It can be hard to weed through all of the healthy-eating rules that are constantly thrown our way. Good-for-you foods can quickly change to foods you should avoid, and snacking is deemed acceptable by some and forbidden by others. Between all of the conflicting rules, determining what and when you should be eating can be extremely confusing. To help you wade through all of the nutritional information out there, here is a list of seven guidelines that nutritionists swear by.
1. Eat breakfast
“It’s hard to find someone to disagree with you on this point. Breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism and gets you fueled up to start your day,” Katie Cavuto, M.S., R.D., says to Women’s Health. In fact, studies show that eating a healthy breakfast (sorry, no donuts!) can help give you a more nutritional, well-rounded diet that’s higher in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, which leads to improved concentration and performance, more strength and endurance, and lower cholesterol levels, according to Web MD.
Looking for a quick and healthy recipe to kick-start your day? Try this Women’s Health recipe for ricotta swirl. There are 29 grams of protein packed into this bowl, ensuring you will stay nice and full until lunch.
- 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon honey
- ½ cup chopped papaya
- ½ teaspoon flaxseeds
Directions: Stir ricotta with honey, then top with papaya and flaxseeds.
2. Eat plenty of vegetables
When you’re sitting down to eat lunch or dinner, a quick glance at your plate will help you determine whether you’re following this rule. One Medical writes that half of your plate should be piled high with vegetables. The more crunchy veggies you can consume the better, so try to eat as much broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, and leafy greens, such as kale and Swiss chard, as you can. Curious about what to put on the other half of your plate? Whole grains or legumes should fill one quarter, while a serving of healthy, lean protein should fill the other.
Follow this rule, and your body will thank you. Eating a diet rich in vegetables can reduce your risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure, per ChooseMyPlate.gov. Crunchy greens are key to living a healthier life.
3. Avoid refined flour and sugar
Have high standards when it comes to the foods you eat. Only find a spot in your kitchen for food that is rich in nutrients and bursting with antioxidants. That means it’s time to say sayonara to refined flour and sugar. “I don’t cook with or eat either of them. They’re nothing more than calories, so I don’t make them part of my diet,” Cheryl Forberg, RD, author of Stop the Clock! Cooking, and the behind-the-scenes dietitian for NBC’s The Biggest Loser, tells Prevention.
If you abide by this rule, you’ll notice your kitchen will begin to look a lot more colorful. Rather than white sugar and flour, your cupboards and fridge should be filled with grapefruit, spinach, fish, lean meat, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Your insides will be healthier, and your skin will look better too, Forberg tells Prevention.
4. Chew your food
The next time you’re eating, really pay attention to your chewing. If you’re a fast eater and consider food chewed after two quick chomps, it’s time to slow down. Digestion begins in your mouth, nutritionist Michael Roussell writes in a Men’s Health article. When you chew, your food causes your body to release insulin in small amounts, which is a good thing. It leads to better blood sugar control, meaning you’re likely to burn more fat.
It’s also important to chew slowly because it takes a while for your body to realize it’s full. Livestrong writes that it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to fully register when you’ve had enough to eat. By eating slower, you’ll most likely reduce the amount of food you eat, which can be an easy way to help with weight loss. Eat nice and slow, take small bites, chew well, and enjoy the taste of your food.
For the fast eaters out there, there are a few tricks you can use to ensure you slow down a bit when eating. Livestrong suggests putting your fork down in between bites, which will help extend the amount of time it takes you to eat. Try to limit distractions, too. If you’re watching TV while eating, you may not even realize how fast you’re working your way through your food. Turn the TV off, and focus on taking slow, small bites.
5. Skip fast food
Even though many fast food restaurants are now trying to offer healthy options, many still serve huge portions that include a lot of artificially preserved ingredients, Shelly Marie Redmond, R.D., tells Women’s Health. Eating fast food can lead to heart disease; there is a ton of salt and fat crammed into each serving. Fast food relies heavily on both saturated and trans fats, which contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels and other heart disease risk factors, per Livestrong.
It’s also linked to weight gain. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute commissioned a study in 2004 that followed young adults who ate fast food. Over a period of fifteen years, the participants who ate fast food over two times each week gained 10 more pounds and had higher insulin resistance compared to those who ate it less than once per week, Livestrong writes.
For fast food eaters who are hoping to kick the habit, start by gradually cutting back. Determine how many times you hit McDonald’s each week, and then slowly begin to cut back on that number until you’re no longer stopping there at all. If you absolutely have to get something from a fast food chain, order the smallest size on the menu and look for the healthiest alternatives. Try to make the healthiest possible choices.
6. Stay hydrated
Drinking lots of water is extremely important for your overall health. First, you need to determine how much water your body needs each day. Everyday Health writes that women should strive for about two liters, or eight glasses a day, while men should try for three liters, or 12 glasses a day, of any fluid, not just water (although you should try to make the majority of it water). “No one can figure out where this ‘eight glasses of water’ came from, but I believe it came from the old RDA [recommended daily allowance] for water that matched water requirements to calorie requirements,” Georgia Chavent, MS, RD, tells Everyday Health. “The new requirement from the Institute of Medicine is much more generous and includes recommendations for total beverage consumption, not just water.”
Why focus on water? It helps flush toxins from your body and can help you lose weight. Drinking water helps to replace other high-calorie beverages, causing you to reduce your daily calorie intake. Water also makes you feel fuller, ensuring you don’t eat as much at dinner. The benefits keep on coming. Cold water may even help to increase your metabolism. “Researchers in Germany found that subjects of the study increased their metabolic rates [or the rate at which calories are burned] by 30 percent after drinking approximately 17 ounces of water,” Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD, tells Everyday Health.
7. Don’t skip meals
Skipping meals not only slows down your metabolism, but it can also cause you to overeat later in the day, Jaclyn London, M.S., R.D., tells Women’s Health. Never turn to skipping meals as a weight loss solution; it will only cause negative side affects. According to Fit Day, skipping meals causes your blood sugar to drop and spike. When you forgo lunch, your blood sugar drops, causing you to feel sluggish and tired. It can also cause issues with your insulin, and if you do it often enough, you could increase your risk of developing diabetes later in life.
Additionally, when you skip meals, you aren’t providing your body with the nutrients it needs. No lunch means no fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or lean meats, which all help to keep your body running at its best. These key foods can also help to ward off cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. When you skip a meal, you’re denying your body a lot of great benefits.
Finally, if you’re skipping meals to assist with weight loss, there’s a good chance it’s doing the exact opposite. Fit Day writes that when you eat, your metabolism breaks the food into smaller, usable parts. But if you skip a meal, your metabolism just sits there. When it doesn’t have anything to do, it begins to slow down. The next time you eat, your metabolism won’t break the food down as quickly and will end up storing it as fat. The lesson here? Eat healthy foods when you’re hungry!