You’re probably the type of person who constantly seeks out ways to improve your health and wellbeing. (You’re here, after all.) And there’s a good chance you have an idea of what you need to do to eat better. But between the mountains of constantly changing information, terminology, fad diets, and more, navigating the field of nutrition can become needlessly challenging in a hurry.
We wanted to simplify all that, and we figured the best place to start is at the beginning. So, we went back to the basics and put together a quick a refresher course on nutrition fundamentals. But we couldn’t just stop there. With the building blocks in place, we stacked on a few additional strategies to help you level up from square one.
Add fruits and veggies to every meal
“Eat a diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables.” There’s no doubt you’ve heard this before. But filling your plate with the foods you should be eating can be easier said than done. One way to do it better is to remember this phrase: “Shop the rainbow.”
When it comes to fruits and veggies, a colorful diet makes for the greatest variety of nutrients. In particular, it delivers loads of antioxidants, which can fight inflammation and help prevent disease. Plus, varying your fruit and vegetable consumption in this way makes shopping easier—just grab a little something of every shade.
Once you’ve hauled home your many-colored bounty, try to include a serving of fruits or vegetables in every meal and with every snack. Yes, it sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. Here are a few ways to incorporate them throughout the day:
- Top your morning oatmeal with a handful of blueberries, which may improve memory and fight the brain’s aging process.
- For your morning snack, try an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter for fiber and healthy fat.
- For lunch, add a side salad of dark leafy greens—rich in iron, folate, and potassium.
- When that afternoon slump hits, ditch the vending machine for a bag of baby carrots and dip into a yogurt-based sauce.
- Dinner? Try a new vegetable every night in a salad or stir-fry.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes you just don’t want to eat more vegetables. On those days, blend up leafy greens and cooked beets into a smoothie with plain yogurt, flaxseeds, a banana, berries, and a squirt of honey for a nutrient-packed smoothie that’s low in added sugar, and tasty enough to make you almost forget how good for you it is.
Embrace the whole grain
First, the basics. What, exactly, is a whole grain? Essentially, “whole” means “unprocessed;” the entire grain—bran, endosperm, and germ—remains intact. The bran is rich in fiber, but when grains are processed (think white foods like white pasta and breads) they lose the bran and all that good roughage. The endosperm and germ are rich sources of nutrients that are also lost during processing.
Fiber from whole grains has been linked to a host of health benefits, including improved heart health, decreased blood pressure, and weight loss and maintenance.
In fact, the U.S. National Academy of Medicine recommends men between the ages of 14 and 50 eat 38 grams of fiber every day. Yet the average American eats just 15 grams.
We know folks have had many mixed feelings about carbs over the years, but committing to making half of your grain intake whole grains can really take your nutrition to the next level.
There are a wide variety of ways to introduce more whole grains into your diet—don’t shy away from intact grains like brown rice, steel-cut oats, and wheat berries. Or, try sprouted grains like barley or rye.
Other whole grains include whole-wheat pasta and popcorn—just make sure the popcorn is made with simple ingredients like coconut oil and salt.
Don’t fear the fat
For decades we were told fat was bad. The problem is, we replaced fat with sugar. Now, research says the right kind of fat is actually good for you.
Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in nuts, certain oils (like olive oil), avocados, and fish. Saturated fats, such as those found in red meats and dairy, may not be as bad as we once thought, although the American Heart Association recommends keeping your intake to just five percent of your total calories per day.
Make healthy fats a part of your daily diet—they taste good and they’re good for your heart, brain, and yes, waistline. For example, add peanut butter to your morning oatmeal or on top of whole-grain pancakes; snack on trail mix filled with nuts and popcorn; introduce fatty fish, like salmon, into your dinner rotation (it’s also high in protein!); and don’t be afraid of a scoop of real ice cream as a treat.