There are many different concepts of health and nutrition that can be confusing and difficult to grasp. As strange as this may seem to think, our bodies are very similar to cars. A car requires a certain grade of gas in order to run, just as our bodies require different types of healthy food for energy.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? With the convenience of restaurants, gas stations, and fast food on every other street corner, we have lost the sense of fueling our bodies with the proper, natural nutrients it wants and needs. Unhealthy behaviors and habits have taken over.
When we think of eating healthy food, the word “diet” usually comes to mind
This word sets us up for failure because it creates a mindset of thinking we need to deprive ourselves from our favorite foods and greatly decrease our calories. We restrict ourselves and eventually rebound, and then restrict again, and rebound again, and the vicious cycle continues.
Instead of “dieting” and focusing solely on calorie count, we need to understand macro nutrients (carbs, fats, and protein – the three components that make up calories) and learn to balance out our meals. This will help us create healthy habits that will last a lifetime and give us energy to improve our mental and physical health.
One thing to remember – habit puts willpower on autopilot
Making changes in lifestyle and behavior can seem impossible in the beginning, but they become so simple when we turn them into a habit. By mastering 1-2 small habits at a time, positive physical and mental results will follow into long-term success.
*The suitable proportion of each macronutrient (carbs, fats, and protein) is dependent on an individual’s activity level, metabolic health, age, gender, weight, height, physique and performance goals, and current well-being.*
Eat More Protein
This goes for everyone, whether you’re an athlete or someone trying to lose weight, we all need protein. Protein is a macronutrient made up of essential amino acids that our bodies are not able to produce, but that our bodies need.
The average American doesn’t consume enough protein, which leads to overconsumption of foods with little nutritional value. Protein consumption boosts metabolism, helping us burn more calories throughout the day and reduces appetite, making us feel more satiated. This leads to healthy weight loss as well as other benefits such as reduced cravings, lower blood pressure, faster recovery, and stronger bones and muscles.
*Tip: Start your day with a nutrient-dense breakfast, high in protein. Eggs and egg whites are packed with protein and perfect for breakfast. Pair them with vegetables (make a scramble or omelet), oatmeal and/or fruit, and a healthy source of fat (nuts, nut butter, avocados, or coconut oil). Preparing healthy food like this breakfast, doesn’t take more than 5-10 minutes, at most. Simply wake up a few minutes earlier than normal.
Sources of protein include: chicken breast (without skin), seafood and fish, lean ground turkey/beef, veal, pork, beans, tofu, eggs, egg whites, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, whey protein powder, soy products.
Make Carbohydrates Your Friend, Not Your Enemy
Carbohydrates are a particularly debatable nutrient and are often viewed as “bad.” Carbs are a macronutrient that provides us with energy and the fuel we need for brain function, physical activity, and most importantly, organ function.
Someone who is relatively lean, healthy and exercises five times a week may function best if 40%-50% of their food intake is coming from carbs. Whereas someone who is trying to lose weight and doesn’t exercise much will probably function best if 20%-30% of their caloric intake comes from carbs. It is important to match our carb intake with our metabolic health and activity levels in order to get the energy we need for optimal mental and physical performance in everyday activities.
“Bad” Carbs vs. “Good” Carbs
While there are carbs that offer little to no nutritional value (processed, refined grains/sugar) that lead to weight gain when eaten in excessive amounts, consumption of healthy carbs (whole grains/natural sugar) are needed for normal function and weight loss (YES, you can eat carbs and lose weight).
Today, the average American diet (“diet” meaning the foods we habitually eat, not foods we restrict) consists mainly of processed food, refined grains and added sugar (white bread, soda, candy, chips, fast food), which leads to many health issues and overeating (sugar is more addictive than cocaine).
The human body is not meant to consume such foods, which is often why we lack energy and have weak immune systems and various health problems. Healthy carbs such as fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and nuts provide our bodies with essential nutrients that will boost energy levels and decrease risk for health implications.
Consumption of complex and simple carbs will keep us full throughout the day and greatly reduce cravings for sugar and other processed foods. Our bodies were designed to consume whole foods that grown from the earth, not man-made processed foods.
*Tip: Start replacing refined carbs and sugar with complex and simple carbs that offer nutritional value. Instead of a sugar sweetened beverage such as soda or fruit juices, reach for a whole piece of fruit. When half our daily caloric intake is consumed from sugar sweetened beverages (very common in today’s society), our brain doesn’t process them when it tries to control our energy balance, thus leading us to consume more sugar. If we were to replace the sugary drink with a healthy food like fruit, our brain would recognize those calories and use them for energy. Instead of crackers and chips, eat vegetables or sweet potatoes. Replace cereal that has added sugar, with oats or whole grain toast. Base you carbohydrate intake off your activity levels, current health, and goals.
Sources of healthy carbs: brown rice, potatoes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, fruits, beans, oatmeal, quinoa, plain popcorn, rice cakes, whole grain and multigrain bread
Don’t Fear Fats
Fats often get a bad rap because they are the most calorie dense nutrient, but they are just as important to our bodily functions as protein and carbohydrates. Fats are a macronutrient that serve as a backup energy source, provide insulation, and aids in the absorption of nutrients. There are different types of fats including unsaturated, saturated, and trans-fats.
Two types of “good” unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fat (avocados, almonds, sesame seeds, olive, peanut, and canola oils) and polyunsaturated fat (walnuts, fish, omega-3 fats, sunflower, soybean and flaxseed oils).
Another type of fat, saturated fat, should be limited in our daily intake. Common sources of “bad” saturated fats include pizza, ice cream, full fat dairy products, beef, cookies, and fast food just to name a few. Saturated fats are also found in healthy meat sources such as chicken, fish, and nuts, but in much lower doses.
Trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oil) are the most unessential fats for our bodies and provide no nutritional value. They are found in donuts, cakes, biscuits, deep fried foods, margarine, non-dairy creamers, used in restaurants, and many more foods most of us consume daily. Trans-fat is also naturally found in some meat and dairy sources, but in small amounts. This is the only type of fat we should fear as it has been shown to cause high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and other harmful effects.
*Tip: Read nutrition label carefully. Some labels will say “0g trans-fat,” but it is important to read the ingredients list and look for the word “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” as this is just another word for trans-fat. Many coffee creamers contain hidden trans-fat, so a good alternative would be to use almond, coconut, or soy milk as a creamer. Add flaxseed or hemp seed to oats in the morning or use natural peanut butter on toast instead of margarine. Add avocados or olive oil to salads or sandwiches instead of using fatty dressings and condiments. Snack on nuts during the day and even crush some up and add to a piece of fish at dinner.
Sources of fat: chia seeds, nuts, avocados, nut butters, grass fed butter, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, cheese, dark chocolate, whole eggs, fatty fish extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil.
Vow to a Lifetime of Improvement: Balance, Moderation, and Time Management
Healthy eating has become such a difficult habit to keep with the convenience of unhealthy foods everywhere we go. It is important to start focusing on consuming healthy food, quality protein, carbs, and fats instead of processed foods and sugary drinks. The foods we eat greatly affect all parts of our life including physical well-being, mental health, relationships, and behaviors.
When healthy food becomes a habit, we will be able to have the energy to function at optimal levels in all aspects of our life. If we reverse our diets and make healthy eating a habit, then the processed snacks and sugary drinks can be eaten in moderation and sometimes not even wanted anymore.
Our bodies will always crave something sweet or salty, and it is ok to give in to these cravings in order to stay sane, but the most important take-away from this article is to realize the power of healthy food and to use it to your advantage.
The most common reason people do not eat healthy food is because “it’s too time consuming and expensive.” If we learn to reevaluate our time and invest in our health and wellness, we will realize that the cost of healthy food is cheaper than doctor visits, prescriptions, and hospital bills and we will learn to find quick, healthy ways to fill our diets with nutrients.
Cars are expensive to fix when they break down, just as medicine and doctor visits are expensive when we get sick. Remember, cars can be replaced once they no longer run, but our bodies cannot. Be careful what you fuel your body with.
“When you’re interested, you do what’s convenient. When you’re committed, you do what it takes.”