It’s the height of farmer’s market season. With fresh and local foods readily available, practically every weekend, there are less excuses when it comes to eating better. That is, if you already know how to eat better. A recent survey concluded that many Americans are confused about what constitutes “healthy food.” It’s understandable that confusion and conflict over how to eat well can be frustrating and may lead people to eat more processed foods that are often fast and easy to make. Learning how to eat better, especially as it fits into a busy lifestyle, is an important step to take in living a healthier lifestyle. Read on to see how easy it can be to make healthy food choices.
You may be thinking that fat does not belong in a piece about how to eat better, but there are plenty of foods containing healthy fats that are critical for proper functioning of the brain and the rest of the body. Unsaturated fats–polyunsaturated and monounsaturated–provide necessary nutrients for heart health and cholesterol levels. Finding these healthy fats is easier than you might think: avocados; nuts, like walnuts, almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts; pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds; olive oil; fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, catfish, and mackerel. Try to ignore any preconceived notions you have about fatty foods, and embrace the fact that these rich, high-in-(healthy!)-fat foods are nutritious for your body, and a key part of a healthy diet.
It’s possible it’s been awhile since learning about carbohydrates in school. Here’s a simple refresher: “The difference between a simple and complex carb is in how quickly it is digested and absorbed.” In other words, simple carbohydrates are sugars that break down quickly in the body and easily raise blood glucose levels. Complex carbs technically include white bread and many pastries, but are also in healthier options like whole grain foods and starchy vegetables. For a balanced diet, eat healthy complex carbs and limit your simple carb intake. Choose sweet potatoes, whole grain or whole wheat foods, brown rice, and quinoa to keep you full while providing plenty of fiber and essential vitamins.
There’s a lot of contradicting opinions, even amongst professionals, surrounding sugar. Some say all sugar, whether it’s found in fruit or added into processed foods, gets broken down in the body the same way, and thus should be avoided as much as possible. Others say natural sugar is okay, but added sugars and artificial sugars are the ones to eliminate from your diet. A fair compromise seems to be to limit sugar in your diet, and choose the natural stuff when you do partake. Fruits do have sugar but also keep you hydrated and are sometimes good sources of fiber. Eat in-season fruits to make sure you’re getting as many benefits as possible. If you want to add sweetener to a meal or recipe, go with raw honey or real maple syrup to get the nutrients and health benefits that table sugar does not have.
Choosing the best protein connects back to eating healthy fats. Fatty fish and lean meats, such as turkey or white-meat chicken, are good options for filling proteins that are still healthy. Besides meat, you can get plenty of protein from vegetarian options, like chickpeas, lentils, tempeh, tofu, quinoa, and various beans. Depending on your dietary preferences, you can always combine meat and non-meat proteins for added nutrients and more complex flavors in your meals.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune at high-end grocery stores or fancy restaurants boasting clean meals. A better diet comes with choosing the right foods and eating the correct portions. The above tips can be applied to choosing your groceries, but also while eating out. After you get used to eating better, it’ll get easier and easier to pick the right foods. Remember to give yourself permission while trying to eat better because it’s okay to indulge sometimes. This post will be here any time you’re in a bind and need to refer back to it.