It hard to know where to start when it comes to bettering your health, but step one is always going to be about improving your nutritional habits. Take a look at the following questions to get an idea of where you should start.
Question #1: Where do I start when trying to improve my nutrition?
The first thing people often do is choose a diet they have be researching or one that their friend recommends, but jumping into any diet is not always the best choice. Food provides the body with energy, as well as information, and if you completely change what you are consuming chances are you are going to have a hard time adapting. Headaches, digestive issues and wild cravings are generally the mainstay of radical changes in diet. So instead of jumping on the Paleo, Ornish, low-fat, Mediterranean or vegetarian bandwagon, first address the issue of eliminating nutritional deficiencies.
Most people will be surprised to find out that they, in fact, have any deficiencies at all, but the research shows that more than 80% of the population has at least one. And who knows, the very reason you have sought out to read this article – weight gain, sleep disturbance, digestive issues, etc. -- could be rectified with a simple adjustment of your diet, without rushing into a full overhaul.
To eliminated any underlying deficiencies it is best to start with the following:
- Adding more quality proteins by using less lunch meat and favoring more free-range, wild caught or grass-fed meats
- Increasing vitamins and minerals by choosing a colorful variety of vegetables and fruits
- Allowing room for sufficient healthy fats by using coconut oil to cook, olive oil in salads, full-fat dairy or avocado as a snack
- Drinking more water. Try adding a cucumber or lime slice for some flavor.
Establishing optimal eating habits are done one step at a time. By making small changes over time you are positively altering your environment, ultimately creating a lifestyle change that is much better than any crash diet you can subscribe to.
Question #2: What’s the Best Diet to Follow?
There really is no “best diet.” What works best for one person, is probably not going to work for another. Those who have found success with a low-fat/high-carb diet (Jenny Craig) would probably find success with the equally restrictive high-fat/low-carb diet (Atkins). Macronutrient (carbohydrate/fat/protein) restrictive diets work well for weight-loss because they limit one of the body’s main sources of fuel — fat or carbohydrate. However, due to their intensive restrictions, when the majority of start to slip with temptation they tend to slip all the way off the diet and regain the weight.
A better way to ask the question would be; “What is the right nutritional approach that will create a positive long-term, systemic change in my life?” It is definitely a much harder question to answer correctly, which is why it is often not asked. As stated in question one, making small nutritional changes can have that positive affect and allow for insight as to what makes your body work more efficiently. The caveat to that is we all have limitations, whether they be financial or health related that will need to factor in to your nutritional choices. In the end, the best diet is one that is going to allow the individual to thrive in every endeavor.
Question #3: Is Counting Calories Important for Weight Loss?
No, counting calories is not something you should spend your time on when it comes to weight loss. Eating should be enjoyable, not reduced down to a math problem. When we choose to count calories with the intention of losing weight, the general approach is to take in less calories than we’re used to. Calories-in, calories-out right? Well, it’s not that simple as energy expenditure would be reduced to meet the decreased energy intake. So a calorie is not really a calorie because your caloric output is controlled by your body and is dependent on the quantity and quality of the calories ingested.
Besides, by counting calories you are essentially outsourcing appetite awareness to the food-label gods. Instead, think about regaining control of your portions with the hand-measuring system. Here is how it works:
- Your palm determines your protein portion
- Your fist determines your veggie portion
- Your cupped hand determines your carb portions
- Your thumb determines your fat portions.
Question #4: Should I Avoid Carbs?
Avoiding carbs is not necessary for weight management, nor achieving optimal health. However, if the majority of your dietary carbs come from a box – pastas, cereals, donuts, pizza – it would be best to reevaluate your choices in order to reach your goal. The quality of your carbohydrates is important in terms of nutritional content and the toll it play on our body.
When we eat a food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system will break them down into sugar allowing it to enter the blood. This causes our blood sugar to rise and in response the pancreas secretes insulin – a hormone that shuttles sugar out of the blood and into the cells to be stored at energy. When this happens we blunt our ability to burn fat and instead use the easily accessible energy within our blood.
Sugar is the biggest offender especially if it enters the blood stream as glucose, which doesn’t need to be broken down by enzymes, so it’s absorbed immediately. Starch can be in the same boat when it comes to raising blood sugar, sometimes worse if it's in the form of gluten-containing, nutrient-depleted grains (e.g., pastas, cereals, donuts, pizza). So where does that leave us?
Do not avoid carbs. Instead make better choices. The following is a list of possible replacements for when you are meal planning:
- Low Starch Vegetables such as baby corn, jicama, kohlrabi, rutabaga, water chestnuts, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, turnips, green beans, cucumber, bean sprouts, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, artichokes, okra, zucchini, green peppers all have a high ratio of fiber and nutrients compared to the content of carbs present.
- Moderate Starch Veggies like sweet potatoes, beets, or carrots are still reasonable but it is wise to watch the serving sizes.
- Low-Sugar/Low-Fructose Fruits such as Kiwifruit, Blueberries and raspberries, Grapefruit/lemons/limes, melons, pears with skin, and coconuts are decent choices that have their place in a season context, however avoiding fructose altogether is likely a safe bet for most people especially those who are obese.
- Gluten-free grains are acceptable for people who have the genetic ability to process carbs, but grains often irritate the digestive system as well as blood sugar control mechanisms for a significant amount of people.
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