Top 3 Health Tips from a Nutritionist
One of the misnomers of my industry is that eating healthy is hard and restrictive. People think it requires hours and hours of cooking every week and giving up everything that you love to eat. Carbohydrates are bad! Fat is bad! I can’t even have a cookie again! I should be a vegetarian or a vegan! Forget about that glass of wine….
For sure, some people need to be more restrictive. If you have a serious health condition or if you have a food allergy or sensitivity, you may need to truly avoid certain foods. However, for most of us, there are some really simple ways to eat healthy.
Many of my clients (and friends) often ask me, if you could give me 3 simple tips for eating better and being healthier what would they be?
1. Eat Whole, Real Food
So, this one may seem like an obvious answer, as what else would you be eating but “real” food. What does that mean? It means eat foods that are in their pure, whole form. Eat apples, rather than drinking apple juice and eat roasted potatoes (especially the skin), not potato chips! As Michael Pollan’s famous book Food Rules says, don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize. I don’t remember my grandmother or great grandmother ever dieting or counting calories. I grew up in an Italian family and we were all about food. Pasta was a staple, but it was not store bought. They spent hours every weekend preparing fresh pasta and sauce from scratch, often from tomatoes grown in their very own garden.
I don’t expect that most people have the time or interest in spending hours on end cooking elaborate meals from scratch, but the focus should be simple meals, made from whole ingredients. An easy rule of thumb when shopping, focus on the products on the outer aisles of the grocery store. These include things like fresh produce, meats, poultry and fish, as well as dairy. Avoid the processed and packaged foods in the middle. Also focus on buying seasonal and local food. You know if you live in New York like me, those “fresh” blueberries you buy in the store in December travelled a long way to get there. As opposed to the delicious blueberries you got at the farmers market in the summer months, which likely came from just across the way in New Jersey. I tell my clients, it’s better to buy frozen berries and other fruits and vegetables off season, as you know they were picked and frozen, to retain their nutrient profile, during their appropriate season.
2. Fat is NOT the Enemy
One very common theme among almost all of my clients is that they try to eat the low-fat or no-fat as much as possible. Did you know that our brains are composed of nearly 60% fat? Fat is an important part of our diet and crucial to brain health; however, we have been conditioned to fear fat and to avoid it at all costs. That being said, all fats are not created equal. You want to avoid highly processed oils, like soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower seed oil, cottonseed oil, and canola oil, foods that contain trans fats, as well as processed meats and fried foods. However, foods that naturally contain healthy fats like avocados, extra virgin olive oil, full fat dairy, fatty fish, as well as nuts and seeds provide a number of health benefits. Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, which can help to moderate our cholesterol levels. Chronic inflammation is the root cause of a number of health conditions. Fatty fish like salmon, as well as extra virgin olive, have been shown to be naturally anti-inflammatory. Extra virgin olive oil has also been shown to be high in antioxidants and also promotes heart health by lowering blood pressure, modulating cholesterol levels and improving blood vessel function.
Foods like full fat dairy are rich in fat-soluble vitamins, which means they need fat to be properly absorbed. When you buy a food that has had the fat taken out, it means that something unnatural, often things like artificial flavoring, sweeteners and thickeners, must be added back in to recreate the texture and taste of that fat. Further, synthetic versions of those fat-soluble vitamins are often added back in and without any fat, it is questionable as to how well they can even be absorbed, let alone the fact that they are not in their natural form. Eating the full-fat version, will taste better, ensure you can properly absorb those needed nutrients, as well as leave you feeling full and satiated.
3. Get Your Vitamin D
Vitamin D a very common deficiency, particularly for people who live in colder climates. Vitamin D is important for immune health and we often find a correlation between low Vitamin D and a variety of health conditions, namely cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions and diabetes, to name a few. Although this may not be always be causative relationship, given the importance of Vitamin D (it actually works more like a hormone than a vitamin) and a healthy immune system, being deficient can impair your immune system and make you more susceptible to these diseases. The best, most efficient source of Vitamin D is via the sun, as there are limited food sources, however most of us wear sunscreen, which blocks the production of Vitamin D in the skin. A good rule of thumb is 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight, without sunscreen, daily for medium to fair skin tones and for people with darker skin tones, up to 40 minutes daily. Alternatively, supplementation is recommended, particularly in the winter months.
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