I used to think that eating healthily meant depriving yourself of your favorite foods, which is why I never got into the whole health-food craze. I just ate whatever I liked; if I ate something healthy, it was purely incidental. However, when I started cooking, I realized that healthy eating isn’t depriving yourself of delicious food, but rather being more mindful about food. It’s as simple as being conscious of the way certain foods make you feel, being prepared with the right tools, and knowing how to swap a not-so-healthy ingredient for a healthier one. Here are 8 tips for taking the plunge into healthy eating.
- Be mindful of the way food makes you feel. Start a food journal. Take note of what you eat (and drink) each day, reflecting upon how you feel before, during, and after each meal. Be specific about ingredients, portion size, and time of day. Perhaps you feel energized after one meal and groggy after another. We’ve all had those moments of feeling awful after eating something deep-fried, oily, or sugary. Use those moments to gain understanding of what foods don’t agree with you so you can make positive changes in your life.
- Be prepared with the right equipment. Having a high-speed blender or food processor will make healthy eating so much easier, as you can make your own dips, cheeses, sauces, smoothies–you name it!
3. Have hearty staples on-hand for those moments when you’re too tired to cook. When I’m too tired to cook, I tend to gravitate toward convenience foods. I realized that if I only had some hearty, hunger-fighting foods on-hand, I wouldn’t feel the need to open up that box of vegan sliders. Freeze or refrigerate pre-cooked quinoa, seasoned chickpeas, seasoned veggies, or pasta–anything you can heat up and enjoy alone or toss in a salad. If you don’t have any frozen foods prepared, why not open up a can of chickpeas or black beans and whip up something quick? Get creative!
4. Stock your fridge (and freezer) with a variety of veggies and eat them daily–both cooked and raw. My first impression was that vegetables are best-eaten raw for optimum nutrition. However, I’ve come to find that some veggies are best-eaten cooked, as heating them can bring out some of the benefits that aren’t accessible when the veggie is raw. For example, according to an article on Health.com, cooking asparagus optimizes its cancer-fighting potential. Similarly, cooking spinach brings out its calcium, iron, and magnesium. When tomatoes are cooked, more cancer-fighting lycopene becomes available. However, there’s no universal truth as to how veggies are best-enjoyed. For instance, according to an article on the Scientific American website, while broccoli is more nutritious when raw, it is only when cooked that indole, a cancer-fighting compound, is released. Furthermore, as food scientist Nicoletta Pellegrini recommends, enjoy vegetables in a variety of ways.
5. Swap processed sugar for a healthier alternative. It’s no secret that sugar isn’t healthy, but it’s always there, in so many recipes. At first I thought it was unavoidable, but then it occurred to me that I can simply swap it for a healthier sweetener such as maple syrup, coconut sugar, nectar, or blackstrap molasses. According to an article on CNN.com, maple syrup contains magnesium. Magnesium helps produce collagen, which promotes healthy skin and bones. Deliciously sweet…with health benefits? Awesome!
6. Use oil sparingly or go oil-free. It’s not surprising that oil is purely fat. But aren’t fats good for us? Well, in moderation. Oils are highly concentrated with fat and give us far more than we need. Not only are they packed with calories from fat (about 65 calories for every teaspoon), but they have virtually no nutritional value. According to the website for UC Davis Integrated Medicine, oils “slow blood flow,” “suppress the immune system,” and “promote heart disease.” Instead of cooking with oil, consider using water or veggie broth. Roasting your veggies? Use parchment paper to cultivate a non-stick surface. Opt for powdered peanut butters such as PB2, as traditional brands contain oil. Use applesauce, mashed banana, pureed dates, or nut butter as a substitute for oil in baking.
7. Swap your refined flour for a more nutritious, whole-grain flour. Try almond flour, coconut flour, oat flour, rye flour, millet flour, quinoa flour, chickpea flour, or brown rice flour. Whole grain flours are higher in fiber and more hearty than refined flour. Why use something with zero nutritional value when there are healthier alternatives?
8. Add superfoods to your meals. Superfoods are easily accessible and especially nutritious. Try using sweet potatoes rather than white potatoes for extra nutrition. Add chia and flax seeds to your smoothies and breakfast bowls. Learn more about superfoods and ways to incorporate them into your daily meals. It’s a quick and easy change that could hugely benefit your health and well being.