By Rosanne Rust
It’s National Nutrition Month, and I really love this year’s theme: “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.”
When it comes to eating, enjoyment is important. We eat for a variety of reasons. While it sounds good to say, “only eat when you are hungry,” the fact is that in a land of abundance, we often eat when we are not. This is not always a bad thing, and guilt should never surround any sort of healthy eating.
Sometimes, we confuse healthy eating habits with a healthy diet, and there is lots of disagreement about what the “healthiest diet” is. Some experts feel that a vegan diet (plant-based diet void of all animal products) is the healthiest diet. Others feel a Mediterranean style diet or the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, voted “best diet” by US News and World Report the past two years) is “best.”
Rather than argue about which diet is best, I think it may be much more important to define “healthy eating habits.” “Eating right” involves not just including healthy foods in your diet but also establishing healthy “habits” and “attitudes” toward food and eating. Healthy eating includes eating foods that nourish your body but also eating foods that you enjoy. Since your body functions best when it is provided with calories (energy) and nutrients throughout the day, establishing a regular schedule for eating also helps define “healthy eating habits.”
A healthy diet should include mostly whole foods, lots of plants (fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts), whole grains and small amounts of healthy fats. Other sources of protein can also be included (lean meats, poultry, fish), and you can include some processed grains such as breads, cereals or pasta. Those healthy fats are the ones that come from nuts and seeds, fatty fish and some vegetable oils, but it’s also OK to include some other sources of fat and sugar occasionally (noting that these treats are to be enjoyed in small portions).
Consider adopting these five easy goals to add more joy to eating:
n Ditch guilt. There seems to be a lot of guilt that goes around with eating certain foods. This is counterintuitive to the idea that we can enjoy eating right. Just because you treated yourself to french fries at lunch doesn’t negate all of the healthy foods you did choose through the day or week. Don’t feel guilty — simply enjoy variety, be aware of portions of less-healthy foods and work toward including more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet.
n Be mindful. Sometimes your body tells you what it wants. There’s often a reason you crave salt or chocolate. Be mindful of those cues, but make reasonable choices. Also, become more mindful of “mindless eating.” If you find you head for a snack when you are stressed, consider replacing that behavior with a healthier one (take a short walk, have a glass of water or a cup of herbal tea instead). Portion out the food you crave so you have a definite stop point.
n Slow down. This is the followup to mindful eating. Often, we eat too fast without thinking about it. This can lead to both overeating and also a lack of satisfaction. Avoid eating at your desk at work. Even if you don’t have a full hour for lunch, take at least 20 minutes away from your desk. Take time to look at, smell, chew and really taste your food.
n Eat fresh. There’s nothing like a fresh, ripe piece of fruit, eating fresh, crisp salads, freshly sautéed asparagus or freshly breaded chicken. The quality of fresh food is worth spending some money on. Cook some meals from scratch. Bake an easy loaf of banana bread. Enjoy the taste and smells of fresh food. Bring some things home from our local farmer’s markets this spring and cook up something good.
n Don’t eliminate food groups. Recent diet crazes that follow high-protein, wheat-free or gluten-free diets has sent the message to the masses that somehow avoiding certain foods will do you some good (weight loss, control diabetes, better skin, cure cancer, etc.). There’s no scientific evidence at all to back this up. Unless you have a medical diagnosis that supports the need for a gluten-free diet or avoiding grain, dairy, etc., there is no reason to shun these perfectly healthy foods.
Rosanne Rust, a local registered dietitian and author, can be contacted on Facebook by searching Rust Nutrition, on Twitter @rustnutrition, by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on her blog at chewthefacts.com.