The foods you eat can have a dramatic impact on how you look and feel (your mood, energy levels, skin, hair, etc.), as well as how you age. How you feel today, tomorrow, next week, and a year from now are related to the food choices you make each day. Understanding the food you eat and the nutrients it provides will help you develop the best lifelong diet for you to feel good today, as well as, for years to come.
Food is fuel for your body. Eating well is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Paired with physical activity, the food you eat can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases, and improve and maintain your overall health.
Whereas, an unhealthy diet, even for people at a healthy weight, is associated with significant health risks which can cause illness and even death. Hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain types of cancer are often correlated to poor nutrition.
Poor eating habits also contribute to the obesity epidemic in the United States. Recent statistics show 69% of the U.S. adult population is overweight or obese. Approximately one-quarter of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight, and 80% of those will likely become obese adults.
Making smart food choices today can reduce your risk of developing these health and obesity problems. By taking steps towards a healthy diet, you’ll be getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, active, and strong for years to come.
To develop the best lifelong diet for you, learning to think about food in a new way may be key. Like me, you may have grown up on fast food and processed foods, or large family ‘comfort food’ meals.
Today, we know fried foods or fatty cuts of meat and potatoes smothered with gravy are not the right way to eat. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and fish are best for our health. These core principles of healthy eating are what our ancestors used, and many are still thriving today with the traditional Mediterranean diet or Paleo like way of eating.
To enjoy a healthful diet, try new recipes, experiment with a variety of spices, and cuisines. Be creative and take chances. Instead of dreading your new way of eating, have fun with it. This is not a diet in the popular modern media sense, this is a diet in the traditional sense, a lifelong way of eating.
To achieve and maintain a healthful diet that you will stick with for life, change slowly. Give yourself time to adjust by changing up one item a week and be relaxed about it. You are doing this for the long-term, not just six weeks. Don’t worry about every meal, much less every mouthful, because you won’t be perfect, but strive for 80 – 90% adherence. Your entire nutrition intake will balance out if your overall dietary pattern is sound.
Nutrition for Energy
Good nutrition regulates our energy balance – calories in for calories out. Getting proper nutrition is possible from eating an abundance of nutrient-dense foods. Good nutrition accomplishes our goals of good health; improved performance and function; and optimized body composition, so we look better naked.
Nutrient-dense foods are those that provide substantial amounts of nutrients with only the necessary amount of calories – large quantities of vital nutrients per 100 calories.
Those nutrients include:
Fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients also contribute to the nutrient-richness of food. All the nutrients from the food we eat become our cells, our blood, our organs, our bones – every single part of us, and provides our energy.
Nutrient dense foods include veggies, fruits, and lean protein. Foods low in nutrient density are items such as donuts, soft drinks, and ice cream.
The calorie density of food is the ratio of calories to the weight of food. There are four calories per gram of protein and carbohydrates, nine calories per gram of fat, and seven calories per gram of alcohol.
High-calorie density would be lots of calories per 100g of food, think cookies, crackers, butter, or bacon. Alternatively, low-calorie dense foods would be few in calories per 100g of food, like veggies, fruits, chicken or turkey breast.
A sound nutrition program would include foods high in nutrient density while low in calorie density.
Since you eat food, not nutrients, let’s look at some guidelines to help you develop the best lifelong diet for you that provides both healthful and enjoyable eating. These guidelines are intended for healthy people, so for those with medical conditions consult your doctor for additional guidance.
- Consume a variety of foods – no single food is perfect, so you need a balanced mix of foods to get all the nutrients your body requires.
- Balance every meal with protein, healthy fats, and vegetables.
- Consume mostly fresh and homemade foods. Avoid processed food, fast food, and junk food.
- Eat lots of vegetables, organic when possible. Aim for at 6-10 servings a day; One cup of raw leafy greens or ½ cup of cooked or raw vegetables is considered one portion.
- Eat more fruits, aiming for at least four servings a day. Count one medium-size piece of fruit; ½ cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit; or ½ cup of fruit juice as one portion.
- Choose healthy fats – Use olive, coconut, or canola oil to cook whenever possible. Obtain healthy fats from fish, nuts, coconut, and avocado for example.Eliminate or at least minimize fatty cuts of animal meat, the skin of poultry, whole-fat dairy products, stick margarine, fried foods, processed snack foods, and commercially prepared baked goods using trans fat.
- Eat quality protein, such as fish and skinless poultry, grass-fed beef or game meats. If you choose to eat red meat, try to limit your intake to two 4-ounce servings per week. Avoid fatty and processed meats. Broil, bake, or grill instead of frying and be sure your meat and poultry are cooked to 160° or more, but not charred.
- Include a moderate amount of seeds and unsalted nuts in your diet, as they have been linked to a reduced risk of cardiac death, but they are high in calories so watch portions.
- Watch your sodium intake, particularly if your blood pressure is borderline or high, by reducing your use of table salt and processed foods such as canned soup, lunch meats, condiments, frozen dinners, cheese, tomato sauce, and snack foods. Men with blood pressure above 120/80 mm Hg should aim for 1,500 mg a day, as should men above age 50.
- If you choose to consume alcohol, do so sparingly and never drive or operate machinery during or after drinking. Men should not average more than two drinks per day, women one a day. Five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1½ ounces of liquor are considered one drink.
- Balance your caloric intake with your exercise level to maintain a healthy body weight. If you need to reduce your weight, aim for a gradual weight loss (.5 to 1 lb per week) by lowering your caloric intake and increasing your exercise level.
- Just say no to fad diets and extreme or unconventional nutritional schemes. If it’s too good to be true, it’s not true.
Healthy Way of Life
A sound diet is only half of the equation to a healthy life. The other half is exercise. If you’ve not yet started an exercise program, just get outside for a 10 minutes walk today, and then tomorrow too. Continue walking daily adding 1-2 minutes to your walk until you are walking 30 minutes each day. Alternatively, you can walk 2 or 3 times per day in 10 or 15-minute sessions to total 30 minutes. Also incorporate additional movement into your day by climbing the stairs, doing yard work, household chores, or chasing your kids or grandkids around.
“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” ~ Hippocrates
Our muscles are too important to ignore as well. Simple bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, squats, lunges, and chair dips can do wonders. And don’t forget good old jumping jacks or jumping rope. But the best exercise program is one that you will stick with. So, if you’d rather do Zumba then run, do Zumba. If you’d rather swim than cycle, swim. Just get active.
Develop The Best Lifelong Diet For You
The dietary changes you’re making should not feel restrictive, overwhelming or hard to maintain. Eating more healthily may be a big change for you, so take it a step at a time. Pick 1 or 2 changes to make now, and once those are in place, select 1 or 2 more. This is the best way to make it part of a lifestyle change and something you can live with long-term.
Transitioning to a healthier way of eating may seem daunting so keep these things in mind:
- Eat vegetables at most meals. Think salads, side dishes, soups, or even adding veggies to your sandwich or wrap.
- When you have a craving for something sweet, opt for a serving of fruit to satisfy your craving.
- When you eat meat, it’s best to choose organic, grass-fed, and hormone-free, so you get the maximum nutrients possible without the harmful antibiotics, hormones, etc.
- Keep on hand healthy food choices that are ready to eat and go. Snacks like nuts, seeds, and fruit are good for ‘grab and go.’
- Never leave the house without food if you’ll be gone for more than 2 hours. Eating healthy food on a regular basis will help you avoid unhealthy choices. Make up some homemade trail mix (avoid ready-made trail mix as most of them have hydrogenated oils and other undesirable, processed ingredients) or bring a small cooler to keep in the car.
- Most importantly, don’t be too rigid, and remember that making small changes over time will make a huge difference, and it makes the changes easier to stick to.
Next, we take a look at calories, why they are important, and why they aren’t, as well as some other factors to consider as we continue to develop the best lifelong diet for you.
How would you rate your current diet? Are you looking to improve it? What one tip could you start incorporating first? Other Comments, questions or suggestions? Please share below or feel free to reach out to me.
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As always, thank you for reading.