I’ve been addressing the basics recently – Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise – the fundamentals of a healthy lifestyle. Today, let’s talk about food – healthy nutrition and how good food habits impact optimal health and performance.
Food is a very popular topic nowadays. From vegan to gluten-free to Paleo to low-carb, there are a multitude of options to choose from. And lots of information out there as to why a particular one is the best for you.
I am personally not a proponent of any particular diet plan. Clients who wish to lose weight will often ask me to recommend one or the other, and I have to admit my reluctance to do so.
Why? Because research shows that around 95% of people who lose weight on a diet will regain it in 5 years. Being on a particular diet is, by definition, temporary. Following a prescribed diet in order to lose weight may help you to lose the weight in the short term, but often neglects teaching healthy eating habits over the long term. Losing weight without learning how to make different choices in eating is going to lead back to the same eating patterns that caused the weight gain to begin with. And you’re back at square one.
What I am a HUGE advocate of is eating a variety of healthy foods, in moderation. I’m also an advocate of finding what works for you, of having a plan of eating that helps you function at your best. If you find that you feel better on a gluten-free plan, then go with it. There has been a huge rise in the number of vegetarians in the United States which some individuals choose for health reasons, environmental concerns or animal rights. The USDA adopted the MyPlate icon in 2011 to encourage consumers to adopt a healthy style of eating, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. There are lots of options to choose from, and there are also general guidelines that seem to be applicable across the board. These include:
- Fruits and vegetables are mainstays of a healthy eating plan. A minimum of 5 servings a day is recommended. The more colorful, the better. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures a diet high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Choosing unprocessed food in its most whole, natural state, without additives or preservatives is the way to go whenever possible. A great way to do this is to choose regionally or locally grown foods in season. Look for simple recipes that include a few fresh ingredients.
- Don’t forget about water. Don’t go through the day dehydrated. Water is vital to essential functions that rid our bodies of waste and toxins. Drinking water is also essential to the health of our skin, hair and nails. Not drinking enough can cause us to feel tiredness, lack of energy, and increased feelings of hunger. Staying hydrated throughout the day ensures that your body – and you – will operate at an optimal level.
- Choose high-quality protein. If you eat meat, do so occasionally and choose lean cuts; vary your protein intake with fish, chicken, or plant-based proteins such as nuts, beans or tofu. Choose low-fat milk and cheeses over whole.
- Healthy fats are vital for optimum brain and cell functioning, and include those found in olive and canola oils. Good food sources of healthy fats are avocadoes, certain nuts, and fatty fish such as salmon. Avoid saturated fats found in animal and dairy products, and trans fats found in processed and fried foods and chips.
Most nutrition experts can agree upon these ideas. The goal for healthy eating is to develop a way to eat that is sustainable over the long haul, not just until you lose the weight. Food is the fuel our bodies operate on, and we need a balance of nutrients. And, in the end, we should enjoy our food and how it makes us feel.