The wellness industry paints a picture that optimal health, mental clarity, and youthful vigor can only be achieved by pampering ourselves, and dishing out thousands of dollars on products and experiences. However, the greatest health outcomes are found by pampering animals (ethical food production) and dishing out fresh vegetables.
The best thing that we can do for our health is to avoid quick solutions and begin long-term patterns of acquiring and consuming food. Experts agree that good nutrition is the first defense against disease. The food we need isn’t found in a box, wrapper, or bottle—it’s found in the produce aisle of the local grocery store, farmer’s market, or grown in a garden.
According to USDA Dietary Guidelines, a healthy, disease-fighting diet contains these five components:
- High Amounts of Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are disease-fighting Super Foods that contain high concentrations of dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and electrolytes. Fruits and vegetables are also relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare.
Studies have shown that eating at least five daily portions, of fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, hypercholesterolemia, osteoporosis, many cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, respiratory problems, and mental issues. Yet only 10 percent of Americans eat the recommended daily amount.
To increase your intake:
- Always include vegetables in meals
- Try to make fruits and vegetables fill half your plate.
- Eat fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season for maximum flavor and lower cost
- Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables, including a variety of colors
- Eat vegetables you’ve never tried before
- Cook fresh or frozen vegetables in the microwave
- Cut up a batch of vegetables and pre-package them to use as a snack or to stir-fry when time is limited
- Whole Grains (cereal grains, pseudo-cereal grains, pulses, and seeds)
Most grains consumed prior to industrialization were considered whole grains. In order for a grain to be classified as whole, the bran, endosperm, and germ need to be “present in the same proportions as when the grain was growing in the ﬁelds,” according to the Whole Grains Council. It’s the total grain complex that’s believed to provide the nutritive benefits.
Whole grains contain many macro- and micronutrients coupled with phytochemicals that act synergistically to promote health and aid in digestion. Fiber in grains slows the rate of absorption and helps to promote a sense of fullness.
Research also suggests the components in whole grains help to lower the risk of chronic diseases such as CHD, diabetes, and cancer and also play a role in body weight management and digestive health. Grains are excellent sources of vegetarian protein that are great substitutes for meat in meals, and naturally high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids.
Among other benefits of whole grains:
- High fiber content promotes satiety and gut health
- Lower glycemic provides a sustained blood sugar response
- More diverse ratio of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates than processed varieties
- Complementary proteins can partner to contain all nine essential amino acids
- Contain a diverse profile of phytochemicals and antioxidants
- Are naturally high in heart healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
3. Limited Sugars and Fats
Most experts agree that fats and sugars only contribute to total energy (calories) and should be replaced with more nutrient-dense options, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The USDA recommends that no more than 10 percent of daily calorie intake come from saturated fat and sugars (10 percent of added sugars and 10 percent of saturated fat).
The USDA estimates that half of American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic disease and are overweight. Saturated fat and added sugars are partially to blame. Research has shown that replacing added sugars and saturated fats with nutrient dense, plant-based options lowers the risk of heart disease, some cancers, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.
Make healthy fat choices by:
- Switching to unsaturated oils and use sparingly when cooking
- Using lean meat and low-fat animal products
- Avoiding manufactured and processed foods.
Cut down sugar intake by:
- Using syrup, honey, and molasses instead of table sugars (white and brown)
- Swap out the soda for water or milk
- Use fresh fruit in place of sugar on yogurt and cereals
- Compare the added sugar label on foods
- Practice Mindful Eating
Most people consume food out of necessity in a hurried fashion, but research suggests that a slower, more thoughtful way of eating could help with weight problems and maybe steer some people away from processed food and other less-healthful choices.
Mindful eating can be traced back to various cultural practices. Some Japanese cultures practice eating until they are 80 percent full (Hara Hachi Bu); others cultures enjoy meals in a social and festive setting; others eat very slow and purposeful while expressing gratitude.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends taking the following steps:
- Ponder: Check in with yourself about your hunger before you eat – you may actually be thirsty, bored, or stressed.
- Appraise:Take a moment to appreciate the food. How does it smell? Do you really want it? Is it more than you need?
- Eat slow: Slow down so your brain can keep up with your stomach. Put your fork down between bites and focus on the flavor.
- Savor:Enjoy your food. Take a moment to savor the satisfaction of each bite – the taste, texture, everything!
- Stop: Stop when you’re full – there’s no need to join the clean plate club if it means overeating.
5. Be Consistent with Eating Patterns
Many diets in the news today have timelines attached to them—the 30-day sugar cleanse, two-month abs, or one-week juice detox—but the best dietary patterns are the ones that can be followed for a lifetime. It’s crucial that any diet or behavior modification be healthy and sustainable. The USDA states that Americans need to follow a healthy eating pattern across their lifespan. Most chronic diseases come about as a result of years of poor eating habits, inactivity, and other modifiable lifestyle factors. To have a positive effect on health and disease prevention, a diet must be consistently adhered to.
Tips to be consistent:
- Choose the right fit, and make sure that energy and nutrient intake are optimal.
- Find a sustainable motivation for diet—be it health or that whole food tastes better.
- Eat foods that are enjoyable—healthy eating is not punitive.
- Start small—make tiny changes and build up to a diet that fits.
- Avoid yo-yo or fad dieting—these diets are hard to maintain for the long run and usually are not backed by scientific research
- Surround oneself with like-minded people—peers and family can be a great support for dietary success.
— Guy Denton