While it may sound like a corny phrase, it’s very true. Our diets have an impact on everything in our lives, including our social interactions, appearance, health and even psychological condition.
Food does more than provide fuel for our bodies. It can comfort us, add happiness and help create memories, traditions and unique experiences.
Punta Gorda-based Registered Dietician Nutritionist Gisela Bouvier said, “Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life … it feeds us in many ways …”
But food can be our friend or foe. While healthy eating habits can contribute to longevity, improved brain function, resistance to some illnesses and chronic conditions, better weight management, increased flexibility and range of motion and more energy, unhealthy eating habits may contribute to obesity, onset of Type 2 diabetes, renal failure, high blood pressure or cholesterol that can cause cardiac issues like a heart attack or stroke, blood vessel damage, vision loss, headaches, convulsions and even dementia.
If food is causing a negative impact on your life, maybe it’s time to change some of your eating habits so you can experience the best of life.
Create Your Personal Recipe for Success
Food is essential, but we should be mindful of what we ingest and how it affects us, incorporating elements that best fit our personal needs and lifestyle.
When contemplating dietary changes, remember that every individual is different. You may like or crave particular foods. You may have a different body size and shape or require certain nutrients that others don’t. You may have a medical condition, allergy or intolerance that will prohibit you from eating certain foods.
Eating healthy isn’t about forcing yourself to eat foods that you don’t enjoy. Bouvier explained that if food doesn’t bring you pleasure, you need to discover what flavors “make your tongue savor every last lick.”
Make improving your health in any way you can your priority. You don’t have to completely overhaul your diet. Mayo Clinic specialists suggest starting at your own pace and practicing some key healthy eating habits, like eating a daily breakfast that includes at least two food groups (whole grains, lean protein, dairy or fruits and vegetables).
And be sure to drink lots of water. Fluid is important for your body to function properly. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), men need approximately 104 ounces per day while women need 72, but the actual amount varies depending on your health, your environment (drink more to stay hydrated on hot days!), how active you are and, for women, if you’re pregnant or breast feeding. Dehydration and thirst can actually mask themselves as hunger, so drinking water may keep you from ingesting unnecessary calories.
Tips & Tricks for Healthy Eating
Do you know what’s in your food? Try to eat “real” foods—whole foods or those containing just a few ingredients that you can easily identify—and cut down on processed foods such as chips, cookies and frozen dinners.
Be “politely picky” at restaurants. Choose items that are baked, broiled, roasted, seared, poached or steamed. Ask for sauces and dressings on the side, and consider veggies or fruit instead of French fries. Tell the waiter not to bring bread or taco chips to the table.
Most restaurants serve large portions, often loaded with fat and salt. You may be tempted to eat more than you want or need, so ask for smaller portions or request a to-go box when your meal is first served and save half of it for the next day. And, when serving yourself at home, serve food on smaller plates with a smaller spoon to limit your intake. Serve at the stove, not the table, so second portions are not right in front of you.
Practice mindful eating. Think of your food as fuel for your body. Slow down and savor it, allowing your brain to realize you’re feeling full. Remind yourself you want to feel satisfied, not stuffed. Learn to say “no.”
Other professionals’ suggestions for healthy eating habits include planning a weekly menu so you can have the ingredients on hand and avoid the drive through (though once in awhile it’s okay to indulge yourself!) Takeout options like salad, soup or grilled chicken from delis, supermarkets or restaurants are good choices in a pinch.
Eat smart at parties. Have a healthy snack before you go and then fill a small plate half full with fruit and veggies. Opt for just a small bite of high-calorie dishes or desserts.
When you cook, make a double batch. You can add that sliced leftover chicken to a salad or stir fry; cooked ground beef is great for tacos or chili. Use a slow cooker so a hot, healthy meal is waiting for you when you get home.
Bouvier wants us to know that we should not be as concerned about how we look—we should concentrate on nourishing our bodies. Fad diets may work for awhile, but may not be good for your overall health. Or, when you decide to stop following the rigid guidelines, you may reverse your progress and make your condition worse.
Don’t try to make too many changes at once. Aim for one specific eating goal at a time, and reward yourself when you meet it.
Skip the TV food shows, magazines and blogs. You’ll be less tempted. Don’t eat in front of the computer or TV. And get support and accountability from family or friends.
A food journal can be a helpful tool to make you more aware of your choices and help you stick to a healthier diet—and perhaps even lose weight! You can access online tools or mobile apps, or just use plain old pencil and paper.
Incorporate the Best Ingredients
“Veggies, in particular, are an essential component to a healthy, fiber and nutrient rich diet,” Bouvier said. “But let’s face it, not everyone enjoys eating salads or steamed broccoli. Thankfully, there are a ton of ways to include more veggies” in your diet.
Her favorite ways are adding veggies to smoothies and pasta sauces and incorporating them as snacks on toast or crackers. Try flavored hummus with crunchy snacks like nut-based crackers, or spread some fresh avocado on your whole wheat toast. Surprise! Avocado is a healthy fat and may even be a weight loss stimulant.
Salads are a great way to get your veggies, but be sure not to add high fat or high sugar dressings. Add some herbs for flavor, and use olive oil and vinegar or simply lemon juice to top it off.
Yes, some vegetables are more starchy and high-carb, like potatoes and winter squashes, but they do still have fiber and nutrients. Just limit your intake.
And you don’t have to avoid carbs altogether. After all, carbs provide our bodies with much needed fuel. Just try to limit simple carbs. Replace white bread with whole wheat or rye, white rice with brown rice, and French fries or hash browns with veggies or fruit. Consider including some oats and barley. It’s also beneficial to eat the bulk of your carbs earlier in the day so your body has plenty of time to burn them off for energy.
Experiment! Try some different healthy grains like quinoa, millet, flaxseed, bulgur or triticale.
Of course, protein is essential in any meal, but try to avoid high-fat and processed meats as much as possible. Poultry is a good option, but make sure the skin is removed. Look for leaner pork chops or tenderloins. Skip the prime rib and go for lean pot roast, London broil or flank steak. Include some lamb. Use lower-fat ground beef. Enjoy plenty of fish, especially fatty fish filled with omega-3s like salmon, trout, herring, sardines or tuna, as well as other seafood, like shrimp, scallops and oysters.
Meats and seafood choices are best broiled, grilled or baked. Avoid fried foods and added butter or high-fat sauces as much as possible.
Vegetable-based alternatives, or ground turkey, for burgers and breakfast sausages may be another option, but make sure they don’t include a lot of bad ingredients.
Other great sources of protein and nutrients include eggs, dairy (replace your high fat cheese with feta or goat cheese!) and non-dairy alternatives like soy as well as seeds, avocados, legumes (chickpeas, lentils or peanuts), beans and, of course, nuts!
And be sure to limit your sugar intake. Cut back in steps—going cold turkey is not advisable for success. For starters, consider skipping the sugary sodas or adding less or no sugar to your beverages, cereals or main dishes. You can replace sugary foods and desserts with fresh or baked fruits, but again, watch the amounts. Try some fruit you’ve never eaten. And pay attention to added sugars in condiments.
Since we detect 80 percent of flavor by smell, you may be able to trick your brain with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.
“You are the owner of your nourishment and the owner of the foods you include and the food you don’t,” Bouvier said. Strive for healthy!
Not sure what’s right for you? Seek help from a professional.