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Clean Eating 101: How to Eat Healthy

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Clean Eating 101: How to Eat Healthy | Little Flecks of Gold

It's the time of year where we're motivated to clean up our eating habits: we're feeling kind of gross after the holidays and we want to start fresh with the New Year. It is a great time to make some healthy eating goals, but you have to be careful. There's a lot of healthy eating advice out there, and a lot of it isn't scientifically founded. Following some of it can be just as bad as following fad diets. I've done a lot of research on nutrition, although I still don't consider myself an expert (which is why I'll give you some expert resources so you can decide for yourself.) Here's what I've learned and what works for me:

In a nutrition class I took, we learned three principles of healthy eating: moderation, variety and balance. These are each essential to a healthy diet and pretty much every principle of good nutrition can be traced back to these three things.

Moderation
Don't overeat.
We all know it's bad to overeat, but avoiding it is easier said than done. However, there are a couple of things that help me not to overeat:
  1. Stay hydrated. Your body can confuse thirst for hunger, so drink up! Eight glasses a day is a good benchmark, but if you want a more specific number, try using this calculator.
  2. Don't let yourself get too hungry. The hungrier you are when you eat a meal, the more you will end up eating. To avoid this, make sure you eat at the first physical signs of hunger (not to be confused with boredom, stress, etc.)
  3. Eat nutrient-dense foods. Fruits and vegetables have less calories as well as more water content and fiber. This helps your body fill up faster and feel full longer.
Control your portions.
Another thing that's easier said than done. Some foods, nuts for examples, are a good source of important nutrients but are high in calories. In order to avoid a calorie surplus, it's important to control your portions of these foods. My favorite trick for portion control is to measure out portions ahead of time so I can just grab and go. 

Limit sources of trans fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.
Each of these substances can be detrimental to your health in high amounts. Trans and saturated fat promote the production of LDL (bad cholesterol, in a nutshell,) sugar is linked to diabetes and a number of other health problems and salt can cause hypertension (high blood pressure.) You don't have to cut these out of your diet completely, but definitely don't overdo it.

Variety 
Eat the rainbow.
Different colors of fruits and vegetables have different nutrients: yellow and orange vegetables have beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A,) citrus fruits and berries are a good source of vitamin C, and dark green vegetables have a whole plethora of nutrients, including vitamin K and folate. In order to get all of these vital nutrients, it's important to eat a variety of produce. One of the easiest ways to make sure you're doing this is just to examine the colors of fruits and vegetables you're eating.

Balance
Don't eliminate macronutrients (fat, carbs, protein.)
Fat, carbohydrates and protein all play important roles in the body and you need all of them to function properly. Contrary to popular belief, neither fat or carbs make you fat: too many calories do. Get a balanced amount of each nutrient: fat should make up around 15-35% of your calories, carbohydrates should make up 45-55% and protein should make up 10-35%.

Don't eliminate food groups.
Cutting out gluten, dairy or meat isn't necessary for optimum health and can be harmful in the long run (however, if  you're allergic to something, that's a whole different story. You still should work with a doctor to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need.) I went through a phase where I barely ate any meat and I ended up feeling lousy because I wasn't getting enough iron or protein. It's best to include a little bit of everything in your diet. (Another note: if you are vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons, I applaud you. It can definitely be done in a healthy way. Do your research and talk to your doctor or a dietitian if necessary.)

Eat more nutrient-dense foods.
There are two kinds of food: energy-dense and nutrient-dense. Energy-dense foods have more calories, while nutrient-dense foods have more vitamins and minerals. In order to achieve calorie equilibrium (or a deficit, if you're trying to lose weight,) it's best to eat more nutrient-dense foods so you can have enough nutrients for a lower caloric price.

Set realistic expectations.
You don't need to eat 100% organic and it's okay to have "junk food" here and there. If you give yourself standards that are too rigid, you're setting yourself up to fail. If you're just beginning, start with small goals, like eating fruit for desert after dinner or drinking more water.

More Resources:

P.S. Think healthy eating has to be expensive? Check out my Ten Cheap and Healthy Foods! Also, I did a guest post today on Hey Sassy Girl. Check it out!

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