Nutrition is a complex issue, especially if you’re trying to decide whether you should make the transition to a 100 percent plant-based diet or not. With so many factors to consider, making choices for our health can seem daunting at times. Don’t let this stray you from the decision to choose healthy foods and lifestyle practices daily though. Taking care of yourself by eating healthy is a benefit you’ll reap rewards from today and years to come. But you already know that, and many of you are probably wondering, what’s the best way to eat?
Health experts can be a wonderful go-to source when it comes to learning about nutrition, but the confusing part of this puzzle happens when different health experts advise us to do different things. Some advocate a vegan diet, while others don’t. There are also many diets out there, all telling us to do different things to take care of ourselves properly. So, who’s right?
No matter what type of health expert (such as a doctor or dietitian) you turn to, most all of them will agree on five simple principles. These will take you on the road to success and set you up for taking care of yourself each day without the need for much concern over who’s right and wrong. The advice might not be rocket science, but are common sense approaches that we often tend to forget in the midst of busy lives and dieting “noise” we hear about.
Here’s five tickets to good health:
1. Eat Real Food
No health expert out there (except ones selling dieting products) will tell you that a processed food is superior to an unprocessed food. That’s something you can bet on. Real food, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds will provide you with phytonutrients your mind and body need. Simple, healthy foods. This advice becomes boring to many after awhile, but the beauty of eating true, beautiful plants is something that everyone can experience daily if they choose to. These foods are made of nutrients our body can easily recognize and put to use immediately to take care of us. Other foods that have been more processed, are much harder on our bodies to metabolize, which often makes us tired, sluggish, suffer inflammation and disease, and even gain weight. Dr. Mark Hyman, medical doctor and functional medicine expert, advises everyone eat eight to 12 servings of fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains every single day. Filling up your diet with these foods leaves less room for the not-so-beneficial foods (we’re looking at you McDonald’s and Twinkies!)
2. Avoid Too Much Processed Sugar
Processed sugar are added sugars that have been refined or altered in some Fashion or another. They also aren’t whole foods. Fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains should make up your carbohydrate intake, not syrups and powders that are full of glycemic-spiking sugar that lead to diabetes and heart disease. If you’re eating real, whole foods, this step comes naturally. Craving candy? Reach for an apple or pear. Their sugars will digest much more slowly into your bloodstream, thanks to all the amazing fiber they contain. Craving a sugary, warm donut? Have a baked sweet potato or hot bowl of oatmeal instead. Sugar has no nutrients and even syrups that contain some nutrients don’t have fiber like whole, plant-based foods. This means they’ll spike your blood sugar more quickly and won’t satisfy your hunger. Harvard Health even says that sugar can lead to death. How’s that for those sweet tooth cravings?!
3. Choose Plants First
If you’re 100 percent vegan, that’s great! However, how many plants are you eating? If you’re not 100 percent vegan, how many plants are you eating daily? See, the thing is, even vegans may not be getting enough fruits and veggies daily. Tons of vegan foods exist in the grocery stores today, but that doesn’t mean that we should be basing our diets off of them. And while we can’t live off fruits and veggies alone, we can live off a diet full of plants (beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and yes – the fruits and veggies too.) If you’re transitioning into, or interested in, a plant-based diet, then follow the same suit. Always choose plants first. No matter what meal you eat, fill it up with as many plant-based foods as possible. All health experts will tell you this is a smart choice. Dr. Alona Pulde and Dr. Matthew Lederman from the Forks Over Knives website, also advise you avoid processed foods whenever possible, even if they’re vegan. Learn some tips for how to transition to a vegan diet if you’re embracing the idea to do so.
4. Eat Enough Calories
While most people want to know how to cut calories, getting enough calories is incredibly important to your health. Not getting enough will make you tired, fatigued, and even anxious or depressed. While you needn’t count calories daily, you should be sure you’re eating at least three meals a day and snacks if you need them. Eating 100 percent plant-based from real whole foods, already means you’re taking in less calories than a diet filled with processed and fatty, sugary fast food or animal foods. Plants are largely water and fiber by weight, not rich in very many dense calories. This means you’ll need to be sure you’re eating enough daily so your metabolism doesn’t suffer. In a vegan diet, starches, beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds will provide more dense calories than fruits and veggies will, so don’t leave them out! Dr. Reed Mangels, R.D. advises that we eat protein rich foods like whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, leafy greens, and seeds for this purpose.
5. Get Enough Rest
Your body needs sleep just as much as it needs food. For whatever reasons, due to your work life or your home life, it can be difficult to get enough sleep on a regular basis. But all health experts will agree, this is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle. Don’t leave it out! Getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night will help you think more clearly the next day, improve your metabolism, and will even protect you from disease. Dr. Michael Breus, also known as The Sleep Doctor, also shares that insomnia and lack of sleep has been directly related to depression. Just so you know, eating a plant-based diet will already improve your sleep and likely help you wake up more energized. All that from some fresh, natural foods? Sign us up!
You should also be sure you’re exercising daily, or at least being active. Our bodies need to be worked and our digestive system and hearts require movement daily to function at their best. Exercising also boosts brain health and can help prevent depression, disease, insomnia, treat anxiety, and improve mental performance.
So, as you can see, while no one expert may eat the same (nor do any of us), they all advise simple health principles that can be easy to forget everyday. Don’t leave these tips out- they just might make the difference in your entire life.
Image Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr
Baby carrots are NOT the way to go.