You want to eat healthier in the new year, but there’s so much information to chew through — a swirl of new nutrition claims, fads and diets telling us what we should and shouldn’t eat. (Remember the cabbage soup diet or the grapefruit diet? It’s actually better if you don’t.)
“Ninety-five percent of diets fail because they are not sustainable,” says Krista Godfrey, a registered dietitian in private practice at Life Cycle Nutrition.
Our healthy eating intentions are good. So how do we achieve a success rate to match? Godfrey helps us implement a sound consumption strategy with three sets of three: three healthy eating priorities, three key principles and three ways to ensure healthy eating success.
“I’ve found that most people know what foods they need to eat more of but have difficulty doing it,” Godfrey says.
She tries to simplify nutrition advice for her clients by breaking it into three priorities:
“If you are getting too much or not enough energy, regardless of what you eat, it is not promoting optimal health,” she says.
Smart energy-promoting foods: Whole grains (oatmeal or brown rice)
Sweet potatoes or beans
“Your body needs carbohydrates, proteins and fats. General recommendations are 50% to 60% of calories from carbohydrates, 10% to 20% of calories from protein and 25% to 30% of calories from fat.”
Smart carbohydrate sources: Whole grain breads
Steel cut or whole oatmeal
Smart protein sources: Lean meat such as poultry and pork (Loin and round cuts are the leanest varieties.)
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Smart fat sources: (Focus on unsaturated sources)
Canola or olive oil
(Include vitamins and minerals)
“Foods high in vitamins and minerals are often considered healthy, but it’s important to note that they are not healthy in and of themselves, only as a part of a diet that also includes the appropriate amount of energy and macro-nutrients. … It all depends on the diet as a whole.”
Smart vitamin sources: B-12: Meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, fortified soy milk and cereals
Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, potatoes, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts
Vitamin A: Beef, liver, eggs, shrimp, fish, fortified milk, sweet potatoes, carrots
Vitamin D: Fortified milk, cereals, fatty fish
Vitamin E: Vegetable oils, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts
Vitamin K: Cabbage, eggs, milk, spinach, broccoli, kale
Smart mineral sources: Calcium: Yogurt, cheese, milk, salmon, leafy green vegetables
Magnesium: Spinach, broccoli, legumes, seeds, whole wheat bread
Potassium: Lean meat, milk, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes
3 key elements of healthy eating
» Variety. “Different food sources have different nutrients,” Godfrey says. “It’s important to eat from all food groups to have your nutrient needs met, but it’s also important to eat different foods from within each food group.”
» Balance, which focuses on finding a middle ground with all of the nutrition priorities: energy intake, macro-nutrient intake and micro-nutrient intake. “The easiest way to balance macro-nutrient intake is to focus on eating a serving of all food groups at each meal. That will provide the appropriate amount of carbs, proteins and fats,” Godfrey says.
» Moderation. “Ask yourself if the amount you are eating is more or less than you need for any reason. If you have a meal with all food groups, ask yourself if the portions fit the MyPlate model or if one of the food groups on your plate is disproportionately larger than the others.” Moderation can also relate to “fun foods” (such as soda or dessert). “These foods are often called ‘empty calories.’ It’s acceptable to have a ‘fun food’ daily, but it can be helpful to be moderate when eating them so that they do not take the place of foods with the nutrients you need.”
3 ways to make healthy eating a priority
» Time. Be prepared to spend more time planning, grocery shopping, cooking and packing lunches. Waking up earlier to eat breakfast and setting time aside to sit down and eat meals are other examples of how prioritizing healthy eating requires a dedication of time.
» Organization. Some examples include: planning a grocery list, snacks, lunches and meals; setting weekly goals and charting progress on those goals; keeping some structure to meal times; and writing out a meal plan for the day or week, if necessary.
» Money. Whole, fresh food often costs more than convenience or highly processed food.
Godfrey says meeting with a registered dietitian is another potential investment, but she says RDs are “the best resource” to educate people on their specific energy, macro-nutrient and micro-nutrient needs.
“Understanding your body’s specific nutrition needs and learning how to eat intuitively (listening to your body’s hunger and fullness signals) are the best ways to ensure that you are eating healthy,” she says.
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