When we talk about healthy lifestyles, it so often devolves into debates about which diets are the best, what food trends everyone is trying and which food — be it carbs, fats or sugars — are taboo that week. It’s complicated, exhausting and, frankly, unnecessary to put so much thought, math and stress into eating healthy. If you’re eating smart, you shouldn’t have to worry about it.
That being said, how do you know if you’re eating smart? To help you out, here are a few minor changes you can make to your diet right now that you might not even notice, but your body definitely will (and thank you for it).
Eat more fiber
Fiber is key for keeping you regular, managing appetite, good heart health and lowering cholesterol but most of us aren’t even getting half the amount we should be. The average person should be getting 30 to 35 grams daily, but most Canadians are getting closer to 12. Read your Nutrition Facts and look for products that are high in fiber.
Also incorporate high-fiber fruits, vegetables and grains into your diet. Spinach, kale, carrots, beans, chia seeds and flax seeds are all high in fiber. The seeds in particular are good at controlling blood sugar (keeping those cravings at bay) and they can be added to pretty much anything without changing flavour. Throw some ground chia on a salad, in baking, on oatmeal or even into savoury recipes like hamburgers and pasta sauce.
We hear it all the time: you need to drink more water. It’s true though, most of us do need to hydrate more, but it doesn’t always need to be water. Caffeinated beverages like coffee and black or green tea will dehydrate you, but herbal teas are typically just as hydrating as a cup of water.
An easy trick to determine how much water you need in a day is to take your weight in pounds and divide it by two. That amount is the number of ounces you should be drinking a day. The age-old tip of drinking a glass of water ten minutes before you eat a meal really works too. It not only gets you drinking, it can make you feel fuller so you eat less; remember, sometimes what your body interprets as hunger is really just a feeling of dehydration.
Have protein at every meal
Protein slows down the rate at which your body digests food, keeping you feeling full longer and helps repair and preserve muscle if you’re working out regularly. When you’re deciding what type of protein to add to a meal, focus on lean proteins with low saturated fat content. Chicken is a healthy source of meat protein and fish gets you those all-important omega-3s. You should also incorporate plant-based proteins in your diet like quinoa, beans, tempeh and tofu.
Do “meatless Mondays”
Use your new knowledge of plant-based protein to commit to going meatless one day a week (it doesn’t have to be Mondays but alliteration is fun). Just make sure you’re getting enough protein that day through non-meat sources. Doing a meatless day isn’t about starving yourself for 24 hours, it’s about adding variety to your diet and focusing on plant-based proteins which are often leaner than their meat alternatives.
As overrated as quinoa might seem, all that hype is warranted because it’s a complete protein so it works on its own as a full protein source. Plus, you can dress it up in a million ways to make it interesting and unique. Healthy doesn’t have to mean boring.
Get your good fats and Omega-3s
Omega-3 is an essential fat, meaning your body doesn’t produce it on its own and it needs to get it from an outside source (i.e. the food you eat). Fish, soybeans and chia seeds are all sources of omega-3 but if you’re not a fish person, you might want to consider taking an omega-3 supplement so you’re not missing out.
When you’re assessing your diet, remember that you need fat to survive, but you need to be careful of the type of fat you’re getting. If you’re unsure of what people mean when they say “healthy fats,” think about the source of the fat and the quality of food it’s coming from. An easy rule of thumb to remember is that trans fats are artificial and always bad, saturated fat is okay in small amounts and from natural sources and unsaturated fat is the type that should be most prevalent in your diet. For more information read about different fats here.
For a lot of us, the downfall of our healthy diet is in snacking. In the middle of the afternoon or late at night, we can sometimes forget that whole “healthy lifestyle” thing and opt for our favourite salty or sweet snacks that add no nutritional value but pile on the unhealthy fats, sugars and salt. Your best defence against falling into the unhealthy snacking trap is to stock your fridge and pantry with healthy snack alternatives to pull out at those moments instead.
Snacks should be under 200 calories and add some sort of nutritional value to your diet. Fruits and vegetables are always a safe bet as long as you don’t derail yourself with unhealthy spreads or dips (hummus, Greek yogurt-based dips or nut spreads are all great options though). If you’re the type to grab a protein bar, be careful and read your Nutrition Facts with a focus on artificial ingredients, added sugars (go for something with less than 10 grams) and fiber content. Remember that you can always split a protein bar in half (as long as you know you have the self-control to save the other half for tomorrow). Nuts and seeds are also good snacks in moderation. Again, make sure you’re limiting yourself to just a serving.
Watch your added sugar
Pretty much any processed food is going to contain added sugars and it’s not just the ones you might think. We assume there are added sugars in granola, protein bars, cereals, “junk” foods and sugary beverages, but it’s also hiding in places you might not expect like savoury sauces, crackers and other processed bread products. Read the labels on some of your favourite “healthy” foods and see just how many grams of sugar are in a standard serving. You shouldn’t be getting more than 25 grams of added sugar in a day. Take note of how much you’re consuming and remember that you sometimes need to read past the calorie count on an item before deciding if it’s healthy or not.