This is the time of year when many make a resolution to eat healthy in the new year. There are so many plans to choose from: vegan, Paleo, Mediterranean, Okinawan, low fat, low carb – how do you know which one to choose?
The truth is that there is not one perfect diet out there that works for everyone. As humans, we are complex and diverse. Our individual genetics and microbiomes play a role in how food reacts in our bodies and these reactions are as varied as the types of food in existence. However, there are common themes that are timeless which can be found in most healthful diets.
1. Eat an abundance and variety of plant foods. Aim for at least 7- 9 servings of vegetables/fruits daily. These foods contain necessary nutrients but also fiber and phytochemicals that cannot be consumed in a pill. Phytochemicals in plants modulate metabolic pathways in humans which affect inflammation, oxidation, cell cycle control and detoxification. They play a role in protection against cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions such as macular degeneration, arthritis, diabetes and hypertension.
- Add herbs and spices to your food for an additional nutritional benefit.
- Consuming nuts, seeds, and legumes are also great sources of nutrition.
2. A low carbohydrate diet has benefits for those who are insulin resistant. If you have a tendency to gain weight around middle or have high blood sugar, insulin, triglycerides, diabetes or a risk of diabetes, then you will benefit from a low glycemic diet
- A low glycemic diet avoids many processed foods.
- Visit www.mendosa.com to learn about the glycemic index.
3. Add fiber to your diet. Many Americans are woefully lacking in fiber. Fiber improves constipation, decreases risks of heart disease, colon cancer, and obesity. It increases your feeling of fullness, and decreases the amount of cholesterol and sugar absorbed from our food which helps with weight loss.
- Good sources of fiber include many vegetables, fruits, seeds, and legumes.
- The minimal requirements of fiber are 25 -38 grams per day.
4. Include pre- and probiotics for a healthy gut. We are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of a healthy intestinal microbiome. Consuming fiber and pre- and probiotics aids in your digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Add fermented foods with live cultures, such as miso, fermented vegetables, and fermented dairy, to your diet on a daily basis.
5. Eat whole foods. There isn’t a nutrition camp out there that advocates eating more processed foods. Whole foods are those that are closest to their natural sources as you can get. For example, eating an orange gives you fiber and whole host of nutrients while pasteurized orange juice which is mostly sugar with little fiber.
- Find what works for you. For some, it may be making stocks/broths at home, while for others, it may be eating a whole fruit or, for others still, eating whole grains like wheat berries or barley instead of white flour.
6. Eat local and seasonal foods. Research has shown that fruits and vegetables that are eaten when ripe and closer to time of harvest are more nutritious than those which are picked early, then ripened after shipping.
- Find a local farm market or asked your grocer for locally grown foods.
7. Pay attention and become aware of what we eat. Smaller amounts can be more satisfying when we can enjoy the taste higher quality foods. Improving our diets can eliminate nutritional deficiencies so we end up eating less foods but feel better. When we start to pay attention to how our bodies feel, we often begin to think about physical activity and impact of stress on our lives, which brings about more healthy changes.
8. Eat quality animal proteins (if this is part of your diet).
- Avoid meats from animals that are grain-fed (look for wild or pasture-raised instead).
- Limit your intake of red and processed meats.
- Cut down on portion sizes.