Today’s post is the second in a series of articles on what I call the Four Building Blocks of Wellness: Mindfulness, Movement, Nutrition and Community. This one tackles the often confusing topic of nutrition. Good nutrition is simple really, and I break it down in easily to tackle suggestions.
I think I may have possibly, perhaps briefly mentioned, maybe a time or two, hinted at the fact that I’m a vegan. That means no animal products of any kind (yes, fish are animals). But, I’ve been told I’m not an “annoying” vegan (true story), meaning I don’t try to push my beliefs on to you. You can put that worry aside. In fact, I’m not even going to ask you to give up meat. I know that’s unrealistic and I have my own reasons for being vegan, health being one of them. That said, f you do want to give up animal products, I applaud you and am here to support you in whatever way you’d like.
Whatever you decide, there are some dietary changes you may want to consider that will add years to your life and life to your years. And while I’m not saying to go vegan, I strongly suggest you drastically reduce your intake of animal products. You may be thinking, will I get all the nutrients I need? Well, I’ve been a vegan for about five years and a vegetarian for much longer and I can assure you, my blood work is pretty amazing. I take a single supplement that includes vitamin B12, the only nutrient that is not available through a vegan diet. My blood pressure and cholesterol are on the low end of normal and my protein numbers are good.
Granted, I am very mindful of what food goes in my body, but it really doesn’t take much effort. Assuming you don’t have any food allergies or other conditions such as celiac disease, here are some ideas to get you started:
Reduce the amount of meat you’re eating. Consider trying Meatless Mondays. All other days, make meat and other animal products more like a side dish. It’s good for your body and good for the environment.
Load up on your veggies and fruits. Consider subscribing to a veggie box or visiting a local farmer’s market. Buy local. It’s good for the economy and good for the environment.
Make the transition to whole grain foods including whole grain bread, pasta and rice. Try something new like quinoa, farro, millet, teff or freekeh.
Cut way back on dairy. It can be very hard to digest. There are lots of good, tasty dairy alternatives out there including milk, cheese and ice cream if you think you’ll miss the taste. Be adventurous!
Drastically reduce the amount of processed foods you’re eating. That includes bakery items, and most things in the snack food aisle (chips and crackers and such).
Try a meal planning app. Right now I’m on a trial membership of Fork Over Knives planning app. Another one that I tried and really liked is Emeals. It has been around for a very long time and has options for all eating styles, including healthy heart, clean eating, vegetarian and vegan. Meal planning apps save time by doing the weekly planning for you, including shopping lists, menus and pre-prep ideas. So, you’re less likely to get those foods that don’t support the new healthy you!
Keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum. The jury is still out on what constitutes “a minimum” but most experts agree that a glass of wine a day is fine.
Put the brakes on sugar. The average American – man, woman and child – consumes 17 – 24 teaspoons of sugar A DAY! That’s about a half cup every single day, on average. Sugar is very addictive, and that’s a whole article in itself. You’ll be doing yourself a favor by only having sugar on occasion. The less you eat, the less you want. And I don’t mean replacing sugar with one of the sugar substitutes, including stevia and monk fruit extract. Those in and of themselves are not so bad, but they’re usually mixed with other, less desirable ingredients. Some ideas to help you stave off the sugar monster:
- Keep nice, ripe, fresh fruit in the house that’s easy to grab and go.
- Give up the soda habit. That doesn’t mean moving to sugar free (read artificially sweetened) soda, but try a flavored water like Bubly or Waterloo.
- Or, make your own “spa water” by infusing plain water with fruit, herbs or veggies. Need ideas – Google “spa water recipes.”
- Check your labels. Sugar lurks in some surprising places. Foods like ketchup and barbecue sauce are high in sugar and there are plenty of other things you can use instead. There are even low sugar options available. Again be careful of artificial sweeteners.
Notice I’m not asking you to give up anything, just practice moderation. I’ve changed that philosophy along my wellness journey. There was a time that I said to give up all sugar. Through personal experience, I know that’s not sustainable and very difficult. Moderation in all things as the saying goes.
Finally, I want to touch briefly on mindful eating. When you take time to plan, prepare and be fully present with your food, you develop a different relationship with it. You’re less likely to eat whatever happens to grab your attention, and the best part is, you ENJOY it more. You’re more easily satiated and eat less. Mindful eating means giving your full attention to the meal. Put your devices away, center yourself and use all your senses. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a meal with friends and family. It just means becoming very aware of what you’re eating.
All this awareness to good eating is sure to set an example for those around you. Show your friends and family (especially any young children) that nutritious eating is important to you by making healthy choices.
While some may say food is just what you need to nourish your body, I disagree. Food is an experience to be enjoyed, AND provide nourishment. When you eat real food in all the beautiful colors of the rainbow, you can take care of both at once. If all this seems a little overwhelming to you, take it one step at a time. This week, reduce the amount of animal products you’re eating, next try cutting out sodas. You get the idea. It may be challenging in the beginning, so just let your improved health encourage you to keep it going. You’ve got this!