Nutrition is an ever-changing field. For science-minded individuals like me, that can be exciting, but for those who just want a consistent answer to their health-related questions, it can be frustrating.
Nutrition is a fairly new science, and we’re just beginning to understand the complex interactions between nutrients in food and the human body.
However, there are a few solid morsels of information that have stood the test of time:
1. You don’t have to like everything you eat, and you don’t have to eat everything you like.
Now, truth be told, as a nutritionist I want my clients to like healthy foods, but there are some foods that are just worth learning to like. Beets and salmon are on the top of that list.
The second part is a little trickier. Simply put, making a choice to eat healthier may sometimes mean choosing NOT to eat certain foods even though you know you like them. Making peace with this is an important step in making a lifestyle change.
2. Let food be your medicine.
Three to five times a day, every day, we have an opportunity to influence our physical and emotional health.
I divide food into three groups: zappers, neutrals, and helpers.
The zappers are foods that may take more from our body than they give. If you can’t pronounce the ingredient, chances are that your body won’t know how to make use of it. Stay clear of ingredients with the words hydrogenated, hydrolyzed, artificial, and autolyzed, and ingredients that have a # next to them (like red #3).
Most of us, even those who are already health-minded, are eating the neutrals. These are foods that are neither harming nor helping. Think of whole-grain (although processed) cereal.
Helpers are foods that have a robust offering of nutrients like phytochemicals and antioxidants and increase our vitality and energy. Foods like blueberries, broccoli, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon are all helpers. For those of you ready to step it up a bit, consider trying maca root or spirulina in your next smoothie.
3. Respect your body.
I used to tell my kids that there was a tag attached to them at birth stating, “You have one body, take care of it. Move daily. Eat well.” I believe in that philosophy whole-heartedly.
4. Rest, digest, and stress less.
Think of mealtimes as opportunities for mini-meditative moments in your busy and hurried day. Pause before a meal. Take a moment and some deep breaths to move out of fight-or-flight mode and into rest-and-digest mode.
This practice will allow your digestive system to really engage in making use of those beautiful foods you’re about to eat. Your whole body will benefit.
5. Create a colorful plate.
I challenge my clients to get at least five colors of the rainbow onto their plates each day. This can be easier than you think:
- Green smoothie to start the day
- Fresh blueberries and Greek yogurt mid-morning
- Tomato soup on the side of lunch
- Carrot, red pepper, and hummus plate mid-afternoon
- Baked butternut squash and a simple arugula salad for dinner
6. Return to ancient wisdom.
Even as the science of nutrition is quickly advancing around us, it turns out that some of the best foods for health may still be those foods that our grandmothers put on the table. (Think bone broth.)
Rich in gelatin and the amino acids glycine and arginine, bone broth is a cost-effective way to sooth body and soul.
7. Make your sweet treats count.
Everyone likes something sweet now and again. Refill your muscles with sweet fuel it can actually use, like dates, crystalized ginger, chocolate almond milk, or a homemade sports drink.
8. Fast more than you eat.
Keeping eating restricted to nine to twelve hours of the day at three- to four-hour intervals, as opposed to the graze-all-day plan, has a positive effect on metabolism.
9. Follow the 80:20 rule.
It might not be healthy to be healthy ALL of the time. Keep a balance of 80 percent healthy foods and the other 20 percent reserved for fun and pleasure.
Fun and pleasure can mix with healthy in a nice bowl of popcorn with nutritional yeast or even a kale salad with a supremely nice cheese.
10. Keep the real, real.
It’s easy to be drawn in by packaging, but real foods don’t come in a box or a bag. Keep the state of your plate real by focusing on foods that look closest to their natural state. Foods like salmon, brown rice, and roasted Brussels sprouts are the real deal.
11. Understand the connection between food and how you feel.
This goes beyond “you are what you eat.” It’s important to appreciate the way nutrients in food communicate with your body and influence your health and mood. This is powerful information we can use to shape our health and energy.
12. Make mealtime a break time.
Meals are a natural break in the day. Use this to take the time to appreciate and be grateful for all of the ways in which life nourishes you, including the food you eat. Being mindful at meals doesn’t take much time, just a little practice.