Without giving it a second thought, many Americans eat a diet that is both nutrient-poor and calorie-dense. We choose foods simply because they are “convenient” without giving much thought to the fact that they are full of nutritionally bankrupt ingredients such as sugar, starch, damaged fats, sodium, and chemical additives. In fact, we have gotten so used to eating these processed fake foods that we consider it okay; some people even think it’s healthy. This is ideal for the food industry but not for the average American. Sadly, this way of eating is killing us.
For many people, the standard American diet (SAD) is responsible for their dual problem of being simultaneously overweight and undernourished. This is sad – very sad – because food is supposed to nourish and keep us well – not make us sick. Sometime around 400 BC, Hippocrates – known as the “father of medicine” – said, “Our food should be our medicine.” I agree with him – food should be our medicine not our poison.
Since we all need to eat, we may as well aim for a more healthful diet that keeps our bodies in the best condition possible. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming and complicated. Here are 10 simple commonsense tips to help you eat more nutritious food.
1. If it doesn’t come from Mother Nature, think twice.
An apple comes from a tree and an egg from a hen. But where do Fruit Loops come from? If your answer leads you to a food processing plant, I suggest you pass. Processing takes out nutrients such as antioxidants and fiber, and even though Kelloggs adds back some of them along with artificial colors, flavorings, and preservatives, nothing beats Mother Nature.
2. Eat mostly DIY meals.
Make and take your own lunch to work. This way you know exactly what you are getting. Keep it simple. You can bring yesterday’s dinner left-overs or a mixed vegetable salad topped with grilled chicken, tuna, or beans and olive oil, vinegar or lemon.
3. Read the ingredient list.
It’s hard to totally avoid eating foods that come in a package, but it’s best to keep processed foods to a minimum. Try to stick with packaged foods that have a short ingredient list. The more ingredients, the more likely it has been through a few processing plants where something healthy was removed and something artificial was added.
4. Do judge a food by its cover.
If you have to peel off layers of packaging and plastic to get to your dinner, it’s likely not healthy. Think about it – a meal that comes in a plastic tray that’s placed inside a box that’s wrapped in more plastic can’t be good.
5. Don’t be fooled by added “flavor”.
There’s no fruit in “fruit flavor.” Seeing the word “flavor” on a label is a sign that the real taste was removed and replaced with something artificial. And don’t be fooled by “natural flavor”. Natural only means the additive came from a plant or an animal – not necessarily a good thing.
6. Know what you’re eating.
If you’re eating chicken that has been molded into a nugget you don’t have to be a farmer to know it’s probably not real chicken. Most likely, it’s been processed and drowned in sodium and preservatives and stripped of its healthy nutrients. Before you eat your food, give some thought to what it is and where it came from. You might even try to recall what it’s supposed to look like.
7. Don’t buy food at the same place you buy your gas.
When you’re on your way home from work and feeling hungry it’s tempting to buy “dinner” at the same convenience store where you fill up the gas tank of your car. Yet, for the most nutritious food at the fairest price, buy your groceries at an actually grocery store. Yes – this does require some planning ahead but it’s worth it.
8. Work for your dinner.
To get a healthy meal, you need to invest at least a few minutes in preparing the food – rinsing, dicing, grilling. When you take the time to prepare meals yourself, you can see exactly which ingredients are going into them and make a conscious choice about what you truly want to eat. The end result is worth your effort.
9. Plan your meals with color.
Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet. They are low in calories and full of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Aim to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day — minimally processed of course.
10. Limit liquid calories.
Soda is essentially water with added sugar. A 12 oz. can of cola has 10 teaspoons of sugar; that’s a lot of sugar. Smoothies and fruit juice tend to be healthier than soda, but can be very high in calories. For example, the Aloha Pineapple Smoothie at Jamba Juice packs a whopping 410 calories. Stick with plain water or seltzer most of the time; add a splash of juice for flavor.
If you’re the average American consuming the standard American diet (SAD), it might take some effort to get started eating less processed foods. Habits are hard – yet not impossible – to change. Start by trying just one or two of my strategies. As you improve the quality of your diet you will lose weight and feel better. See how quickly your health, energy level, and quality of life improve.
The key to improving your eating habits is making gradual changes that you can keep up for the rest of your life. Without a plan, this can be extremely challenging – especially if you have a hectic lifestyle and are often on-the-go. I’d like to help you create a plan to eat better, lose weight, and improve your health.
If you haven’t already, be sure to grab my 7 proven (non-diet) strategies today by
Until next time, eat and be well!
Lorraine Matthews-Antosiewicz, MS RD