They say you are what you eat. One of the biggest things you can do to improve the quality of your life is to improve the quality of what you eat. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done.
We live in a sea of easy-to-get, cheap food villains waiting at every turn to rob us of good eating habits. Fast food, processed foods in handy packages, sugary snacks and drinks are all traps. Obesity is a major health concern as well as the consequences it brings like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Fortunately, there are ways to fight back and make a significant difference in the quality of the food you and your family eats, dramatically improving the quality of your life. Here are 10 tips to get you moving in the right direction.
- Get whole family ‘buy-in’
It’s tough to go this alone. Have a family meeting to discuss the importance of healthy eating and stress the benefits of having a longer, healthier life for everyone in the family. Once there is a family commitment, sit down and design a plan.
Sticking to a new eating plan, in the beginning, is work. Remember, plan your work and then work your plan.
- Plan, plan, plan
Plan a healthy meal list and shop weekly for the ingredients so you will have them on-hand and ready to go. There is nothing that will derail a family healthy eating program faster than not having the healthy foods available when everyone is hungry and there is a fast food restaurant a short distance away. You have to be prepared.
I would recommend meeting with a dietician to develop a plan, consult online-dietician-developed meal plans, or, initially, consider a service that provides healthy, pre-made meals for you like “Seattle Suttons” or “Hello Fresh.” Review with your doctor or dietician what the appropriate weight for each member of the family should be and what the appropriate daily caloric intake of each member should be. This is the starting point.
- Power-pack meals with protein
There is no one magic food that will make or break a healthy lifestyle change, but proteins are titans when it comes to good food health. Consult with your dietician or doctor for specifics, but, in general, you should get approximately 25-30 percent of total calories from protein.
Focus on lean meats, fish and nuts. Minimize red meat consumption. Proteins are the most important component of making us feel full and giving a knock-out blow to hunger pangs, as well as providing our bodies with the building blocks to repair and grow.
- Soar high with vegetables
The best vitamins in the world are in fresh vegetables. Make your plates filled with colorful vegetables, the more the better. Talk to your dietician or search online for tips to incorporate more vegetables into a meal plan for kids. The nice thing about vegetables is that they come in a variety of textures and can be prepared in many different ways to keep meals exciting.
Vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber. A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can help to decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of some forms of cancer, heart disease, eye disease and strokes. Fiber found in vegetables and fruits is great for your digestive health and can help to regulate blood sugar, which can in turn help keep your appetite under control by making you feel full.
- Be brainy with beverages
Avoid all sugar-loaded drinks like sodas, fruit juices, and even sports drinks. It’s like just emptying several packages of sugar into your mouth. It promotes diabetic tendencies and does nothing to satisfy your hunger.
Stick with no-sugar drinks like water, flavored sparkling and plain water, tea and coffee. A nifty trick is to squirt a splash of fresh lemon or lime into water or tea to make it delicious.
- Don’t forget fish and seafood
Because of the dramatic health benefits of fish oils like omega-3 fatty acids, load up on protein-packed seafood like tuna, salmon, halibut, shrimp and others. Fish is brain food. Your dietician and/or online guides can get you off to a great start here.
- Become an ‘Ace’ on portion control
This is probably the most important thing you can do to make a healthy eating program work. In our daily lives, restaurants have reprogrammed and deceived us when it comes to what a normal portion size is. Consult a dietician or online guides for a reality check on normal portion sizes so your plans are on solid ground.
In general, use a palm-sized portion of both protein and grains per meal (about the size of a deck of playing cards), and load up on vegetables and (to a slightly lesser degree) fruits for the rest of the meal.
- For desserts, let fruits become fantastic
Fruits can be a quick, easy, healthy natural snack. Strawberries, blueberries, melons, apples and pears are all sweet treats rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals that are great for your digestive tract, your overall health, and to meet your sweet-tooth demands.
They are convenient, nutritious and delicious. They can also help maintain healthy energy levels. No single fruit or vegetable will provide you with every important nutrient, so make it a challenge to eat fruits and vegetables of a variety of colors daily.
- Consider a ‘Mulligan’ day
A couple of times per year, give yourself permission to indulge. This may coincide with a birthday celebration, a vacation, or a trip to the State Fair. Being too restrictive is not a healthy approach nor a recipe for success.
- Remember to use helpers
- Eat slowly. It takes a while to feel full, and this will help keep calories within a target range.
- Exercise at least every other day. Start with walking and work your way up. This, combined with healthy eating and regular doctor check-ups, are the three most important things you can do for better health.
- Don’t be afraid to get things started with a personal trainer. Everyone needs a little help and guidance to get going sometimes. Many fitness centers will offer free personal training sessions with their memberships.
- Have healthy snacks handy and readily available. Fruits, cut vegetables, and a wide variety of nuts make great healthy snacks. They are delicious and nutritious and convenient. By keeping these available, temping bad snacks won’t get the best of you.
- Keep consulting online information for healthy meal ideas.
- Be sure to check with your doctor and a dietician for advice on how best to get your program started.
- Don’t get frustrated with minor setbacks. It happens to everyone. Write it off and get back on track.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.