Welcome back to Healthy Living 101, a monthly health column featuring articles written by Marla Brodsky (RD, LD, BCIM). Marla is a Registered Dietitian and specialist in integrative medicine, with many years experience in clinical nutrition and research. To learn more about Marla, read her bio here. *This post is not intended as medical advice.
New Year’s resolutions are often land mines for setting yourself up for failure. I believe the best approach to harness all those “good intentions” that accompany the beginning of a fresh calendar year is to find simple things you can do to move yourself in the direction of your goals. Often those changes make you feel so much better, that they snowball into more changes without much effort. When it comes to health, this can be achieved relatively simply by being mindful of a few easy changes. Here are a few things to try in 2015:
1. Get a handle on sugar intake.
This change is number 1 for a reason. Eating too much sugar can cause many health issues. These include obesity, diabetes, inflammation and tiredness. Sugar is often found in surprising places such as marinara sauce, salad dressing, peanut butter and “healthy” smoothies. In processed foods, sugar has over 50 names, making it even tougher to know how much you are consuming. So start reading your labels for your ingredients ending in “ose,” “tol,” and dextrins.
2. Stop making fat the enemy.
For a long time we’ve been taught that we should be eating a low-fat diet, and that all fats are bad for weight, cholesterol, inflammation and disease in general. Often in an effort to reduce fat intake, we have replaced fat calories with carbohydrate calories including more flour, sugar, grains and starches. All carbs convert to sugar in the body (see tip #1 above). Now we are learning that stable fats (grass-fed butter or ghee, avocado, coconut oil, nuts, olive oil and seeds) may be healthier than unstable industrially extracted seed or grain oils such as corn, canola, soybean or manmade hydrogenated oils.
3. Make vegetables the main course at least 2 days per week.
Eating more vegetables is one of the single most powerful ways to improve health. The key is to choose the most colorful ones you can find, since the protective compounds are usually found in the pigments of the plant. Try a colorful veggie stew, curry, or veggie smoothie for breakfast, lunch, or dinner this week. You will feel your energy soar.
4. Waste some energy and be less efficient.
2015 is a time in our human existence where we have become uber-efficient. We can run our homes via remote control, get our dinner, coffee, and medications via drive-thru, and run our companies by sitting in front of a screen. Consider getting up and moving more. Try turning the channel manually, parking at the end of the lot and walking, doing housework like your grandma did it, or shunning the elevator for the stairs this week. It could make a huge difference on your body. Our body is meant to be used, so move it.
5. Get cooking.
Even if you feel as if you have a hard time boiling water, this might be the most important skill you can learn to improve your health. All great chefs know that simply putting fresh quality ingredients together is the best method for achieving great taste. This is the method to achieve nutritious food too. Take back control of your health by knowing what ingredients are in your food. The only true way to do this is to make it yourself.
For example: Try sautéing greens until limp with olive oil, garlic, lemon and sprinkling with pine nuts or seeds. You can use the same lemon, olive oil, garlic and an herb of your choice to marinate and grill fish, chicken, or beans to put over the greens for a quick healthy meal.
6. Stand up straight!
Do what your mother told you as a kid. Good posture can prevent a host of neck, back and joint issues. Computers, tablets and smartphones have made us all slump. You should be able to stand in front of a wall and have the back of your head and shoulders touch it. If not, pull your chin back, bring your shoulders down and back like a bird closing its wings, and pull your bellybutton toward your spine. Core strengthening exercises such as pilates are an excellent way to improve balance, back pain, posture, and joint issues. Maybe try a class in 2015?
7. Get a good gut feeling.
There is a reason we call it a “gut feeling” when something feels right. Most of our immune system resides in our gastrointestinal tract. Bacteria do more for our bodies than our liver does. In fact, we have 100 times more bacterial cells than human ones. Our gut is connected to our brain function, detoxifying system, sleep cycles, hormones and immunity. Keep it healthy by eating more fiber, fermented foods such as natural sourkraut or miso, and taking a probiotic. Too much sugar, antibiotics, and processed food harm healthy bacteria and cause an imbalance in the gut. This leads to poor digestion and altered immunity. Identify all food sensitivities by doing an elimination diet with a dietitian if necessary.
Happy healthy New Year to all of you!