These days, everyone has an opinion about how we should be eating. There are thousands of guides for dieting, cleansing and eating “right,” and no one can really say which is best.
That’s because there isn’t one way of eating that works for each individual body and lifestyle. You have to take everything you hear and read about nutrition at face value and be willing to walk away from something you’ve tried if it doesn’t work for you.
That being said, there are a few “rules” I like to try and live by that can apply to almost any lifestyle. Nutrition and healthy living don’t have to be “all or nothing.” You can incorporate one or two of these tips into your daily routine and see how they go, then add more as you see fit.
In the end, eating mindfully is all about listening to your body, being conscious of your decisions and making sure you’re enjoying your food.
Eat whole foods
This term gets used a lot, and can be misleading and sometimes overwhelming.
By definition, a whole food is anything that has been refined and processed as little as possible, and is free from additives and artificial ingredients. The closer the food is to its original form, the better.
Of course, it’s very difficult for most of us to eat only whole foods, 100 percent of the time, but the closer you can get to having a diet dominant in whole foods, the greater the benefits.
Cook with broth instead of oil
This is a tip I picked up while reading and following The China Study.
Such a simple trick has changed the way my body feels after a meal more than any other adjustment. The amount of oil (or butter) used to fry, sauté or even stir-fry something adds a lot of extra fat to a meal. Even when using a high-quality, “healthy” oil like coconut oil, we’re still ingesting a much higher quantity than our body needs.
Buying broth (vegetable or chicken, low-sodium) and using a few tablespoons/millilitres in your pan for cooking is a simple, healthy and delicious alternative to using oil or butter. And if nothing else, you’ll notice the difference from the very first meal. Your food will digest more efficiently and you’ll feel lighter.
Why does this matter in the grand scheme of things? Local, organic and seasonal food all intertwine and result in food that’s real, pesticide-free and fresh. Eating “local” and seasonally means you’re eating what’s actually growing at that time and getting the largest amount of nutrients possible from that product.
It can be more difficult to do this during cold seasons or in places where the access to local produce is minimal, but just like whole foods, the more, the better. On top of that, if the local/seasonal food you’re eating is also organic, even better! These are three types of food I choose when I have the option, but sometimes it’s just not possible, and that’s OK.
Eat fewer animal products
I can just see the eyerolls now from all the meat lovers everywhere. I am one of those meat lovers, a cheese lover, and an ice cream lover, and I’m not suggesting that animal products should be cut out of your lifestyle completely.
I’m suggesting, after years of switching back and forth, that our bodies really do function better when we lower our intake of animal products. They’re hard to digest and more often than not, they aren’t free of chemicals, additives or preservatives.
If you can apply the previous tip [shop local/seasonal/organic] to your meat products, that’s a great start. But even with organic products, it’s wise to limit your intake. Just attempting this lifestyle change, and starting by making one to two meals a week vegetarian or vegan, is a great step towards cleaner eating.
Use natural, unrefined salt
Salt has a bad reputation, and that’s because the most common type of salt being included in our diets is refined, commercial salt.
“Table salt” has been stripped of almost all of its natural minerals and electrolytes, and these have been replaced with additives, bleaching agents, preservatives and other chemicals not meant for consumption. It’s these ingredients that can be so destructive to our cells and cause all sorts of problems on the inside and outside of our bodies.
In contrast, unrefined salt has been harvested properly and still contains the trace minerals our bodies need to function. By switching your commercial salt at home to a natural salt, and by avoiding heavily processed foods, you can easily decrease your intake of refined sodium.
Make it yourself (when possible)
This is my favourite rule to live (eat!) by for two reasons. First, if you make it yourself, you know exactly what’s going into your meals. There are no mysteries, no scary-sounding ingredients and no added nonsense. You get to be 100 percent in charge of what goes into your body.
The second reason is, if you start making everything yourself, you’ll by default be eating less garbage. It’s easy to go buy a bag of chips, or some ice cream, or a box of cookies, and completely demolish them in one sitting. But if you have to make that bag of chips yourself, the probability of you following through on that, or consuming the same amount you would if you’d bought them in a store, is very low.
Add more colour
There are five colour categories for fruits and vegetables: Red, purple/blue, orange/yellow, green and brown/white. Each one offers a different set of nutrients, vitamins and phytochemicals that help the body fight off disease.
Eating produce from each colour group is a great way to make sure you’re getting the whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals your body needs. It’s also a great way to keep your meals exciting and learn new things. I try and find a new recipe each week based around a vegetable or fruit I’m unfamiliar with.
Watch your portions
This is a difficult one for me and I know I’m not alone. I was raised in a family where food wasn’t just for nutrition, but for comfort and happiness. It was a way to share with those you love and was always the centre of any social gathering.
It’s taken me years to change my idea of what full should feel like and when to stop eating. I still believe food should be enjoyed, be shared and provide comfort, but I also understand that the amount is just as crucial as the ingredients.
Eating until you’re satisfied is much more tolerable for your digestive system than eating until you’re full. This can be hard to do at first, especially when we’re out of touch with the needs of our bodies.
Eating slowly is the best way to combat the urge to overeat. If you have a full serving of a meal and think you may still be hungry, challenge yourself to wait 20 minutes before deciding whether to eat again. Chances are, you’ve eaten enough and just need to give your brain enough time to catch up with your body.
Eat “good” fat
We need fat! It transports vitamins, it stores energy, it protects our nerves and organs, and it keeps our brain and our cells functioning. It has a hand in pretty much every single process going on in our bodies! Fat is so important, and yet we’re constantly being told to get rid of it.
The type of fat we take in is what we have to be careful of. There are four main types of fat: saturated, trans, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Trans fats are the only one of the four fats that are manmade and should be avoided all together. The rest can all be found in nature and play an important role in our diets.
Saturated fats raise our “bad” cholesterol levels and shouldn’t be consumed in large amounts. That being said, many polyunsaturated fats (such as vegetable oils) require a lot of processing and refining before they can be consumed.
The best way to know you’re taking in “good” fat is to stick to the most natural forms of dietary fat: monounsaturated and saturated. Nuts, avocados, olive oil, canola oil and coconut products are all healthy foods through which you can get the necessary amount of dietary fats.
Drink more water
By now, I think we’re all aware that we need water to live. You can go around a month without food and survive, but only a week without water. I like to remind myself that I function best when my entire body is well-hydrated, and I feel better when I’m consistently drinking water.
There are a lot of myths rolling around about how much water is too much or not enough and whether you can use other liquids to meet those requirements. It isn’t so much about the lack of water in other liquids (juice, coffee, tea, beer, etc.) but more about the additional sugar or chemicals in those liquids.
At the end of the day, if you’re unsure of whether you’re consuming enough water, drink more water. Unless you’re drowning yourself and going to the washroom every five to 10 minutes, you’re probably not overdoing it. It’s the only thing most of us can always use more of!