Unless you have been deep in a coma for the last 20 years you know that the choices you make about what you eat is of paramount importance to living a healthier life. But damn if there isn't an overload of products, advertising and conflicting information out there!
Add this to the fact that we are set in our ways. We like what we like and we want what tastes familiar. It's all a bit daunting sometimes.
Change may feel scary but it's the secret sauce to getting and staying healthy.
I am passionate about this subject and have lots of tips and tricks, but let's start with this list of the top 5 things you can do as you move towards eating more healthfully at home.
1. Read your labels!!
I can't stress this one enough. When you learn to stop and read what is actually in the food you're buying it's a huge wake-up call. Just because the label says "healthy" does not mean it's good for you. One of the biggest steps you can take for your health is to start advocating for yourself in the form of what you are purchasing. We can't all be crusaders on the front lines of the mission to keep Big Food responsible (thank goodness for Food Babe). However we can choose foods that don't have unpronounceable or unfamiliar ingredients in them like azodicarbonamide (which is found in things like white bread, fast food hamburger buns, Styrofoam cups and yoga mats), hydrogenated oils or "Natural Red #4" which apparently is code for boiled beetles. I wish I was kidding but I'm not. Maybe you're thinking "I've always used that brand" or"it's the only one the kids will eat". The good news is that there are healthy alternatives to many of the things you might be used to and with a little experimenting you can usually find some new and satisfying options.
2. Buy less packaged and processed food.
In the age of convenience we have gotten dependent on buying processed food from a box or a jar to save time, but in reality it has cost us more than it has saved us. When you start reading the labels you start seeing how much crap we've ingested in the name of saving time and that crap is costing us our health. Some jars and boxes are better than others. The fewer items on the ingredient list the better. You can also consider the option of making some things in your own kitchen. I swear to you - making your own mayonnaise is not only ridiculously easy, it tastes about a million times better than anything you can buy at the store. All you need is some eggs, lemon juice, extra-light olive oil, mustard powder, salt and a blender. No cooking skills required.
3. Focus most of your shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store.
This is a fancy way of saying eat more fruits, vegetables and other whole foods. The perimeter of the store is where you will find things like fresh produce, meats, fish, eggs and dairy, as well as bulk foods like beans and nuts in some stores. Even better, take a field trip to your local farmer's market and try some seasonal produce and fresh eggs. The taste of just picked asparagus or strawberries is the best! Here is an optional assignment for you: try one new fruit or vegetable every week for the next 3 months with the intention of expanding your palate and your repertoire. Have you ever added thinly sliced sunchokes or fennel to your salad? Delicious! Yes, it's true, this means you might have to do some additional food prep so that the produce doesn't end up as green slime in your vegetable bin, but we will get to that.
4. Watch out for sugars - hidden and obvious.
If there is one food that has a negative impact across the board on everyone's health it's sugar. It's lurking everywhere!! Whether you shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or Safeway, when you start reading labels you notice how often sugar shows up in many foods you might never expect.Things like salad dressings, bread, soups and stews often contain added sugars. It also shows up in large amounts in foods like cereal and yogurt. Have you tried adding a little bit of honey or maple syrup to plain, full-fat yogurt? Way better than the super sugary, processed kind. You can begin backing away from sugar by avoiding highly processed ones like high fructose corn syrup, dextrose and even agave, but if any kind sugar is among first 3 ingredients of something then it's likely too much sugar. Some other common names for sugar include evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, brown rice syrup, malt syrup and maltodextrin, to name but a few. The list is long and varied and worth checking out to educate yourself.
5. Find a few simple and delicious recipes, or update some old favorites.
This is a very important step because it's what will keep you from going straight back to already prepared food or frequent, last minute Thai delivery. When my clients say they don't consider themselves to be "good" cooks or that they "hate" cooking it usually means that they don't feel confident in the kitchen or that they haven't had much experience. Fortunately you can successfully master some simple things that will help build your confidence as you learn your way around your kitchen. Check out sites like Epicurious and Food52 for simple recipes or The Kitchn for recipes and their free, online cooking school program. The key to success in this arena is some planning on the front end. Read a recipe all the way through before you commit so you don’t start out at 5 pm only to find that you need 12 hours of marinating. Take some time on weekend and make a casserole and a crockpot meal so that you have options during your busy week. Experiment and see what works for you.
As a final note, know that it's ok to approach this with a one-step-at-a-time mindset. The main thing is starting a practice of paying attention and being open to change. Your body will thank you.