So you’ve decided to make some changes and eat healthier, but you just don’t know where to start. It can be confusing trying to weed through all the exaggerated marketing and fad diets to understand the facts about health and nutrition.
There are some simple rules that can make healthy eating a bit easier without the need for a strict diet, calorie counting or a degree in nutrition.
Rule #1: Limit Packaged Food
You can guarantee most prepared items you purchase – especially if packaged – will include added fat for flavour and sodium and preservatives to maintain its shelf life. Even the best sounding salad at the drive-thru is hiding crazy amounts of unhealthy fasts in the dressing. When you make it yourself, you can control what gets added and what doesn’t.
Try swapping or usual purchases for healthier versions of the same food – natural peanut butter versus regular, greek yogurt versus regular and chedder cheese versus processed slices.
If you have the option of fresh or canned – go for fresh!
If you can make it yourself, you should – even a few nights a week will help. This goes for everything from lasagna to soup to salad dressings. Find a few easy recipes and make ahead meals or make batches to freeze and re heat on busy weeknights.
Bake not Buy – try to bake muffins, cookies, dessert breads and kids granola bars. Bake in batches and store in the freezer for easy school morning lunch making.
Rule # 2: Balance Your Plate
An easy way to determine if a meal is on the healthier side is to ensure it has variety of foods and includes at least 4 of these 5 key components. Get away from the meat and potatoes mentality and think in terms of a balanced plate for all 3 meals of the day.
Balance the following:
- Protein – lean meats baked or grilled, eggs, beans, fish, chicken.
- Vegetable – salad greens like spinach, all root vegetables, beans, broccoli, eggplant. The list is endless.
- Fruit – in its true form (not a can or container) – berries, apples, grapes, bananas, melons.
- Calcium – include calcium at breakfast and lunch by including yogurt, milk, cheese, tofu.
- Fibre – include whole grains at every meal whether in the cereal at breakfast, home made muffins or baked oatmeal at snack to the whole grain bread at lunch and whole grain pasta, brown rice or quinoa at dinner.
Rule #3: Read Nutrition Facts
When you do have to buy packaged food, don’t depend on the front of the box or packaging to give you the straight facts. Llow in fat’ hides that it contains artificial flavours, sugar and added sodium to enhance the flavour, “contains real fruit” is code for a tiny amount of added dried or pureed fruit is there in addition to the sugar, oil, salt and artificial colurs and flavours. The Nutrition facts are on the back – know what to look for when label reading.
When reading the nutrition facts look for the following:
Protein – protein plays an important role in controlling hunger and increasing muscle and recovering from exercise – go for protein over empty calories every time. At least 10 grams of protein in snacks and 20 grams for meals is a good guideline.
Fiber – Go for fibre! At least 3 grams is considered good, but more is great.
Fat – Healthy fats can be good for you but those are usually not found in packaged foods. Try for 0 g trans fat and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving.
Sugar – when buying cereal, granola bars, crackers, cookies or muffins (which you should limit – see Rule #1!!) look for those high in fibre and low in sugar. Less than 8 grams of sugar per serving is a good rule to live by.
Even making one small change is a change in the right direction. Try limiting morning muffins and go for a protein smoothie to hold you over until lunch. Have salad with chicken and home made dressing at lunch rather than take out and limit afternoon snacking on packaged foods.
Eating healthier just means eating more real food and ensuring you are getting enough fibre and protein to keep you full longer and avoid unnecessary snacking.