If your New Year’s resolutions to get healthy have lost some steam, don’t despair.
March is National Nutrition Month, offering the perfect opportunity to reset between winter and spring. National Nutrition Month is an annual nutrition education and information campaign created by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The theme for 2015, “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle,” encourages everyone to adopt sound eating and physical activity plans, focusing on consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices, and getting regular exercise to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, stave off risk factors for diseases, and promote overall well-being.
Making sensible food choices is no easy task. Seemingly every day, a new study comes out that contradicts the last. Packaged foods boast all kinds of messaging – vegan, fat-free, gluten-free. Celebrities seem to be touting the latest fad diets, making it even harder to separate nutritional facts from fallacies.
While media and the food environment can make healthy eating seem complicated, a return to the basics can remove the guesswork. These recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide a starting point:
-Emphasize fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products.
-Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
-Make sure your diet is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.
Simple Tips for Healthy Eating
1. Make your calories count. It’s important to consume a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. The human body needs these macronutrients to function properly. Cutting out an entire class of macronutrients – i.e. fats – deprives the body of the nutrients it needs to function optimally. While simply eating fewer calories than you burn can help you lose weight, if the calories you consume don’t contain the proper nutrients, part of that weight loss will come from lost muscle mass. Muscle provides energy and fuels your metabolism.
2. Focus on variety, emphasizing whole foods. Whole foods are nutritious and fiber-dense, keeping you full and well nourished. Whole foods break down more gradually, helping stabilize blood sugar, which leads to fewer cravings.
Studies show that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, many types of cancer and type 2 diabetes. There is no single superfood such as kale, broccoli, or blueberries that can cure a disease or chronic condition. A varied, healthy diet is the best option and keeps mealtimes interesting.
3. Know your fats. Fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein. Look for foods low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol to help reduce your risk of heart disease. Most of the fats you eat should be monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; they don’t raise blood cholesterol levels and may even reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Just as important as knowing what to eat is developing an awareness of your behavior. Mindful eating is not a diet, but is gaining traction as a mechanism to aid in weight management and promote thoughtful eating choices. This approach is based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, which involves being fully aware of what is happening within and around you at the moment.
Applied to eating, mindfulness includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; chewing slowly; getting rid of distractions like computers or TV; and learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food. Experts suggest starting gradually with mindful eating, eating one meal per day or week in a slow, calm manner.
Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds, in an inviting setting, to achieve a greater sense of contentment and relaxation surrounding food. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. Avoid the temptation to label foods as good or bad. Progress, not perfection, is what counts.
Eating Right Isn’t Complicated (18 March 2014). Retrieved March 4, 2015 from http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate
Luce, Meredith, RD. “De-Stress Your Diet.” Pilates Style. Feb. 2015. 17. Print
Mindful Eating (1 Feb. 2011). Retrieved March 3 2015 from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mindful-eating
(NOTE: Shanti Nagarkatti is a freelance writer, researcher, and literacy educator/mentor based in Chicago. Nagarkatti’s background includes more than six years of marketing and business development experience in the professional engineering services industry. She holds a master’s degree in business administration from Washington University in St. Louis; a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee; and has taken continuing education courses in writing at the University of Chicago Graham School. Nagarkatti’s column on natural medicine will appear regularly on PharmPsych.com’s News section.)