It seems like every month there's a new fad diet making the rounds; no carbs, only carbs, small meals, skip a meal. But the truth is, there isn't one single diet that works for everyone. More often than not, the fad plans are too restrictive to be maintained long-term, or they eliminate key sources of essential nutrients. After yet another quick fix gone bad, why not try a different approach? Recognize healthy eating as the foundation of optimal nutrition, and wellness.
The sheer convenience of food has allowed us to eat unconsciously, giving little if any thought to what it is, and what it does to our bodies. Optimal nutrition is a matter of mindful eating, reflecting on each meal and where it comes from, factory or field? As you start to devote thought toward the food you put in your mouth, better choices will naturally follow.
The fad-free foundations of healthy eating:
- Try to eat 6-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. These foods are loaded with the vitamins and minerals needed to keep your body running well and prevent diseases, like cancer. Aim for a variety of colors every day.
- Eat at least one vegetarian meal per day. Optimal nutrition is about becoming more vegetarian, not necessarily giving up meat completely. Cutting some meat out of the diet will help limit your saturated fat intake. Soy foods, like tofu or tempeh, sauteed in olive oil and seasoning are a healthy replacement for the taste and consistency of meat.
- Eat at least 2 servings of fish per week. Salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut, trout and anchovies are the healthiest varieties. The omega-3 fatty acids in these fish help to lower inflammation and aid in the fight against heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon is the top choice for its fatty acid content and low mercury level.
- Try to include free-range, organic meats in your diet. This would include free-range eggs. Wild game and buffalo meat is typically higher in the good fats, lower in the bad, and has been given fewer, if any, antibiotics or hormones during development.
- Try to include more organic foods in your diet, specifically produce.
- Aim for 4-5 servings of brassica vegetables a week. This group includes broccoli, brussels sprout, bok choy and cauliflower. These vegetables contain major cancer fighters along with other vital nutrients.
- Cook with olive oil. Look for extra-virgin olive oil that says “first cold pressing” on the bottle. Choose oil in a dark glass bottle, as these preserve the product better. You can use this as a salad dressing or in sauces. It should not be used for dishes requiring high heat due to its low smoking point. In high heat, organic canola oil is the best choice.
- Include a handful of raw nuts in your diet. Walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios are the best choices. Almond or cashew butter is also an improvement over peanut butter.
- Add garlic to your diet. Garlic has benefits to the cardiovascular system, as well as help in fighting infections. A goal of 1-2 cloves per day is sufficient. Raw is best, but if cooking, try not to overcook.
- Drink green tea daily. Replacing all caffeinated beverages in your current diet with fresh brewed green tea is one of the biggest improvements you can make. Studies show it benefits diseases ranging from asthma to heart disease. Enjoy hot or cold.
- Eat whole grain or sprouted grain breads. Whole or sprouted grain should be the first ingredient listed on the label. Avoid breads with the words “enriched” or “bleached”. Whole grain breads make your body work harder to digest and still contain the vitamins provided by the plant.
- Drink water daily. Try to have it available throughout the day. If you need to add flavor, keep it in a pitcher or container with slices of orange, lemon or lime.
- Eat breakfast every day. Plain oatmeal with your own added goodies is a good start. Try topping with nuts and dried fruit for flavor.
- Avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Read labels! These oils, along with high fructose corn syrup, are in nearly everything at the grocery store. Hydrogenating oil extends its shelf life. Unfortunately, it shortens ours, as they are inflammatory and promote the development of heart disease.
- Avoid high fructose corn syrup. The rise in Americans' consumption of this factory-produced sweetener is parallel with the obesity epidemic.
- Limit the sugar and sweetness in your daily diet. Your body was not made to handle the amount of sugar the average American consumes. Surrounding yourself with nuts and dried or fresh fruits will decrease your urges to reach for candy.
- Ditch the artifical sweeteners. Products like Splenda and aspartame promote weight gain and appetite, and affect brain chemistry, increasing feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Ban the bars. Although marketed as having all sorts of health benefits, granola and power bars are really a poor nutritional choice. Most are loaded with sugar and other processed grains. Find better snack alternatives like trail mix with healthy nuts, whole grain chips and salsa, or plain yogurt with fresh fruit.
- Avoid eating right before bed. Eating and then lying flat can trigger heartburn that often leads to taking medication. Weight gain can also occur more easily if food is consumed within an hour of sleep.
- Avoid fast food. Plan your food schedule for the week so you don't need this "convenience". Pack your meals for work or travel when possible. If you have no other options, go to the grocery instead of a restaurant. Grab some fresh vegetables, fruits or trail mix to hold you over until you get home.
Organic fruits and vegetables have recently been shown to be higher in antioxidants, which help protect your cells from damage. Local produce is often better than organic, and less expensive as well. Visit a farmers market or local Amish vendor as often as you can.