This is not a post offering a miracle diet, I promise. Forget everything you think about what dieting should be. These are strategies to maintain your health and keep you and your family on the right track for 2015. Invest in the good food habits of happiness and health full of fresh, whole, local foods.
“When we start trying to make healthier choices, we discover that many of the choices that are good for our own personal health are also good for the environment, our community, and our local economy. It’s a virtuous cycle. Choosing the right food for our bodies helps the environment and farmers. There’s an incredible ripple effect way beyond just that one choice.” Anna Lappé
What underscores all these strategies is that you will be more aware and conscience of what you eat, it will taste better, the environment will benefit, you will strengthen the local economy, and you will feel great doing it.
1. Eat local! You knew it was coming. Buying directly from farmers and producers at farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), and local food businesses keeps your food dollars circulating locally, and farmers get a larger percentage of the dollars you spend than they do when you shop at big box stores. Your health and the environment benefit because local producers usually employ more sustainable practices providing you with more nutrient dense foods. Plus, people that eat locally also tend to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits. Win-win!
2.Get in tune with the seasons. We are fortunate to have extended growing seasons in Arizona, which means increased availability of fresh fruits and vegetables year-round. Foods that are in season are usually cheaper than their unseasonal counterparts, so look for good deals and enjoy the bounty of the season. They will taste better and be fresher, too. You can savor the seasons by buying in bulk and preserving for later. Try freezing fruits and canning tomatoes in the summer and pickling cabbage and making citrus marmalade in the winter.
3.Include variety in your meals. There’s no need to take supplements when you are naturally getting all the vitamins and minerals you need from a balanced and varied diet. Find many colors of the rainbow in your fruits and vegetables and your body will thank you.
4.Forget the old food pyramid, and fill half your plate with veggies and fruits. It’s a good strategy that doesn’t require much calculation. By default you’ll be eating less of the bad stuff high in fat, sugar, and salt while at the same time loading up on more nutritious foods. You’ll be sure to get the recommended five servings of vegetables and counting calories will be obsolete.
5.Switch to whole grains. The difference between white flour, white rice, whole wheat, and brown rice is fiber. Fiber is the key to maintaining your waistline. Processed grains are long strings of sugars and as soon as they enter your body they are broken down into smaller parts flooding your bloodstream and triggering an insulin reaction. It’s as if you were eating bowls of sugar. Whole grains contain fiber that slow down the digestion process so those sugars (energy) is released over time. Try new whole grains like quinoa and rye berries in addition to your whole grain pasta and brown rice.
6.Include healthy fats and proteins in your diet. Your body needs fats and proteins to help you feel full and satisfied. Include things like beans, peas, lentils, and other legumes, wild caught fish or shellfish, lean beef or pork, chicken or turkey, plain yogurt, eggs (limit to no more than two per day to avoid consuming unwanted cholesterol), game meats (venison, bison, rabbit), raw nuts and seeds (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds), and healthy fats found in olive oil, avocado, and salmon.
7.Always eat breakfast. Breakfast is the ignition to light your metabolism on fire each new day. When you skip breakfast, you are signaling to your body there is a food shortage and it should hold on to all the calories you eat the rest of the day. Try filling whole grains like oatmeal or granola topped with protein rich plain yogurt and delicious fruits, nuts, and seeds.
8.Snack smarter. Snacks can tide you over from one meal to the next so be sure you have plenty of healthy snacks on hand before the cravings strike. Enjoy snacks that include fresh fruits and vegetables paired with protein, healthy fats, or whole grain. Hummus with carrots, cucumber, or broccoli is always a good choice. For your sweet tooth try dried cherries, almonds, and dark chocolate chips or fresh dates stuffed with almond butter and unsweetened coconut. Other good options include mango, jicama, or avocado with lime, chile and a bit of sea salt or whole wheat crackers with cheddar cheese and apple slices. Fruit and veggie smoothies are also a great option and will help you reach your recommended serving goal for the day.
9.Try fruit for dessert. There’s no need to skip everyone’s favorite part of the meal. Experiment with fruit based desserts that are low in added sugars. Fruit can be quite complex when poached, grilled, baked, or broiled and paired with spices, nuts, dark chocolate, or fresh cream. Get creative! And for your health and happiness indulge in the good stuff.
10.Ditch the soda and go for water instead. Sodas, teas, and juices are loaded with unnecessary sugars that your body inadvertently stores as fat. Instead drink plenty of water, and if you are looking for excitement infuse your water with fresh fruit, veggies, and herbs. Some good combinations include cucumber and mint, lemon and strawberry, or ginger and lime.
11.Cut down on processed foods that contain hidden sugar, refined grains, artificial ingredients, and trans fats. Astonishingly, processed foods make up 70% of the average U.S. consumer’s diet. Focus more on foods you can pronounce and recognize. If it ends in -ose or is a syrup, it’s most likely sugar in disguise! Ex: fructose, maltose, glucose, lactose, brown rice syrup, malt syrup, corn syrup, etc.
12.Read food labels to know what you’re eating. Labels can be tricky, so it’s best to eat foods that don’t contain labels. What’s in an apple? Well, apple, of course! But we all have busy lives, and that necessitates convenience sometimes. So have a look at the ingredients list. If the first ingredient is sugar or enriched wheat, it’s likely that the item has little nutritional value.
13.Cook more, eat out less. Cooking can take some getting used to, but it doesn’t have to be fancy gourmet meals everyday. There are plenty of resources for fast, simple cooking at the click of a mouse. Rest assured that pretty much anything you cook at home will be better for you than the prepared or restaurant version because you know exactly what the ingredients are. Involve your children and family in the process to ensure they will try new and healthier foods as well.
14.Plan ahead of time. It only takes a bit of foresight to be able to have ingredients on hand to whip up a quick and healthy dinner on a busy weeknight. Take the time over the weekend to plan all your meals and snacks ahead to ensure you have all you need to make healthy choices throughout the week. Make a list of dishes to prepare and all the ingredients you need from the store, then when you go shopping only get what’s on the list. You will save time and money in the short- and long-run!
15.Eat meals at the table. Practice all these good food habits with family and friends and return to the table to share your meals. When you sit down to eat, you eat slower and enjoy more. You allow yourself the time to register when you are actually full instead of wolfing down fast food in front of the TV or while driving. Sitting down to a meal also allows you to spend more time with your family and increase communication. Families that eat dinners together also tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and engage less in not so healthy behaviors.