March is National Nutrition Month, which is a nice time of the year to reevaluate our health goals. This is especially important in case those we made in January for the new year have taken a backseat to busy schedules, or we’ve slipped back into unhealthy food ruts for comfort or due to stress. Junk food, fast food, and red meat are all things most people realize they should avoid, but avoiding certain foods isn’t the only key to staying healthy. It’s more important to focus on your health as a whole, and how making smart health choices in several areas of your life can provide multiple benefits for the long haul.
Everyone deals with schedules, jobs, social lives and other things that some people believe don’t allow them the time to live their healthiest life. But the belief that we don’t have time for health is simply not valid; everyone can live a healthy life when they break it down meal by meal, day by day, choice by choice. So, to inspire you to live a more vibrant life each day, here are some nutritionist approved tips you can start to work into your own routines today. Practicing them daily will create a healthier (and happier) you in no time!
1. Eat More Plants
Sounds pretty simple, right? That’s because it actually is. When you choose to eat more plants at each meal, you crowd out the unhealthier foods like dairy, meat, eggs, processed foods, fast food, pre-made meals and stuff that really provides your body with nothing but inflammatory, dense sources of calories. Remember, calories equal energy. Your body needs calories to provide you with energy, so be sure you choose quality calories versus just focusing on the number of calories a food has. A 400-500 calorie meal made from plants like leafy greens, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds is going to be more usable for your body than 400-500 calories from a medium fast food French fry and some ketchup or a small measly cheeseburger. Even simpler foods like yogurt, cottage cheese, steak and fish all have way more calories per item than plants do, which means you have to eat more of them to stay full. They also don’t improve your energy the same way either. Plants contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that don’t just keep you full and healthy, but also satisfy your cells’ needs for quality nutrients they can put to use to fuel your metabolism better. Plants are also less inflammatory to the body which helps prevent disease that can slow your body down.
2. Be Label Smart
Generally speaking, if an item has a label on it with more than 5 ingredients, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. The healthiest choice foods contain one ingredient or no label at all. For instance, fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes are all single food options that your body can use much better than a processed protein bar with 10 or more ingredients. Added sugars, fillers and preservatives, emulsifiers, and many animal-based ingredients can all make their way into foods that aren’t necessarily easy to spot. When you choose simple labels, you’re naturally choosing healthier foods.
3. Get Enough Sleep!
Busy schedules, exciting nights out and stress can all keep you from getting the rest you need, but this comes with a huge price. Research has shown that even just 30 minutes less of sleep one or two nights a week can lead to weight gain, changes in insulin levels, and prevent quality mental focus the next day. Over time it can even lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. To keep your digestive organs, hormones, and your brain working like they should, your body has to have a reset. Think of sleeping just like working out – it works around the clock for you to improve all other areas of your life. Put it in your calendar just like you would a meeting and make it happen! Here are some foods to improve your body’s natural melatonin production if you struggle with falling asleep at night.
4. Eat a Fiber-Rich Breakfast
Most people know they should eat breakfast, – no news flash there – but what many people don’t consider is the importance of a fiber-packed breakfast. A piece of fruit is nice in the morning, but it’s not going to do much for you an hour later. Your body needs a good bit of calories, ample amounts of fiber, and a little protein to get it going and to keep you full. Fiber takes a longer time to digest and also stabilizes your blood sugar. If you have a hard time adjusting to more fiber, start out slow but make it a point to increase it daily. A green smoothie, oatmeal, or some fruit chopped into a bowl with some coconut yogurt, flax, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds are all great options that might be easier on your stomach than large amounts of something harsher like wheat bran cereal. Increase your fiber a little each day and you’ll likely notice you feel more full during the morning while also having less severe blood sugar drops the rest of the day. This can keep your insulin levels healthy to prevent sugar binges or extreme fatigue. Fiber-filled breakfasts can even improve your weight since they change the way your metabolism functions over the course of the day.
5. Don’t Fall for Gimmicks
Gimmicks like strict juice cleanses, completely avoiding food groups (like fat and carbs), going on a liquid diet like some celebrities do, or feeling the need to only eat one food for days on end (like bananas) are not healthy, balanced ways to take care of yourself. If you want to have a green juice or green smoothie, then be sure you’re still eating meals and consuming a variety of other foods too. Balanced eating promotes a healthy body. Period. Explore all your plant-based options so your body gets what it needs. As a result, your metabolism will stay fueled, your brain will function better, and you can learn how much of what specific foods make you feel full longer and fuel your activity levels best.
Don’t forget that exercise is also important. Since we depend on food to provide us with calories for energy, we should put those calories to use. Get moving by taking a walk, going for a jog, doing some yoga or taking a class at your local gym. Workout at home? Get some kettlebells and lift those instead of weights. Pick up an active hobby like climbing or hiking. You get the drill. When you move, you improve your mental health, physical health, and your longevity at the same time. It’s a win-win!
Fore more tips on how to choose nutritionist-worthy meals, see What Nutritionists Eat for Breakfast here, and Learn How to Navigate the Produce Section Like a Nutrition Pro here.
Lead Image Source: Angelia Sims/Flickr