Living on whole foods would improve the health of everyone, and while most of us know that, actually doing it in the midst a busy life can be quite the challenge. I get it – I’ve been there too. It’s easier to grab something that’s already been boxed or packaged instead of taking the time to make things yourself. But as many of you know, living on processed foods also comes with a host of negative consequences. Processed foods are more expensive per serving (for the most part), they decrease your energy, make you feel sluggish, cause your body to have to filter out what it can’t use from what it can, and they’re full of preservatives that have all sorts of negative side effects.
Not all packaged foods are bad of course, but for the most part, whole foods really are best. When trying to improve your diet and reach a more whole foods approach, try some of these tips to make things easier and less intimidating.
1. Pretend Boxed Doesn’t Exist
Try this trick next time you go to the store: pretend that most boxed or packaged foods don’t exist at all. No cereal, no granola, no pastries, processed yogurt, fake meats, salad dressings, etc. I know – that sounds kinda scary, right? Well luckily, there are all easy, inexpensive whole foods you can use to replace all of these foods. The best part? They’ll keep you fuller much longer and give you more energy. In place of cereal, have a bowl of steel cut oats with berries and almond milk (non-dairy milk is fine to buy if it’s unsweetened.) Instead of granola bars, make your own or just have oatmeal or quinoa. Instead of pricey nondairy yogurt, make your own or take a vegan probiotic. Avoid fake meats and go for endamame, lentils, tofu, and tempeh. Nix the bottled salad dressings and keep these ingredients on hand so you can make your own and save money in the process.
2. Purchase 80 Percent Produce
My best tip is to consume at least 80% of your foods from produce. No, you will not go hungry, I promise. Sweet potatoes, greens, onions, carrots, avocados, apples, bananas, berries, mushrooms, green beans, snap peas, tomatoes, squash, celery, cucumbers, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, and virtually any other fruit or vegetable you can buy (fresh or frozen) should make up the majority of your diet. These foods fill you up, provide true, raw energy, and you can use them in so many ways, raw or cooked.
3. Purchase Whole Grains
When buying grain-based foods, buy them in whole form so they’re as less processed as possible. For instance, purchase rolled oats, quinoa, millet, amaranth, farro, freekah, and barley instead of boxed cereals, breads, or flours. It’s much healthier for you and more economical to consume grains in their whole form. Your body breaks them down more slowly, which keeps your glucose levels much more level throughout the day. Check out this Guide to Cooking Perfect Whole Grains.
4. Bring on the Beans
Nix all those processed meals from the freezer aisle and cook up some beans and legumes instead. Beans and legumes are full of protein, fiber, B vitamins, potassium, and iron. Not to mention, they’re so filling that they might even help you lose a little weight since you won’t be hungry as often. Canned beans are fine if you don’t have time to soak and cook your own, but opt for low-sodium or no-salt added choices as the healthiest option.
5. Nix the Sugar
One thing to get out of your diet as quickly as possible when leaning towards a more whole foods approach is all refined sources of sugar. If you’re following the tips above, you’re already well on your way. Just watch out for sugar in sneaky sources like nondairy milk (again, buy unsweetened), some condiments like hot sauce and salsa, and stay away from packaged sweets of any kind. Check out these Three Surprising Ways to Curb Sugar Cravings.
6. Choose Fruit for a Snack
One simple tip when trying to eat more whole foods, is to simply opt for fruit as a snack. Have an apple, banana, some berries, grape or cherry tomatoes, or a grapefruit instead of a processed bar or bag of chips.
7. Munch on Veggies
One of my favorite things to do when I want to eat but I’m not really hungry enough for a meal is to snack on veggies like carrots, celery sticks, zucchini slices, and cucumber chunks. These help provide the body with vitamins, minerals, water, and fiber and will easily take the edge off hunger in between meals when fruit isn’t desired or available. And remember, if you’re not hungry enough for veggies or fruit, you’re probably not really hungry.
8. Aim for Progress, Not Perfection
It’s easy to be passionate about health and try to do it perfectly all at once. Just remember, consistency is key and perfection isn’t the goal – progress is. Progress means you’re being aware and making whole food choices as much as you can. That doesn’t mean you have to start making everything from scratch all at once. Most none of us have time for that! While I’m willing to cook my quinoa or oatmeal in a slow cooker overnight to save money and time, I’m not willing to soak almonds and make almond milk every two or three days. So, I opt for buying foods like unsweetened almond milk, raw vegan protein powder, and packaged ground flax and chia instead of grinding my own. The point is, do what you can with what time you have and be aware of how much items cost to save even further.
9. Make a List
As a foodie, it’s easy for me to walk into Whole Foods (or any supermarket for that matter) and easily lose track of my budget and my goal to eat whole foods. With all the amazing foods to choose from, anyone can become overwhelmed, so I suggest making a list. Carry it with you and pull it out before you even walk in the store so you don’t forget- then stick to it! Those raw cookies and kale chips might look great but at $6-$8 a bag, you should skip them and just buy some kale and fruit instead. Remember, a list will keep you on track and away from temptations at the store.
10. Make Time for Meal Prep
If I could give only one tip to you, it would be to make time to prepare some meals and snacks for the week ahead. This is key to eating a whole foods diet. Allot at least one or two hours on a Saturday or Sunday and prepare a couple items for the week ahead. Make a huge pot of grains for breakfast (or in your slow cooker like I do), roast or steam a bunch of veggies for the week, boil some beans to have on hand, bake some sweet potatoes and squash, and toss a few salads together so they’re ready to go. Pair fruit and greens with some chia and flax in baggies for on the go smoothie bags you can easily mix with protein powder and almond milk for a quick breakfast or lunch. Cut an avocado and freeze the slices so you can use them in smoothies, soups, or homemade sauces. You get the drift- think about what your favorite meals are, write them down, and do what you can to prepare for the week ahead. Need ideas for meals? We’ve got plenty!
Doing just these 10 things will not only help you thrive on eating whole foods but will also ensure you get in the habit of doing it for life. Got a tip of your own to share? Let’s hear it!
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