In the first of this new series “How To Optimize Your Overall Health” is a compilation of good eating habits to help you maximize the health you gain from what goes into your mouth. Proper nutrition helps form the foundation that supports your overall livelihood. In other words, when you eat the best, your body becomes its best.
The human body thrives and can exceed your expectations when fueled properly. It’s worth noting that the benefits of healthy eating habits reach far beyond vanity and appearance. Without adequate nutrition, you welcome unwanted guests such as illness, chronic disease and weight gain. Luckily, the solution is simple: Make these changes in your daily life and watch your body evolve into its most functional, beautiful, dynamic, balanced and healthy self.
Minimize Processed Foods
In this age, you’re surrounded by quick, fast and convenient food options. That convenience typically means you’re getting nutrient-depleted, empty-calorie foods. These easily accessible foods may fill your stomach, but they are hindering your health–especially when consumed on a regular basis.
The occasional splurge is reasonable and will not overhaul all of your healthy eating efforts. However, the key is to keep those indulgences to 10-20% of the time. The other 80-90% of the time, stay on track with foods that truly equip your body to keep up its “housework.”
To be clear, processed foods include anything that has undergone complex processing steps. Additives, artificial coloring and other chemical agents are often added during these processes. A few examples of processed foods to avoid are:
- Refined grains: cereals, baked goods
- Refined Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners: candy, corn syrup, soda
- Packaged meats
That’s not to say you need to avoid packaged foods all of the time, at all costs. Rather, get familiar with reading ingredient lists and decifering what is in your food. When buying packaged foods, look for these things on the packaging:
- No Additives
- No Artificial Flavoring
- No Artificial Coloring
- No Preservatives
- No Added Sugar
- Grown without pesticides
- Free Range, Cage Free, Wild Caught, Hormone Free (when buying eggs and meat)
Not every packaged food you come across will boast every one of those specifications. To keep your shopping mentality simple, think:
- Short Ingredient List with recognizable ingredients
It’s important to realize that organic, nutrient-rife foods are becoming just as accessible as processed, junk food options. Thus, all you need to do to buy these foods is head to a different isle of your grocery store. More grocery stores are integrating a natural or organic section, helping consumers more easily access good quality foods.
Supporting and purchasing from your local farmers market is another way to get your hands on high quality, organic food. Not only are you supporting your local agriculture and the families that work hard for it, but you are buying food that organically nourishes your body.
Stop Drinking Soda
Perhaps the most rampant and unhealthy habit amongst the masses is soda drinking. These sugar-filled (or artificially sweetened) beverages are nutritionally stripped and chock full of damaging preservatives and chemicals. The only purpose of these foods is to temporarily satisfy a caffeine or sugar craving.
Your body was not meant to ingest food like this. Your body needs whole, real foods with a high nutritional value to thrive. Morph this detrimental soda habit into these healthy eating habits that will actually contribute to your overall wellness:
This effervescent, fermented tea beverage is becoming increasingly more accessible in your local grocery or health food store. The symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (as unappetizing as it sounds) and probiotics give this drink its digestive benefits. Your stomach requires an adequate amount of good bacteria in order to facilitate assimilation and absorption of nutrients.
Thus, drinking kombucha daily can help optimize your gut health as well as minimize stomach aches and discomfort. Swapping out soda for this healthy drink is one of a few good eating habits that can make large strides in your body’s vitality.
Similar to kombucha, probiotic drinks contain digestive aids called probiotics that balance your gut’s bacteria levels. The difference between kombucha and probiotic drinks is:
- Kombucha is brewed and fermented with tea, sugar, fruit juice and a SCOBY disc (a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).
- Probiotic drinks are often the same ingredients, sans tea. They boast similar nutritional benefits and can be consumed interchangeably.
Consuming herbal teas, such as chamomile or peppermint, is another good health habit to form. These drinks can be used to help decrease your caffeine intake, or simply for their health benefits. Chamomile naturally aids the liver, while peppermint naturally decreases inflammation in the body.
Don’t Overdo Caffeine
What’s not to love about the morning coffee or afternoon tea ritual? Grinding the beans, smelling the robust aroma of the freshly brewed coffee and pairing it with breakfast is a beloved past time of many. Likewise, sharing an afternoon glass of tea with your loved ones provides comfort and togetherness. The problem lies not in drinking the coffee/tea, rather in drinking too much of it.
It’s important to perhaps limit your coffee & tea drinking to your favorite times. In other words, don’t mindlessly drink caffeine throughout the entire day. Try to limit your consumption to 1-2 cups of coffee in the morning, if you’re a coffee drinker, and similarly if you’re a tea drinker. Or, perhaps you enjoy both. Then, you can sensibly have a cup of each in a day’s time and keep your caffeine intake at bay.
As with every other dietary concern, too much of something leads to imbalance in your body. In regards to this popular drink, too much consumption can cause your adrenal glands to kick it in to overdrive. This becomes very taxing on your endocrine system. Ultimately, you are setting yourself up for some hormonal imbalances–which effects merely every bodily process.
In addition, too much caffeine can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. Know that caffeine is a vasconstricter; essentially meaning that you feel stimulated and temporarily energized after consuming it. Thus, drinking caffeinated drinks close to bed time can hinder on your ability to fall asleep.
Eat Whole, Real Foods
In the ever-growing world of convenient and packaged foods, it’s easy to forget that one of the greatest, most effective healthy habits is eating whole, real foods in their natural form–not packaged, not powdered, not pasteurized. You should aim to eat them as close to the source as possible. In other words, buy local produce and prepare it in ways that your body will find easy to assimilate and absorb.
Often times, packaged food products are so broken down, isolated and manipulated that your body can no longer seek their real and complete nutritional value. This doesn’t mean there is no place in your diet for foods that are sold in a package. Rather, they should be eaten in moderation–not as the mainstay.
To receive all the nutritional benefits of nature’s bounty, aim to do a lot of shopping in the “outline” of your grocery store. In other words, stay out of the isles that contain baked goods, chips, boxed meals, condiments, etc. Your focal point should be on high-quality, organic foods like vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, beans, grass-fed meat, free-range eggs and wild-caught fish. These foods are rife with nutrients and will provide your body with the necessary nutrients it needs.
Look to eat these healthy, organic foods 80-90 percent of the time. It’s important to note that eating a flawless, perfect diet is not always realistic. Don’t inflict guilt on yourself if you stray from these nutritious foods 10-20% of the time. That small amount will not break your healthy lifestyle. It’s about finding balance and making good, healthful choices the majority of the time.
Get Enough of Each Macro-Nutrient
When venturing out on a mission to buy a cart full of healthy & organic food, remember that you need to get adequate amounts of each macronutrient to help your body thrive. Macronutrient is the overarching word to describe carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Contrary to what many fad diets have made you believe, your body needs all three of these components in order to function correctly.
If you relate to numbers, keep the 40-40-20 ratio in your mind. This means your daily intake should be comprised of approximately 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% fat on a given day. There’s no need to measure and no need to obsess over these numbers. They are meant to simply provide you with the idea that you need all three, with a little less fat than protein and carbohydrates.
A great way to achieve this is to be conscientious of what you’re shopping for. If you have a cart full of fruit and juice (all sugar), then it’s time to take inventory of what that means for your diet. Create a grocery list that helps you cover all of your bases.
Some healthy sources of protein include:
- Beans (green, cannellini, black, pinto, lima)
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts)
- Seeds (chia, hemp, flax)
- Free-range eggs
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild-caught fish
Healthy sources of carbohydrates include:
- Fruit (apples, berries, pineapple, oranges, grapefruit, nectarines–just to name a few)
- Raw Honey (in small amounts)
- Raw Agave Nectar (in small amounts)
Healthy sources of fat include:
- Raw coconut oil
- Other plant based oils (olive, grapeseed, avocado)
- Seeds (chia, hemp, flax)
Aim to have a few items from each macro category in your grocery basket to insure that you’re satisfying your body’s needs.
Drink Enough Water
The human body is comprised mostly of water. Water is the means by which your body rids itself of toxic build up from the foods you consume and the pollutants you absorb. This vital fluid helps facilitate merely all of the complex processes within your body.
Implementing this method of staying hydrated is a helpful healthy eating habit for a few key reasons:
- Helps maintain a clear complexion
- Regulates and facilitates digestion
- Prevents dehydration
- Curbs cravings
- Boosts energy levels; leaves you feeling rejuvenated
- Prevents urinary tract infections
- Aids weight loss
- Encourages Detoxification
- Prevents headaches
A good rule of thumb is to drink water before you’re thirsty. Don’t wait until you feel depleted to take a few gulps. It’s also helpful to bring a water bottle with you to work, school and/or on your commute. This will insure that you stay adequately hydrated and feeling revitalized.
Focus Your Meals Around Vegetables
Take a look at a traditional meal and you’re likely to find a few side dishes focused around a hunk of protein like chicken or beef. The content on a plate like this isn’t the problem, but the ratios can be altered a bit to up your veggie intake. Refocusing your meals around vegetables is another one of these simple, good health habits that can make a big difference for your overall weight, health and balanced lifestyle.
Making vegetables the focus of your meals does several positive things for your diet:
- Insures that you meet your daily vegetables intake
- Increases your nutrient intake
- Reduces the caloric content of your meal
- Helps you to get acquainted with new vegetables
When you implement all of these daily rituals, you are helping yourself form healthy habits for life. When you establish these habits and form a new, healthful routine, you set yourself up for many years of vitality and energetic living.
Making small changes one week at a time will help you be successful in taking on your healthy strategy. This will also increase the likelihood that you stick with this new lifestyle. Feeling inundated can lead to abandoning the whole plan altogether. For instance, your first month of healthy habit forming could look like this:
- Week 1: Cut out the majority of the processed foods & soda you’re consuming.
- Week 2: Develop a macro-balanced grocery shopping list.
- Week 3: Integrate lots of organic fruits and vegetables
- Week 4: Leave yourself a reminder to grab a bottle of water on the way to work
And continue to integrate a new habit with each coming week. If you feel confident enough, you can create these new habits within a week’s time, or even all at once.