbs and bad ones.
Although carbs in general have gotten a bad reputation with the popularity of the low-carb diets, your body needs them to be healthy.
Having said that, there are what we might call “good carbs” and “bad carbs.” Good carbs are all those wonderful fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes that you know about, while bad carbs are the white flour products, such as cookies, pastries, doughnuts, cakes, pies, chips—you get the drift.
A rule of thumb is, if it’s in the lunchroom at work as a birthday treat or in a vending machine, it is probably a bad carb—except, possibly, if the birthday boy is the office health-nut or the vending machine is at the local health foods store!
8. Choose more fiber-rich foods.
Even if you are sick and tired of hearing the word fiber, it’s still better than being sick and tired from not getting enough of this important carbohydrate in your diet.
It’s not really that hard to get sufficient fiber if you know what you are doing. Each time you choose whole grain over processed grains, each time you eat a piece of fruit instead of a piece of candy, each time you snack on raw veggies instead of potato chips, each time you order a bean burrito instead of a chicken one, you have added fiber to your diet. Even a sesame seed bun has more fiber than a plain one.
You can be proactive about adding fiber to your diet. Put some blueberries on your cereal. Have a baked sweet potato. Add some shredded zucchini to your pancake batter. Every little bit helps you reach the 25-30 grams of fiber recommended for adults each day.
In addition to the health benefits of getting enough fiber, just think, with all that time you won’t be spending in the “throne room", waiting for—well you know—you could maybe take up a new hobby!
9. Eat healthy fats.
I was visiting a friend recently, and she told me her grandmother, who lived to be ninety, grew up on cooking done exclusively with lard. I knew her grandmother, and she was a diminutive, feisty old lady who never sat still and worked like a Trojan all her life. Unfortunately, we are all not like that.
While it’s possible that if you are extremely active, eat simple, unprocessed food grown on yours or your neighbor’s farm, cooked in lard (that you probably rendered yourself), and you have good genes, you may also live to be ninety, the odds are against you.
More studies than I can cite, have shown that consuming more mono-unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, instead of the more saturated varieties, will significantly improve your health and longevity.
I know. I know. Lard still makes the flakiest piecrust.
10. Limit junk food, and if possible, find a healthy but satisfying substitute.
In case you’re wondering, “junk food” is all of those over-processed, empty-calorie foods that we love to eat. It may not be easy, but you can change your palate to prefer healthier foods.
Try to find a healthier substitute for your favorite junk foods. For instance, when was the last time you popped some real popcorn in a little oil with a bit of good quality unprocessed salt? It tastes wonderful and it’s a whole food without the chemicals or additives or anything that would adulterate it into a junk food.
Of course, it still has calories, but just remember that a healthy eating diet is based on eating in moderation. I have one of those old-fashioned poppers that stirs the oil and seeds while they pop, but my dad used to make the best popcorn in a Dutch oven on the stove. Try it, you’ll like it!
Heading towards a healthy eating diet
It is important to remember that you don't have to make drastic changes all at once. As long as you are trending toward making healthier choices, you will eventually get where you want to be--healthy and feeling good.