1. My favorite tip for improving your nutrition comes from my nutrition school mentor, Mary Sheila. One of the first things she taught me is to eat a Balanced Plate at each meal, including breakfast. Fill half of your plate with leafy greens and/or above ground vegetables, 1/4 of your plate with a high fiber starch, and 1/4 with high quality protein. Add two “thumbs” or tablespoons of healthy fats, and you have a satisfying meal that takes the guesswork out of figuring out how to eat. You’ll also experience improved energy levels, less mood swings, and diminished cravings.
2. Eat a variety of whole, nutrient-dense foods for optimal health. Everything that we consume affects our bodies at the cellular level, giving truth to the saying “you are what you eat.” Nourish your body and do wonders for your well being by focusing on nutrient rich foods that pack the biggest punch. Some of my favorites are wild Alaskan salmon, local grass fed beef, organic free range eggs, nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens, avocado, lentils and beans, herbs and spices, and the entire rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables. There are so many healthy and delicious options available to us. Food truly is medicine!
3. Watch out for the “Nutrition Bandits,” foods that perpetuate chronic stress and inflammation in the body, zap our energy, and lead to disease. Avoid refined flour, refined sugar (also called evaporated cane juice, cane syrup, and cane sugar), cornstarch, high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners and preservatives, trans fats, hydrogenated oils and fats, industrial seed oils like cottonseed or vegetable oil, genetically modified foods, or foods containing GMO’s, and packaged foods with ingredients that you don’t recognize or cannot pronounce.
Examples: Fast food, chips, candy and chocolate bars, soda, white bread, commercially baked goods like sweet rolls, croissants, cakes and cookies, ice cream, energy drinks, electrolyte drinks like Gatorade, most fruit juice, sweetened yogurt, white potatoes in excess, Clif Bars and other highly sugared protein bars, and more. It’s unrealistic to completely eliminate packaged foods, so a good rule of thumb is to choose foods with 5 or less ingredients on the label.
4. Keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day by eating high quality protein at meals and snacks. Balanced blood sugar equals good energy and a stable mood, and will help you avoid that late afternoon crash that makes you crave sugar, carbs, and caffeine. Have healthy snacks on hand so that you don’t feel tempted to reach for things like chips, cookies and pastries when you are hungry. These foods are appealing because they quickly boost our blood sugar making us feel better in the short term, but the lack of protein and fiber causes our blood sugar to rapidly fall, resulting in mood swings, fatigue, and more cravings.
Try these: A handful of nuts, hummus and carrot sticks, edamame, cheddar cheese with multigrain crackers, unsweetened yogurt with berries, apple slices with unsweetened almond or peanut butter, a hard boiled egg, or turkey slices with pesto.
5. Hydration is essential. Drink half of your weight in ounces of water each day, more if you are especially active or consume a lot of caffeine. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, strive for about 75 ounces of water per day. Fatigue, sluggish metabolism, and unhealthy cravings are often associated with dehydration.
6. Crowd out the junk by adding in more health promoting foods. Transitioning to a healthier way of eating may leave you feeling deprived of the foods you love, but by shifting the focus to getting more good stuff like vegetables, clean proteins, and healthy fats, the less room there will be for the unhealthy foods. Give your body the nutrients it needs, and there will be less space for the junk.
7. Don’t get caught up in following a strict or trendy diet. Think about what works best for your unique biochemistry, and what you need to function optimally. For example, do you require high quality animal protein like wild caught fish, free range eggs, and grass fed beef to sustain good energy and a balanced mood, or do you feel better eating plant based proteins like lentils, beans, tofu, and nuts? Can you digest whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, or do they leave you feeling overly full and bloated? Can you tolerate dairy like a champ, or does it aggravate your gut? It may take some trial and error to find a flow with your meal planning, but figuring out your best way of eating will have long term positive effects on your health.
8. Preparation is the key to success. Make it easy to eat well, and hard to eat poorly. Have healthy meal and snack options readily available at home and at work, and keep the junk food out of the house. If it’s not around, you won’t eat it. Find some time on the weekend to go grocery shopping and do a little bit of food prep for the coming week. Stock up on your main proteins and veggies for the week, and prepare some ahead of time. Make a dozen hard boiled eggs, slow cook a batch of beans, and shred a pound or two of cooked chicken to quickly add to salads and wraps. Save time by doubling recipes when you cook so that you’ll have leftovers for the next day. Keep a box of pre-washed organic greens and a healthy salad dressing in your fridge, cut up crunchy veggies like carrots and bell peppers to snack on throughout the week, and roast a couple of pans of mixed vegetables. If your schedule is especially busy, take advantage of a local grocery delivery service. Food shopping is half the battle, so treat yourself to some help in that arena if you need it.
9. Slow and Steady Wins the Race: when it comes to making healthy changes to your diet, think small and sustainable. It may be tempting to change everything all at once, but that approach rarely works for the long term. The goal is to adapt a way of eating that is more lifestyle and less diet, so pinpoint 1-3 things you’d like to change and focus on truly incorporating those habits into your daily life until it becomes routine.
10. Remember that when it comes to good nutrition, it’s not about what you do once in a while, it’s what you do most of the time. Don’t get caught up in falling off the proverbial wagon. If you stray from your ideal eating plan, just be gentle with yourself and know that as important as it is to eat right, it’s equally important to enjoy life and to do the things that make you happy. We are a culture that loves and celebrates food, so go for it once in a while, and don’t feel guilty about it.