Sunday, March 16, 2014

5 Tips for Healthier Eating

A peek into our fridge
My husband and I get asked about our diet pretty often. I’m flattered actually that people think I have some awesome super nutritious, gourmet diet. The truth is my diet is moderately healthy and quite mundane on most days. I eat a lot of vegetables, fermented foods, healthy fats, and a little well treated animal protein,; oh and ice cream! The secret to eating healthy is doing what works for you. Living off low fat cottage cheese and despair at every birthday party is not a healthy diet. You have to feed your body and soul right. There is no one perfect diet for everyone. The food you eat should make you happy (no this is not license to spend your days eating bacon wrapped fudgecicicle’s) and it should nourish your body too. I promise it’s not that hard, but it does mean investing in you. Really are there a lot of things more important than that? So without further rambling I want to share my 5 tips for healthier eating. As a reminder, I am not a doctor or naturopath or a dietician or a certified anything, this is just my experience and my opinion. Please don’t believe everything you read on the Internet and if you plan on undergoing a drastic diet change it is always wise to do so under the supervision of a professional.

Cut the sugar!

Some great natural sugar!
I tell people all the time if there are only two things they can do for their health is would be to quit smoking and greatly reduce their sugar intake. One of the first posts I ever wrote was about sugar so you can read more here. In a nutshell, sugar sends your body on a never-ending roller coaster ride and alters your taste buds so that you continuously need something sweeter. Try cutting out all refined sugars and sticking only to fruit and moderate amounts of honey or maple syrup. Definitely remove high fructose corn syrup (HFC) from your diet and check labels because that shit is in everything. (I hate to cuss in public because I am a lady but it really is shit for you). I’m including in this one fake sugars, like sucralose and aspartame, that stuff is terrible for you. Diet soda may be free of calories but the sweetness from the fake sugar still reacts in your body and is believed to be a carcinogen. If you are a heavy soda drinker try switching to kombucha or water kefir, they are sweet and naturally fizzy from being fermented, and if you want to have an occasional soda look for natural ones sweetened with cane sugar or fruit juice.

Don’t fear the fat

Coconut oil
I grew up in world where healthy was synonymous with low fat. I grew up in a world where the rate of obesity in adults doubled and in children tripled. I have to admit even this one took me a long time to wrap my head… er mouth…  around, but getting an education in biology helped me see the light. Certain vitamins (A, D, E, K) are fat soluble, meaning they will store in your fat and also that you need fat to help absorb them. So a leafy green salad (full of these vitamins) isn’t doing you much good with that nonfat dressing. Adipose tissue (fat) is not just some annoying thing that you store around your midsection. It is meant to store energy that can quite easily be metabolized. Every cell in your body has a phospholipid bilayer around it (ringing any high school biology bells?), lipid= fat. Your cells have a fat layer around them that protects them and regulates them. Fat does NOT make you fat. Sugar (a carbohydrate) makes you fat, see point number one, excess of other types of refined carbohydrates make you fat, and lack of exercise makes you fat, but eating the right kinds of fat as part of a balanced diet will not make you fat. Science may have given me the understanding I needed to embark on my butter basting, coconut oil sautéing, whole milk kefir drinking journey but it also unfortunately gave us monster fats that should have stayed in the lab with the HFC’s. Hydrogenated fats, like trans-fats have no place in a humans diet (not even a little bit!). Also excess omega 6 fats, like those found in vegetable oils and most nuts and seeds should be enjoyed in moderation. A diet high in omega 6 and low in omega 3 causes inflammation in the body. Yes I said the O3 word; you know you should be getting in fish oil for the omega 3’s by now (flax and walnuts are also a good source). Saturated fats, especially the medium chain type in coconut oil are great for you and have been shown to lower bad cholesterol. It is also delicious. That brings me to animal fats; butter, lard; tallow, you know all that delicious stuff that you feel guilty about eating. Well don’t! These fats, when eaten from healthy animals, are not bad for you. Remember vitamins store in fat, but so do many toxins, so it is important to eat animal fats from healthy animals. Don’t go crazy or anything with fat eating (although I do eat coconut oil off a spoon sometimes) but fat is good for you and it also helps you feel more satisfied from a meal. If you eat low fat everything you may wind up eating more because you’re not satiated. You should also note that when the body is running optimally it can easily burn fat for energy, and it prefers to do so, especially during exercise. If your not tired of my fat tirade then you should read this article

Go natural and Plan ahead

Prepping salad mix for the week
Cutting out processed foods, even the ‘healthy’ processed foods, and replacing them with whole, natural food is a great switch for your diet. What does that mean exactly? Stop buying pre-made, shelf stable products and start buying vegetables, dry beans, raw meat, and anything else that you will actually have to prepare in your kitchen. I know you are busy! Believe me I am painfully aware of what it feels like to be busy, but you do have time to cook your own food. It is all about planning. Chances are you do have a free evening or weekend or a couple hours here or there (how much TV do you watch? Internet surfing? Social media-ing?) Spend a little time each week preparing meals that you can grab and go. It is faster than fast food. You can make extra servings and freeze them or go ahead and roast a bunch of veggies that will keep for several days in the fridge or cook a big pot of quinoa or rice that you can reheat throughout the week. Make enough dinner that you can reheat some for breakfast or lunch. 
Slow cooker beef stew
I am also a big fan of the slow cooker because you can put your food into it in the morning and it is hot and ready when you get home.  If you are going to buy pre-packaged stuff go for plain frozen vegetables and some canned beans for those nights you didn’t plan ahead for. You get the idea right? This is something I still struggle with sometimes but a good place to start is write down how many meals you are currently eating out for or eating processed for (cereal and milk counts!) and aim to reduce it to half, once you are comfortable with that then reduce it in half again and soon you’ll be down to just the occasional meal out, which is perfectly fine, we all have those days, just make healthy choices when you do indulge.  I know, I know, but its sooooo expensive. It’s not in the long run though. It may seem like your spending more all at once at the grocery store but $5 dollars here and there plus doctors visits or prescription meds really adds up. Try buying at farmers markets for what is local and in season or subscribe to a csa box.

Supplement wisely

A couple supplements we take
    You don’t have to take supplements but chances are you will benefit from them. There are a lot of options out there, and you can take supplements targeted to your certain ailments or needs, but there are really only 3 supplements that, in my opinion, are most beneficial for an everyday routine. Probiotics, Vitamin D, and Fish Oil (or algae oil). Yes you can get all these from your diet and lifestyle; if you eat a lot of fermented foods, get out in the sun everyday, and eat fatty fish twice a week then don’t bother; however, if you don’t, then I recommend investing in these. You don’t have to spend a lot of money but try to find a reputable company, i.e not the drug store brand. Look for ones that are third party verified and tested for quality and purity. Though buying supplements in bulk is cheaper, I recommend starting with a 1-month supply to see how you like it; it took me awhile to find a probiotic formula that felt right for me. You should still aim to get out in the sun, eat fermented foods, and fatty fish (or walnuts and flax seeds) but supplements will give you a boost in the right direction.  

Give yourself time

When I refer to the word “diet” I’m not talking about something I’m just doing right now, or only until a goal is reached; I’m talking about what I eat everyday and what I will be eating for the rest of my life. Changing this is not an overnight thing; you may even feel worse for a few weeks before you start to feel better (especially when cutting down on sugar). Be patient with the process and pay attention to how you feel. There are a lot of specialized diets out there; vegan, gluten free, paleo; these work great for some people but may not be right for you. As you get healthy you can experiment with your diet and see if adding in more protein or not eating wheat makes you feel better. Everyone is different and your needs change throughout your life so don’t get tied down to one diet mantra, that’s boring anyways. It is important to practice self-discipline but also to enjoy yourself. If you eat healthy most of the time then you don’t need to feel bad about enjoying a little ice cream every now and then or having a slice of pizza at a party, the important thing is that you feel good both physically and mentally.

I hope this helps give you a nudge in the right direction. If you are already doing all of these things then give yourself a pat on the back!  What are ways you have incorporated healthy habits into your life?

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