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Nutrition Part 2: How to Eat Healthy

Nutrition Part 2: How to Eat Healthy

Consider your goals. What do you want to accomplish? Would you like to improve your health, lose weight, or increase energy? You can make changes to improve nutrition with simple strategies to reach your goals.

Determine a baseline. Without making any changes to your current habits, log everything you eat and drink for the next seven days. You’ll use this information to create effective nutritional strategies to help you reach your goals.

Form a plan of action. Your strategy will include what, when, and how much you will eat. You can get an idea of your average daily calorie needs based on your goals by using this National Institutes of Health calculator.

In Nutrition Part 1, you learned that the Mediterranean style diet is a healthy way of eating. Here, in Part 2, we’ll take a closer look at how to eat to meet your personal goals with improved nutrition.

Improving your nutrition begins by investigating and identifying the goals you want to achieve. Next, you’ll gather current diet information to provide a nutritional snapshot of where you are now. This “picture” of your eating habits will help you to create a solid nutritional plan of action.

Consider your goals. 

What are you trying to accomplish? Would you like to lose weight, reduce stress, lower blood pressure, or improve energy? The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle cover all the bases for healthy eating.

However, if you have specific health issues, you may want to meet with a dietitian for customized suggestions regarding your diet. That said, most of us can safely make changes to improve nutrition with simple strategies. These include incorporating more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, lean protein, and healthy fats such as olive oil. On the flip side, you can minimize refined and highly processed grains and starches, sugary foods and beverages, red meats, and saturated fats.

Determine a baseline.

Getting a clear picture of current eating and drinking habits will help you to see your areas of strength as well as those that might need some adjusting or improvement. One of the best ways to obtain a clear “picture” of eating habits is to do just that. Without making any new adjustments to your eating or drinking habits, keep track of everything you eat or drink for the next seven days. You can do this by using your phone to snap a picture each time you eat or drink, by using the myCircadianClock app, or by writing it all down by hand. At the end of the week, review your daily meals, snacks, and beverages, and use this information to form a plan of action.

Form your plan of action.

Here, you’ll use the data you collected from your week of baseline information to examine the three cornerstones to healthy eating: quantity, quality, and time of day.

Look at Quantity. Quality matters a great deal, but the amount of food you consume each day also matters. Determining just how much to eat can be tricky. The amount of calories your body needs fluctuate from day-to-day. Here you’ll need to do a bit of thinking about how you expend physical energy from one day to the next. You’ll also want to take into consideration factors such as age, height, weight, gender, and activity level. On days when you are highly active, calorie needs will be different than on those spent relaxing. Another factor in the how-much-to-eat question is whether you are trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight. You can get an idea of your average daily calorie needs based on your goals by using this National Institutes of Health calculator. The Mediterranean diet doesn’t focus on strict calorie counting, but it is wise to have some general guidelines surrounding how much you eat on a given day.

At Work: What matters most regarding nutrition at work is the preparation you do beforehand. You’ll be more likely to stick to healthy eating if you plan a prep day before you head into the office. Taking the time to prep and package healthy meals will keep you away from the fast-food drive-thru, the work cafeteria, and vending machine snacks.

At Home: If you are going to have a dessert, sugary beverage, or an alcoholic drink, try to keep it to once or twice a week tops. That doesn’t mean a big gulp sized soda (or beer or wine), or a massive brownie sundae. Moderation and size do matter.

After an Intense Workout: Often, not as much as you think. Thanks to media ads, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need an extra energy bar, smoothie, or a sports drink after a workout, but be careful. The majority of people who do an average, or even vigorous workout will expend somewhere between 250 to 500 calories—you can easily gobble that back in one reasonable meal. It’s a good thing to keep in mind.

Examine Quality. As discussed in “Nutrition Part 1,” Studies that compare eating styles find that the Mediterranean Diet offers superior and lasting benefits compared to other plans (including keto, low-fat, and vegan diets). This is an eating style that is associated with the foods consumed in rural Greece and Italy in the 1960s. There is no one “Mediterranean Diet,” but it’s a useful generic term that refers to a diet that includes an abundance of natural, whole, and unprocessed foods; protein from lean sources such as poultry, fish, and legumes; and healthy fats such as olive oil, and those found in avocados, nuts, and seeds. If taking on an entirely new way of eating seems daunting, consider following these two simple rules:

Avoid Added Sugars: Eating and drinking added sugars leads to increased health risks, including weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Identifying added sugars can be tricky since they can come in savory foods such as ketchup, salad dressing, and pasta sauces. Naturally occurring sugars are those found in whole fruits, some vegetables (think sweet potatoes), whole grains, and (unsweetened) dairy products—anything else is added. If you are unsure of a product, read the ingredients on the label. It’s also a good idea to know the many alternative names used for sugar, such as rice syrup, barley malt, and dextrose, for example.

Choose Whole Grains: Refined grains have been stripped of valuable nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, and fiber. Without these essential components, refined grains are treated, much like added sugars in the body leading to the same health risks listed above. It’s best to choose grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole oats. If you are going to select a loaf of bread, make sure that whole grain is one of the first ingredients listed.

Now that you’ve done the groundwork, you are ready to get started on an improved nutrition plan, custom-tailored to your needs.