I have had many clients ask me "what is healthy eating?" Making healthy nutrition choices has become so complicated. There are so many nutrition 'experts' giving their advice, trendy diets and cleverly marketed 'health' food products. Not only are there daily articles in the news, but everyone you talk to has an opinion on nutrition. It's enough to make anyone confused. How do you decipher through the constant bombardment of information overload?
First of all, if a product or diet sounds too good to be true it probably is. For many of us it has taken months, years or a lifetime of unhealthy choices to get to our current state of health. You can reverse many chronic disease conditions, but sadly not overnight. It is okay to try 'health' foods, new exercise routines or play around with your diet as long as what you are trying has some legitimate research behind it and it is safe.
Many people have different ideas of what makes up a healthy diet. For me a healthy diet is composed of mostly whole foods. What do I mean by whole foods? This means foods in their natural forms. Food that has seen sunlight, soil, fresh air. This means fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins or plant-based proteins, and healthy fats.
Aiming for 6+ servings of fruits and vegetables is a good start (see how I say 'a good start' - more is actually better, but everyone needs a starting goal). Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals. Try adding vegetables to omelettes, smoothies, stir-fries and soups. Fruit can be added to hot and cold cereals, yogurt, served as snacks or desserts. Fruits and vegetables are really miracles of nature.
Eat whole grain foods rather than refined grains, like white flour products and white rice. Yes, I am encouraging you to eat carbs. Gasp, horror! Why have people become so afraid of carbs? Carbs aren't all bad. Yes, there are 'bad' carbs that provide little to no nutritional values, but there are many healthy carbs out there. Sweet potatoes, oatmeal, quinoa, faro, buckwheat, millet, fruit, beans and lentils just to name a few. There is even a place for potatoes, whole wheat pasta, brown rice and whole wheat bread in a healthy diet. Serving sizes play a big part in how your body deals with carbs as they are broken down into glucose (sugar) and used by your body as energy. If you eat too many carbs at one time or graze on carbs all day, particularly the refined, sugary carbs your body has a hard time doing it's job properly and over time your body can become insulin resistant or you may become diabetic.
Beans, lentils, seeds, nuts, poultry, fish and seafood, lean meat, eggs, Greek yogurt, milk, grains like quinoa and oats are healthy sources of protein. Try to include a protein source with meals and snacks to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of protein in your diet.
When I first became a dietitian people were terrified of fat. Everything was low-fat or fat-free. Oh how wrong we were! You need fat in your diet to help with absorbing nutrients, brain health, hormone production and energy. Fat also helps you feel fuller longer. However, not all fats are created equal and consuming too many unhealthy fats actually lead to diseases. Trans-fats are particularly evil and have been banned in food production, however companies have a grace period for removing them from their food products. Trans fats are found in doughnuts, store bought cookies, muffins, cakes and snack foods. If the ingredient label lists partially hydrogenated anything don't buy it! Healthy fats that you want in your diet are poly- and mono-unsaturated fats: avocados, salmon, mackerel, olive oil, ground flax seed or flax seed oil, and most nuts. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of poly-unsaturated fatty acid.
Eating a 'healthy diet' can give you energy, fight chronic and autoimmune diseases, help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight, and in some cases ease feelings of anxiety and depression. Start with one small goal a week and when that goal becomes a habit add a new goal. Above all, be kind to yourself.
Don't restrict your eating or forbid yourself to eat specific foods. Restriction leads to binge eating. Healthy eating isn't dependent on one meal or even one day, but how you eat over time. Enjoy your food!