The Most Important Things You Should Do to Start Getting Healthy
Everyday we hear about new ways to lose weight, get healthier or some type of food we should avoid because of its supposed health effects. But, when you get right down to it, there are some basic ideas and things you can implement pretty simply to start getting healthy. It doesn't take a cleanse or a wacky diet to start feeling better. It takes some simple ideas and a little bit of mindfulness to see some big changes without a lot of work. Read on for my tips!
1. Eat more vegetables - I know this seems like a no-brainer, but if there's only one thing you decide to focus on to improve your health, it's vegetables. As in, eating more of them! There are a lot of varying opinions out there about nutrition and health. But, one thing we can all agree on is vegetables and that we all could use more of them. The USDA recommends between 5 and 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. A lot of us are not getting anywhere near that target range. That might seem like a lot, but you might be surprised about what a serving of a fruit or vegetable is though. For example, half a large bell pepper is considered 1 serving of vegetables. 5 broccoli florets are considered a serving! 16 grapes are considered a serving of fruit and only 4 large strawberries is also considered a full serving of fruit. That's really not so much! The goal of eating more vegetables doesn’t seem so daunting when we really break it down and see what those portions look like.
Vegetables are extremely nutrient dense. What does that mean? It means the amount of nutrients per calorie in vegetables is very high. Low calories for a lot of nutritional bang for our buck. That’s the main goal here; to get more nutrients in! Vegetables are a very good way to get those essential nutrients. Not only are these nutrients present in vegetables, but also they are in the exact right proportions, working synergistically with each other to be absorbed and utilized to the fullest extent in the body. This essentially means real food nutrients work way better and harder than synthetic or enriched foods ever will (think processed cereals or flours). A full day worth of vegetables will blow any multi-vitamin out of the water.
Antioxidants, which protect cells from oxidative damage, are found in vegetables too. We always hear to eat colorfully and this is why...all those antioxidants give vegetables their rich color and us life! Antioxidants are nature's way of offering protection from free radicals, which can cause harm in the body.
How can you incorporate more vegetables into your diet when eating a plate of raw veggies sounds like the last thing you want to do? Well, first, consider cooking or lightly sautéing those veggies first. I find this a much more appealing way to eat veggies. Not only is this easier on your digestive system (especially if you're not used to eating large amounts of vegetables), but it makes the nutrients more bioavailable. Heat breaks down the cell wall of plants making the nutrients easier to get to. Just don't char them, or this will have the opposite effect. Some other easy ways to add more vegetables into your daily routine: chop and prepare veggies ahead of time to have on hand as an easy snack, add vegetables to your morning eggs, substitute veggies for a grain based side dish at dinner, make vegetables more exciting by adding a sauce such as pesto, butter, olive oil or hot sauce, mix chopped spinach or kale into spaghetti sauce, pop a handful of spinach into your morning smoothie (blend well!), experiment with new vegetables you've never tried before (Bok choy and jicama, anyone tried?!), puree squash or zucchini and add to sauces, or add shredded zucchini to baked goods. Be creative!
2. Stop Drinking Sugar - This tip is a real stumbling block to health for many, many people. And it's not their fault entirely! Sugar sweetened drinks are EVERYWHERE. And sugar is a very addictive substance that once we start, is very hard to stop. Whether it's our morning coffee drink, iced tea with lunch or an energy drink in the afternoon, chances are you're taking in way more sugar than you thought. Even the drinks that are marketed to us as healthy have a lot of extra, added sugar in them.
Hopefully you’re aware that sodas and pop have a lot of sugar in them, but let's take a closer look at some other products that are often deemed as healthy and how much sugar they really contain. You might be surprised! To clarify, one teaspoon of sugar is equal to four grams.
A tablespoon (one serving) of this “natural” coffee creamer has five grams of sugar. Chances are most people are having more than one cup of coffee each day. Let’s say you have two cups with a tablespoon of creamer in each cup, equaling around ten grams of sugar in your morning coffee. That’s two and a half teaspoons of sugar.
This iced tea for lunch has 22 grams of sugar in one 16.9 ounce bottle. That’s five and a half teaspoons of sugar per bottle.
This energy drink has 37 grams of sugar per serving, which is 12 ounces. That’s almost ten teaspoons of sugar per can.
So, by the end of the day, just in your beverages, you’ve consumed about 18 teaspoons of sugar. That’s quite a lot, considering those 18 teaspoons came from drinks alone!
The easiest way to start cutting back on these sugary drinks is to read the nutrition label and the ingredients! Manufacturers are sneaky and will oftentimes use more than one type of sugar in their products, too. If you see sugar, opt for an unsweetened version and add your own sweetener like my personal favorite, Stevia. Like I mentioned, this is a hard thing for many people who are addicted to sugar to eliminate, so start small, and keep in mind how much sugar these beverages have and what they can do to the body.
3. Eat Good Fats - Fat consumption is underrated! I think everyone should eat more fat! Yes, I said fat! If this sounds crazy to you, it’s because you’ve been paying attention to the common nutritional myth that eating fat will somehow hinder your health, make you fat and cause you to be unhealthy. It’s just NOT true. I have a future blog post planned all about fat and how it’s been demonized by nutrition experts and unsupported scientific research over the past fifty years. It’s a confusing topic, but, for the short version, fat is an essential nutrient that we NEED in order to support our health.
Let me give you a small glimpse of what fat can support in our bodies: brain health, hormone production, satiety, proper cell functioning, vitamin absorption, muscle movement, proper healing, and protection against free-radicals. That’s only a small portion of the things fat has to do with in our bodies. I urge you to eat more healthy fats from sources such as avocados, butter, coconut, full-fat dairy products, nuts and seeds, and fish and seafood.
Fat will not only help to balance your blood sugar, but it will provide you with satiety and make you feel full. Fat slows down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream and won’t cause a dramatic insulin spike when eating a meal. When including more fat in your diet you might experience things like higher levels of sustained energy, better sleep, softer and smoother skin, better moods, clearer thinking and improved memory! Who doesn’t want all those amazing benefits?!
The one type of fat I always recommend avoiding is trans fat, which is a manmade fat that has no place in anyone’s diet. Trans fat results from a process called hydrogenation, which is used to transform liquid fats into solids to extend their shelf life and stability. This is a very unhealthy process and can cause serious damage to our cells. If you see the word “hydrogenated” on any nutrition ingredients label, it means there are trans fats in the product, EVEN IF the nutrition label says there are zero grams of trans fats. By the year 2018, all food manufacturers are being required to eliminate trans fats from their products, with good reason.
4. Limit processed foods - This is another common tip that is thrown around in the health and nutrition sphere without much context or explanation is avoiding processed foods. And chances are, you are at least somewhat familiar with what a processed food is. Things that come in boxes or bags are common culprits. Sure, most of us know that a bag of Cheetos and a candy bar are definitely considered processed foods, but I'm taking this a step further. What about the common grain products we hear about as being "healthy"? Things like breakfast cereal, pasteurized dairy products and grains? These are all processed foods. A food item that is not in its original state can be considered a processed food. Yes, I do realize that if we avoided processed foods all together there would be little choice, variety or convenience, but going for the most minimally processed food items will be a better option in the long run. There is a difference between chemically processed foods and mechanically processed foods.
I'm mostly referring to chemically processed foods that are often considered unhealthy because they have many things added to them, such as sugars, refined oils and trans fats, artificial colors, texturizers, or preservatives and other chemicals that are not found in nature.
Again, there is a difference between a processed bag of Cheetos and a processed bag of dried apple chips without any sugar added. I'm suggesting you avoid those with many foreign ingredients that are often hyper-palatable and induce more hunger and nutrient depletion.
5. Get some good bacteria - There's a huge amount of emerging research about the bacteria that we carry around in our bodies and how these tiny bugs have an immense impact on our health, beyond what we even can understand at this point. What we do know, is these bacteria relate to many aspects of health such as immunity, digestion, skin health, hormones, mood and behavior, weight loss and gain, brain health, vitamin and nutrient absorption and utilization, and even things like autoimmune disorders and chronic disease! I can't emphasize enough what a huge impact these bacteria have on our bodies; it's a huge topic of interest to me.
These bacteria populate mostly in our gut and digestive system, and are easily disrupted by things like stress, unhealthy diets, medications (antibiotics being a huge culprit) and other environmental factors. In order to restore the balance of good and bad bacteria, it's essential to include some gut healthy foods or supplements in your daily routine.
So how can you get more of these “good” bacteria? Well, as I will always say, turn to real food before considering a supplement. Real foods will offer you much higher concentrations of bacteria for a much cheaper cost than supplements, along with other nutrients to ensure successful absorption and utilization. Foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, miso soup, raw cheeses, and kefir all have naturally present probiotics and are great places to start when increasing your probiotics.
Supplements are another common route to go about getting in more probiotics, and they do have their time and place. I often times use supplements while traveling, or if I just don't have any sauerkraut or fermented foods on hand. When choosing a supplement, I advise people to look for a high number of CFUs, which stands for colony forming units (can be thought of as a unit of strength, in some capacity), and how many strains of probiotics there are present. Go for a supplement that has a diverse amount of strains (at least five or six, I suggest). Also, if possible, choose a refrigerated probiotic to ensure it contains live bacteria.
So there you have it; some easy, helpful tips to getting healthy that don't take a lot of work and almost anyone can do! It doesn't have to be complicated and it doesn't have to be an uphill battle. Start small, make everyday mindful changes and you will start to see your health increase! Let me know if you have any questions or other suggestions to making healthy eating and living easier!