We all know we should eat healthy, but we also all have times when we are rushed or have too much to do to stop and eat a healthy meal. Some people more than others exist on a diet of fast food, junk food, processed meals, high sugar, trans fat and simple carb filled meals. At some point though they will pay for this type of eating as an unhealthy diet can cause an inflammatory state in the body and lead to many diseases including heart disease and diabetes. Food is our body's fuel that gives us the energy and nutrients to keep the body in good working order, looking good and feeling good. The type of fuel you put into the body makes all the difference. Just like your car can't run on water, an unhealthy diet won't keep your body running smoothly and efficiently. Even if you are really pressed for time and don't eat healthy most of the time, it's never too late to make some changes and there are things you can do to reap the benefits of eating healthy.
With TV shows, the internet, and magazines full of articles about healthy eating, you probably already know the types of foods to be eating to eat healthy. Your diet should include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats. Let's look at some easy ways that even the busiest people can add more of the right types of foods into their diets to eat healthy.
1. Get More Nutrition from What You Eat
One consideration besides the types of foods you are eating is how you are digesting those foods. If your digestive system isn't performing its job then the body isn't getting the benefits of whatever you are eating. Your digestive system is responsible for breaking food down into small enough particles that it can go from the intestines to the bloodstream and be carried to other organs and parts of the body to fuel them. Our bodies have various digestive enzymes that play a major role in breaking food down. Lipase breaks down fat molecules and helps the body store fat. A shortage of lipase can compromise the circulation and contribute to high blood pressure and high cholesterol and degrade the immune system. Protease breaks down proteins to produce amino acids which are vital to growth and overall health. Cellulase breaks down cellulose which is found in fruits and vegetables we eat. Amylase breaks down starch molecules and has been found to relieve mental fatigue and helps in maintaining a healthy mind and body. Then to break down sugars you need maltase and sucrose, and for dairy products the enzyme lactase helps with its digestion.
If you are eating lots of processed or refined foods, sugary foods, or heavily cooked foods, then your enzymes may be suffering. These along with environmental toxins and chlorinated water can all kill off the digestive enzymes we need for good digestion. To replenish these enzymes from our foods, we can eat lots of raw or lightly cooked vegetables and fruits and chew them completely. The easy way for those on the go to do this is to cut up raw fruits and veggies ahead of time and keep a supply of them already in small bags or containers in the fridge to grab as you head out the door. Another solution is to take a high quality enzyme supplement. Adding food enzyme supplements to the diet can help in completing the metabolization of fat, proteins and carbs when taken with food and when taken between meals they are absorbed into the blood and can help clean out residual food particles. Having a supply of extra enzymes working for you can also help with controlling acid reflux, heartburn, cramping, gas and bloating, and reduce inflammation in joints and muscles. Since there are various individual factors that influence the speed and efficiency of your digestive system, enzyme biochemist Devin Houston, Ph.D. advises starting with one capsule at mealtime to see the effects it has on you and trying out different amounts according to how much you have eaten. For example, a large meal may require a couple of capsules before and a couple more after the meal. You don't have to worry about experimenting with digestive enzyme supplements as most are safe enough and your body will use what it needs and discard the rest through waste material. If you have any concerns about taking them safely with any medications you are on then of course you should consult your healthcare provider.
2. The Pay-off From Probiotics
Keeping a good supply of healthy probiotics, the friendly bacteria that live in your intestines, in your system is another simple way to get the most out of the food you eat. Probiotics are important in digestion and produce many of the vitamins your body needs like B12, B6 and K2 and help your body absorb minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium. They also fight off unfriendly bacteria that can make us sick, help clear waste out of the body and they are able to digest the insoluble fiber that we can't digest. Probiotics have also been found to boost mood through their interaction with the central nervous system.
There are foods that you can get probiotics from, in fact many products today are adding probiotics in them. What you have to be careful of in these cases though is to make sure you are getting live active cultures in these foods and know what types of probiotics are included. Your intestines have over 3000 types of friendly bacteria and various ones have different roles to play. Some good food sources of probiotics are yogurt and kefir, with kefir having more strains than you find generally in yogurt. These bacteria are heat sensitive so dairy products being kept cold helps them survive and thrive. Milk also has a complex carbohydrate that helps feed the bacteria. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, sour pickles, and miso are other good food source for probiotics. Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD, executive director of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics warns though that making these fermented foods yourself or finding a source that is labeled as raw fermented is the only way to insure the bacteria in them are live. Processing of fermented foods will kill the live cultures as does exposing them to high heat.
A simple way to get your probiotics is with high quality supplements especially of acidophilus and bifidus. When looking at supplements look for a minimum of a billion colony forming units or CFUs on the label, ones that contain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, check expiration dates and for best results store them in a cool location. A good probiotic supplement will also contain a prebiotic which feeds the probiotic in the form of an insoluble fiber. If you see ingredients listed on the label such as inulin, FOS, GOS, or polydextrose then that product has prebiotics. You can also get prebiotics by eating foods such as asparagus, artichokes, wheat, oats, soybeans, bananas, onions and garlic.
3. Changing What and How Much You Eat
At some point as you become more aware of the benefits of eating healthy, you are going to have to make some changes to your diet and possibly the amount you eat. If you consume more calories regularly than you burn off each day you will eventually gain weight. Even if you are able to eat as much as you want of whatever you want now because you have a metabolism that is able to handle it, at some point this will probably catch up with you. As we age our metabolisms slow down and what goes in will have to balance with how much the body uses up and burns off. There are easy ways to start changing some of your eating habits now without having to measure and weigh and count every calorie that goes into your mouth. First take a look at your dishes. How big is the plate you use or the bowl? You might try using the smaller plates or bowls in your set to avoid overfilling your plate with food. I know that I am less likely to go back for seconds when I am watching my weight, so that's not a problem, and using a smaller plate helps me to eat enough to be full, but not eat past being full. Also fixing your plate from foods in the kitchen and then going to the dining room to eat instead of bringing the food all out to eat "family style" removes the temptation to fill your plate up again. Don't worry about having leftovers. If it is something that will keep and be good for another meal then you've just saved yourself some time and found another way to eat healthy the next day at work instead of running out for a burger.
You may need to do some research or ask your healthcare provider for help figuring how many calories a day you need to eat for optimal health. It will vary according to age, sex, and how much exercise you get or how active a person you are. Some people may need to initially measure or weight portions to learn how much of certain foods translate into a certain amount of calories, but start paying attention to what that amount looks like. Then find something familiar to you to compare it to and it will make it much easier in the future to get the right amounts. For example, if you are eating a chicken breast and you see that the right size for you would fit in the palm of your hand, then next time you go for chicken, you'll know to get a size about the size of the palm of your hand.
4. Look For Healthier Eating Solutions
With a little thought and creativity, you can change the more unhealthy foods you are eating into foods that allow you to eat healthy. You might also find ways to substitute a healthier option. My big weakness as a comfort food is potato chips, but I find that substituting air popped popcorn gives me the crunch, convenience and salt I'm craving without all the trans fats and preservatives of chips. Crunchy veggies and fruits like carrots and apples can sometimes be good for stress eating as there is lots of chewing and crunching. Start becoming aware of what you are eating and when you are eating it. Do you seek comfort foods when emotional, eat junk food when stressed or snack out of boredom? Becoming aware of these eating patterns can be the first step to changing them.
For many people in the U.S., more than half the calories they should be getting a day are coming from sugars and solid fats. Really start paying attention to what is in the food you are eating and make a conscious choice to take away one thing at a time that is sugar-filled, a simple carbohydrate which breaks down into sugar or an unhealthy fat like saturated, trans, or solid. A good example is soda. I know several people who once they became aware of the number of calories in a soda drink chose to wean themselves off by substituting iced tea or water. It didn't take long to really see a difference in their weight. When I cook or bake, I take a good look at any recipe for salt, flour, sugar and oils or fats called for. Then I make substitutions for those ingredients with healthier options. This doesn't always work for every recipe, but I find it works most of the time to substitute a natural sweetener for sugar or a healthier type of oil instead of butter or shortening. There are lots of recipes available from the internet that will allow you to enjoy your favorite types of food and still eat healthy. Just spend a little time doing some research. If you really don't have the time to cook, many health food stores today have healthy options for take-out. Consider that alternative before doing a drive-thru or restaurant delivery.
5. Whole Food Supplements
Even if you do eat healthy on a regular basis, you may not be getting the optimal benefits of eating healthy because so many of our food sources that are available to us these days are lacking in vital nutrients. This is when whole food supplements can be a tremendous help in picking up the slack and providing us with nutrition we are missing from our foods alone. AFA or aphanizomenon flos aquae bluegreen algae has the exact ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that humans need, has all 20 amino acids, provides a complete source of protein in an amino acid profile nearly identical to human breast milk, has 75% usable high quality protein compared to the 18% red meat delivers, provides the mental activator PEA (phenylethylamine), gives you powerful antioxidants, such as chlorophyll, superoxide dismutase, glutathione, and phycocyanin which protect cells from oxidative damage, help with cellular repair, replace lipids in the membranes that have been damaged and act as cleansers or scavengers for free radicals, offers dozens of essential vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, and has an ideal balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, complex sugars, and fiber. This supplement comes in small tablets, capsules or powdered forms, so whichever is your preference you can get all this wholefood nutrition anytime, anywhere. Even easier are these conveniently packaged capsules of two types of AFA bluegreen algae, acidophilus, bifidus and a digestive enzyme that are easy to take with you on the go or when traveling.
I know change can be hard, but your health is too important to not start making some changes now. Learning how to eat healthy doesn't have to be an agonizing experience. Just start observing your eating habits and see where you can substitute foods, make ingredient changes in foods, read labels so you know what you are getting and avoid unhealthy ingredients and learn how to judge how much food you can eat for a healthy amount of calories. If all that sounds too much, do what you can now and pick even just one simple goal towards healthy eating and make use of wholefood supplements to help you get the nutrition you are missing. As you start to see all the benefits of eating healthy, your motivation to make more changes will improve and you'll be on your way to a healthier, longer, more enjoyable life.