If you’ve been thinking about improving your diet, you’ve also thought about how challenging it’s going to be. The moment you enter the grocery store, you’re bombarded with options. Pre-packaged and processed foods line the shelves. It’s impossible to even pronounce the ingredients, let alone know what they are. Brands tout themselves as healthy when they’re anything but. When you look online for some sort of helpful information, there are pages and pages of websites with conflicting information. How in the world is anyone supposed to navigate the maze of junk food and make it out on the other side? We’ve come up with 8 basic changes you can make to your diet that will help guide you in the right direction, as well as the science behind why these changes are beneficial to your health.
- Drink More Water
This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but many people don’t hydrate nearly as much as they need to. Water makes up 60 percent of our bodies’ weight. As such, men are supposed to drink approximately 3 liters of water a day to stay hydrated. Women are supposed to drink about 2. If you exercise, it’s vital for you to drink even more, but it’s best to consult your doctor regarding your workout regimen.
- Have a Protein Shake for Breakfast
Like the age old adage says, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It jump starts your metabolism and fuels your body for the day ahead. Shakes like the 310 Shake are rich in your necessary daily supply of vitamins and minerals. They’re also full of protein and fiber, which make you feel full and stay full for much longer. No snacking between meals! Since breakfast should be a big meal, in addition to a protein shake, you can also add some fruit or a veggie omelet to ensure that you’re properly energized for your day. The Mayo Clinic has a great list of breakfast recipes1 to help you out. (2)
- Pre-Plan and Pack Meals
When you already have a healthy, well thought out meal ready to go when you’re running late for work in the morning, instead of being stuck grabbing greasy, high calorie takeout on your lunch break, you’ll already be prepared.
4. You Can’t Go Wrong with Organic Livestock raised for meat and plants grown for consumption are more often than not filled with pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics to encourage growth. Research shows that as far as nutritional value is concerned, both organic and non-organic foods2 hold the same nutritional value.
However, crops grown using pesticides to keep away insects and weeds may have traces of those pesticides still on them when they enter the body. (3) Studies also show3 that organic produce contain statistically higher levels of phenols, which are believed to help prevent cancer. Additionally, organically raised meat had lower levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria than livestock raised on antibiotics. (4)
- Exchange Starches for Leafy Greens
Foods high in starches, such as grains, potatoes, pasta, and baked goods, tend to raise your blood sugar or turn into fat4. (5) Though the initial energy spike that occurs in blood-glucose may seem useful, it also results in a crash. Excess starches are stored as glycogen to be used as a secondary energy source – the first being fatty acids. However, those excess starches that aren’t used get turned into fat and are stored as extra weight on your body. Unlike starchy foods, greens are loaded with fiber5 to make you feel full longer, are low calorie, and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. (6) Greens also temper blood-glucose levels by slowing the digestion of carbs and preventing that spike in insulin.
- Replace Bad Fat for Good Fat
Contrary to popular belief, some fats out there are good for you – they’re necessary to absorb vitamins and minerals – and cutting fat out of your diet is not a short cut to weight loss or health improvement. Regardless of the type of fat you consume, it contains 9 calories per gram. That’s twice as many as proteins and carbs contain. However, there are certain types of fats that are worse than others. Saturated fats6, found in high-fat cuts of meat, high-fat dairy products like cheese and cream, and many baked goods, can raise cholesterol, clog arteries, and cause heart disease. (7) Unsaturated fats contain the same amount of calories as saturated but do not raise cholesterol. Research shows that monounsaturated fats may actually decrease cholesterol7, as well as help control blood sugar. Polyunsaturated fats are made of omega-3 fatty acids, which can decrease risk of coronary artery disease and lower blood pressure. Examples of unsaturated fats are fish such as salmon and tuna, oils such as olive oil, as well as ground flaxseed, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. Just to name a few. (8)
- Replace Your Old Snacks with Healthy Nuts
Many snack foods marketed toward us are highly processed and contain ingredients that we can’t even pronounce, let alone understand the nutritional value (or lack thereof). Nuts are a great alternative because they’re full of fiber and protein8 that keep you feeling full, ideal properties for any mid-day snack.
|Walnuts contain antioxidants which protect your body from heart disease and signs of aging (whether it’s premature or otherwise!). They are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help control blood clotting and build cell membrane in the brain, and reduce inflammation.|
Almonds contain a lot of fiber and are powerful antioxidants. One study even found that almonds raised the levels of good bacteria in the body, helping the immune system. Cashews are a great source of magnesium, which may help improve memory. Brazil Nuts are high in selenium, a mineral that’s linked to preventing certain cancers. However, too much selenium can be harmful, so pay careful attention to the serving size. It’s actually important to stick to the recommended servings for all of these nuts, as they’re high in fat and calories. (9)
- Welcome Quinoa into Your Life
Try replacing everyday rice with quinoa. If that’s a bit too extreme of a leap, try replacing usual white rice with brown instead. Brown rice is healthier than white - it’s less processed, meaning it contains more fiber, protein, and minerals. However, quinoa is even more beneficial9 than brown rice. One cup of quinoa has only 6 more calories than brown rice and also contains more protein, magnesium, and iron. Quinoa also contains more fiber and possesses all the amino acids necessary for growth, cellular repair, and energy production. (10) Though quinoa seems like a fad, the health benefits suggest that it’s here to stay. One of my favorite recipes is a simple Quinoa Casserole10 with mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and asparagus. (11)