Here are a few things that you can institute right now in your diet to get you on your way to eat healthier and keep your weight, cholesterol and blood sugar down while being good to the environment.
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables. If it seems like you hear this alot from the nutritional community, there's a good reason. Eating more produce is one of the few things we can do to improve our health that is known for sure. Often we hear one "expert" or another touting the latest supplements that will make us healthier. Most of these claims are unfounded. The truth is, it is very difficult for nutrition science to determine which nutrients are most important. Some produce may contain vital nutrients that are yet to be discovered. Among the other reasons to eat more produce: you will take in more vitamins and antioxidants, increase your fiber intake which slows digestion, stay full longer, keep your bowels regular, keep your cholesterol down and your blood sugar more steady. All in all, getting at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day is great for your health. A serving can be as simple as a piece of fruit or a couple spoonfuls of green beans at dinner.
2. Eat Local. Buying local produce is a "win-win" for you, your community, the economy and the environment. When you buy from local farmers you cut down on the travel time it takes to get the food to you. This means everything is fresher, and likely more nutritious(produce loses nutrients as it sits in storehouses). This also cuts down on pollution from trucks and other transportation necessary for getting the food to your region. In addition, you support your local farmers and keep them operating. Finally, when you buy from your local farm or farmer's market, you know what you're getting. Any local farmer worth their salt will be happy to tell you how their food is grown, if they uses pesticides, and how fresh their produce is.
3. Eat more whole grains. Whole grains have the natural fiber that slows digestion, keeps you full longer and keeps your blood sugar stable. In addition, they keep your bowels regular! Your best bet is to avoid anything that is made with bleached enriched grains. This includes white bread, white rice, white pasta and most cakes and cookies and many cereals. Better items are brown or basmati rice, cous cous, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta. Most products made with whole grains are a little heavier and often a little chewier. They take a little while to get used to, but once you do, you will never go back.
4. Eat wild caught fish or fish that are farmed in a responsible and sustainable manner. There are two issues here: your health and the environment. Let's take your health first. With depletion of the ocean's fish populations due to overfishing, modern science has come up with fish farming, better known as acquaculture. This is a great way to produce alot of fish in a short period of time. There are problems with it - too many to go into great detail here; but I will mention a few points. Modern fish farming, with a few exceptions, is akin to the livestock industry in this country. Fish are penned up in a small area and fed large quantities of food that they normally would not eat, in this case fish meal and sometimes meat such as chicken. Why would you want to eat fish that is fed chicken? Turns out this technique produces fish that are often less nutritious to eat, less healthy, and can have high quantities of toxins that build up in the process(PCBs, more on these later!). The second issue is that fish farming produces a large amount of toxins that pollute the oceans...not good. When you buy fish, look for wild caught salmon, mahi, tuna and others. I'll speak more on seafood in upcoming articles.
5. Learn to cook. Cooking is rapidly becoming a lost skill. We think there is no time to cook in today's busy environment and makers of processed foods, frozen dinners and fast food restaurants want us to believe that we will never find the time. Believe me, you can make the time and the rewards are huge. I'm not talking about making a four course meal every night. Cookbooks abound in the library and bookstores where you can learn to cook easy, quick and healthy meals. Can't get to the library? Try searching the web. On this blog alone there are numerous links to websites and blogs with great recipes. Remember also to plan ahead. Go to the grocery store at the beginning of the week with a plan for what you will be eating for the week ahead. Try cooking up some soup or salad that you can bring to lunch at work for a few days or you know it will be there for you in fridge at the end of a long day. One book in particular that I really like is Kitchen Express, by Mark Bittman. This book really gives you some quick, healthy strategies. Once you start looking for these books and websites, the possiblities are endless.
6. Eat more than one meal a day. Ideally you should try to eat three or four smaller meals during the course of the day. Many will avoid breakfast because they ate a huge dinner the night before and do not wake up hungry. If you spread your meals out during the day, you will likely eat less and have more time to digest and burn off the excess.
7. Eat less meat. No, I'm not encouraging everyone to become a vegetarian, but I do think that as a country we eat far too much meat. When I say meat, I refer to red meat, pork, chicken or turkey. Although most sources encourage us to eat less red meat and dark meat chicken and turkey to reduce saturated fat intake, I believe an overall reduction in all of them is a good idea. There are concerns with the meat industry with regards to animal handling, cleanliness and what the animals are fed. Most conventional livestock industries feed their animals grain, specifically corn. These animals did not evolve to eat corn and for cows in particular, it wreaks havoc on their digestive systems. In addition they become very high in fat. Limiting your red meat intake will help keep your cholesterol down and decrease your calorie intake as well(remember red meat is high in fat and fat is very calorie dense). Don't worry about missing out on protein, the American diet is very high in protein. Excellent sources of non-meat protein include eggs, dairy, fish and beans. In addition, vegetables contain protein as well. See other articles in my blog for some great bean dishes.
8. Avoid sweetened beverages such as soda, ice tea and juices. Instead stick with calorie free beverages such as tea, coffee and water. You will save money and keep your weight down.
9. Enjoy food. Just because you're eating healthy doesn't mean you can't eat delicious food. If you follow the rules above and learn to cook high quality food with fun seasonings, you will never look back!