Do you want to make healthy food choices, but don’t know how? Do you get overwhelmed with study after study contradicting whether the foods you love are good or bad for you?
If so, you’re not alone. Tens of millions of people across the globe struggle to determine which foods to eat, and which to avoid.
Choosing Healthy Foods Doesn’t Have to Be Rocket Science
Eating a well-balanced diet can be tough for many. It can be expensive. It can be time-consuming. Some people think that making healthy food choices means bland meals.
Throw in the kink that theories behind whether chocolate is the ultimate panacea or the root of all evil change on an hourly basis, and you’re looking at a whirlwind of contradictory DOs and DON’Ts that would even leave Paula Dean confused about whether she should throw in that extra stick of butter or continue to follow the latest Weight Watchers recipe. (Stick to the plan, Paula! We are rooting for you!)
But, how can you keep up with all of the media portrayals, false advertising, and 500-page studies being published daily by all kinds of institutions? Let’s be real here – it’s not going to happen, and I propose that it doesn’t have to.
Common threads run deep amidst all of the paradoxical details, and if you are willing to acknowledge that nutrition accounts for 80% of your results, then following these threads will set you up for success and help you build an ironclad foundation for your health and fitness. Making healthy food choices is all about developing habits, so let’s start off with the good ones.
Rule #1: Eat More of What is Healthy For You
Healthy might seem like a loaded word these days, but the basics are still the same. Here are some foods you should eat more of.
Fruits and Veggies
Emphasis on the veggies here. The CDC published a study in 2010 that highlighted the disappointing fact that only 27.4% of adults are eating the recommended 3 or more servings of vegetables per day. Many nutritionists agree that 3 servings are a bare-bones minimum meant to keep you from falling ill, not necessarily what we should be eating.
I’m not telling you to load up double next time you visit the burger joint, but protein is important. Try out simple and delicious additions like chicken breasts, ground turkey, and lean pork or beef.
Unsaturated fats are an important addition to our diet, and you can make sure you get the necessary Omega 3s by ingesting foods such as fish, avocados, walnuts, spinach, and oils. Oils such as macadamia nut and canola are great for cooking due to a high smoke point, while olive oil is perfect for cold salad dressings.
Related: 6 Foods with Healthy Fats
Low-Glycemic and Gluten-Free Grains/Carbohydrates
Foods that score lower on the glycemic index will not spike your blood sugar as much, leading to more consistent energy levels and less insulin resistance. Try adding some quinoa, brown or parboiled rice, beans, and sweet potatoes to your dishes. Stay away from gluten whenever possible.
Rule #2: Eat Less of What is Not Healthy
You’re going to be filling your plate with the good stuff, so let’s take off everything else. That means you should consume less of these:
Sugary Sweetened Beverages (SSBs)
Multiple studies and systemic reviews show a positive correlation between the consumption of sugary sweetened beverages and body weight. Throw in the fact that Americans get about one-third of our daily sugar intake from these SSBs, and we are drowning ourselves in the stuff. Hydrate your body with water instead.
I’m talking about all that ultra-processed junk that comes in bags and is loaded with salt, sugar, and transfat. Not only is it just terrible for you, but it will also leave you craving more, which means overeating and blood sugar spikes.
Steer clear of dairies such as high-fat milk, high-fat cheese, or high-fat yogurt. It is very dense calorically, but at the same time, those calories are essentially empty and providing very little nutritional benefit. Instead, try something like unsweetened almond milk or low-fat Greek yogurt. The same goes for fatty cuts of meat/poultry.
When you really break it down to the basics and stick to eating more of what is healthy for you and less of what is not proper nutrition is truly doable. Meals do not have to be complex and time-consuming to taste good, and adding in high antioxidant spices can kick in some additional flavor and health benefits too. You can go with healthy food choices and still enjoy what you eat; “healthy” doesn’t have to equal “bland”.
If I could leave you with one piece of advice when it comes to making better food choices, it would be that fresh is best, so stick to things that have an expiration date. Remember, you only have one body per lifetime, and you will never regret taking care of it.
Mario Mendias is the Founder and Chairman of the Board at My Fit Foods, a prepackaged, pre-portioned meal company that focuses on providing fresh, healthy, and tasty meals to millions of clients in 6 states and counting. A champion of nutrition and fitness, he has been in the health industry for over 15 years and continues to promote education, motivation, and inspiration to all those around him.
California Department of Public Health; Champions for Change
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Intake of Sugar-sweetened Beverages & Weight Gain
Featured photo by Pink Sherbet Photography
Originally published 3/26/13 and updated 11/14.