I became interested in food and nutrition about 15 years ago when I became mysteriously ill. I was in pain and tired for months with multiple tests and doctors all finding nothing that would explain my symptoms. What finally did work was a major change in my diet and healthy eating. I, gradually, improved and my symptoms disappeared. A number of years later I had relaxed on some of my eating guidelines and rules and, not surprisingly, just a few short years ago, the strange pain and tiredness returned. Again, I turned to making changes to my nutrition and food and the symptoms subsided. I’m a true believer in healthy eating now and actually enjoy studying and learning more about nutrition.

Diets don’t work

Diets just don’t work. They may in the short term, and perhaps for a few lucky individuals. However, in the long term, and for most of us, it just doesn’t work. Diets, unless for a specific health reason (e.g. a person with celiac disease on a gluten free diet), are a short term weight loss plan. For many people, the weight eventually comes back.

Want to lose weight, feel better, be a healthier person, and have more energy?   A lifestyle change is needed for lasting results.

I am not going to bore you with all the science and research behind each of my rules for healthy eating. I promise you that they work and you don’t have to give up on flavor or taste.  Your tastes may need to adjust, but they will.  You can always make gradual changes to your diet.  Perhaps even one small change per week.  If you have kids, they too will adjust.  My own kids were incredibly picky eaters when they were younger, but I stayed strong with the plan and they are both eating a variety of healthy foods now.

Healthy eating rules

1. Whole Grain Foods

Whole grains are made using the entire grain. They provide more nutrition and fiber than their white counterpart. Whole grains are not just for pasta. Rice, oatmeal, and bread are also included. If whole grains are a new change for you, try eating thinner noodles when making pasta. I found my husband liked it better when I made the whole wheat angel hair pasta as he adjusted. You can try mixing 1/2 and 1/2 for a while and gradually adjust the proportions as you become more accustomed to the taste. We are, currently, loving the Japanese soba or buckwheat noodles. They have a great flavor, even for the white flour lover in your life.

When it comes to bread and baking, it’s an easy change when making your own. I even bake my cookies with a whole wheat flour and, usually, no one can tell the difference. The American Heart Association also provides some great tips for replacements as you adjust.

2. Keep it Real

If you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Check ingredient labels on everything. It’s really quite an eye opener. Usually, the fewer the ingredients, the better. You may hear the recommendation to shop around the perimeter of the grocery store. The goal here is to stick with unprocessed foods (e.g. produce, meats, seafood, and dairy are all generally along the perimeter). You can certainly go down the aisles, just pay attention to what you are buying.

Checking Food Label tips:

  • Check the number of ingredients, usually the fewer the better.
  • What are the ingredients? Do they sound like a chemical or is it a real food?

3. Eat your veggies

Aim for a variety of fruits and veggies throughout the day.  I like to make a fresh vegetable and fruit smoothie in the morning.  It makes me feel good to know that I got a few servings in right at the beginning of my day.  I know super food powders are incredibly popular right now, but I go with the old fashioned real super foods in the blender.  Perhaps it takes an extra minute or two, but it tastes great and it’s certainly not processed.  Salads are another great option to get your veggies in.  Just watch the dressing you use.  When ordering out, ask for dressing on the side.  It will greatly reduce the calories as you will, most likely, use a lot less.

I have found that the family is more likely to eat fresh fruit when I keep a bowl out on the counter and readily available.  Fresh, cut up fruit can, also, make a great snack or dessert.  If your kids are difficult with the veggies, there are easy ways to sneak it into foods.  You can even do this for yourself if you’re trying to increase your intake.  Butternut squash puree, pureed cauliflower, and chopped kale are all easy examples to incorporate into your meals. 

Another thing to consider is what you are putting on your veggies.  If you’re frying them or drowning them in butter or a heavy sauce, try to gradually cut back until your tastes adjust to roasted or steamed veggies or maybe an infused balsamic vinegar/ oil topping.

4. Eat Healthy Fats

Yes. You should eat fat. Just make sure it’s the good kind. If it’s fake, don’t use it.  Certainly don’t use anything with trans fats as well.  Good fat choices include:

  • cold-pressed oils (e.g. extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, peanut oil)
  • nuts
  • flaxseed
  • avocados
  • fatty fish (e.g. salmon, albacore tuna)
  • olives

Olive oil is my go to choice in cooking. You can find infused olive oils that taste incredible and add great flavor.  I use olive oil on any pasta, rather than butter. Roasting your vegetable in the oven or sautéing on the stove with olive oil and a little sea salt can quickly become addicting. Ground flax seed is another option that can easily be added to many dishes (e.g. oatmeal, smoothies, cookies).

When baking, I tend to substitute the oil for pureed fruit.  Unsweetened applesauce or a pumpkin puree are my personal favorites for substitutions.  It does tend to make the texture a bit softer for my cookies, but is quite tasty in my opinion.  My problem is that I know they are lower in calories and then tend to justify by eating more of them!

Checking Food Label tips:

  • Look for zero trans fats.
  • Check the amount of saturated fat. Less than 7% of your calories should come from saturated fats. For most people this would be under 16 grams (2000 calorie diet). If you have certain health conditions or need to lower your cholesterol, you would need to have even fewer grams per day.
  • The other listed fats are the good kind, so you don’t have to worry about them.

5. Healthy Hydration

Water is always a great choice, but, realistically, many of us choose more flavorful options. Just be cognizant of the calories that are in your beverages.  They can really add up.  Healthy choices include water, sparkling water, and limited amounts of juice.  Why limit the juice?  The sugar included. Always go for the no added sugar in your juice. The fruit itself has plenty of natural sugars. I like to stick with 100% juice and then dilute it with water (~ 50/50). It is best to limit yourself to one glass of juice a day due to the calories and sugar.

If you require your daily dose of caffeine, you can always use unsweetened tea or coffee. This can certainly take some adjustment. I used to have a major sweet tea addiction. I never thought I could kick it, or would want to, but by gradually mixing unsweet with sweet over time I was able to do so. Now, I am easily able to only choose unsweetened tea.

If you find that you are not drinking enough water, you can try adding fruit for some light flavor. A little fresh mint with strawberries added to a pitcher or some citrus will certainly refresh your thirst and encourage you to drink more.

6. Reduce your sugar

Sugar is high in calories and more research is showing the effects of too much sugar in our diets and it’s negative affect on our health.  Pay attention to packaging: 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Picture that before you eat something.  Would you really put that much sugar into something?  Sugar can hide in unexpected places. Check out your yogurt for example. I was shocked when I first learned this and started checking the labels of some of my favorite foods. Even some tomato sauces can be high in sugar.

Think about the type of sugar in the product. The sugar count includes both added and naturally occurring sugars. Naturally occurring sugars include lactose (milk based products) and fructose (fruit). Although you don’t want too many total sugars in your diet, it’s the added and artificial sugars that you want to avoid. Thinking about the “keep it real” rule, I have stopped buying products that include corn syrup and strive to stay away from all artificial sweeteners. Our bodies just weren’t created to process the unnatural and added sugars.

Do you find yourself craving sweets? Sugar can be just as addicting as a drug or smoking and just has hard to quit. If you find that you need sugar throughout the day or binge on sweets, then you may need to give up all added sugars entirely until you are able to kick the habit.

We, also, need to watch the sugar intake of our children. I find that, as much as I love my kid’s school, they give out entirely too much candy. Children should not be rewarded with candy, or any food. Doing so makes candy seem more important or more desirable than other foods. Candy or desserts are perfectly fine in moderation and following a good healthy meal, but a child shouldn’t expect to earn a treat every time they do something good. My son was receiving candy everyday last year for good behavior at school until I asked the teacher to please stop. He doesn’t behave because he is getting candy, nor should he.

As a school psychologist I can tell you that very few children need food as a reward. My daughter has special needs and does benefit from a reward system at school. But, she too, does not require or need a food reward. There are plenty of free and low cost ideas to reward your child without using food. Most of which are more effective!

Checking Food Label tips:

  • Check the ingredient list and if sugar is one of the first few ingredients, you may want to avoid it.
  • The label will not differentiate the sugar grams from natural occurring (fructose, lactose) or added sugars. You will have to figure out if the grams are due to added sugar by checking the ingredient list.
  • The American Heart Association suggests no more than 36 grams of added sugar a day for men and no more than 25 grams a day for women and children over age 2.

Making a healthy lifestyle change

Changing my diet and nutrition was life changing for me. Our diets are directly linked to our health. Making a big lifestyle change can be a daunting task, but you don’t have to do it alone.

I want to help you to reach your goals and to be a healthier, happier you. My passion is to help others determine their life goal and to make it happen. One of the first steps you can take is to give yourself more energy through healthier eating. Make sure you download my Breakfast Smoothie recipe to start each day strong.

What are your thoughts? Do you already follow the rules of nutrition? Do you have other ideas or your own personal rules that I didn’t mention?

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