Eating healthy is not complicated

I know this sounds a bit over simplistic but I mean it. Eating healthy should not be complicated. It is us as a consumer driven, over-stressed and lethargic society that make it complicated. If we broke it down to the basics, a healthy diet would include plenty of fruits, vegetables and foods in their most natural state. Think back to our ancestors. They did not have the numerous ingredients we find on food labels today. They never had their food go through processing which strips food of its most vital nutrients and minerals. They foraged and hunted for their every meal until the agricultural revolution brought an ease to food production which has quite frankly diminished the quality of food. But enough about why we are not the healthiest society and how we got there. Let’s focus on the now and why I think eating healthy is not complicated.

I know we are overloaded with information about health which can make it overwhelming to distinguish what is actually healthy. I say this is something we should accept as a product of our society and move forward. From here, it is up to each individual to change our way of thinking and perceiving the concept of eating and health. We need to block out and not succumb to food marketing tactics. We have to stop and think about why we are buying the products we are considering at the store – because there is a sale or ad which appealed to us or because there is a nutritional value added from the purchase. Logical distinction, right? We need to learn to discern the real meaning of information we are presented with and seek complete information about our food and nutrition. Without this type of involvement with our food, I think it is difficult to see the real simplicity behind eating healthy.

In my recent endeavor to change my diet to a vegan one, I have put a few healthy eating practices into motion which I would like to share as my tips to make this complicated topic a little less complicated, as it should be. I do want to make one disclaimer – complicated in the context of this post is not synonymous with easy. Easy is going through a drive-thru or buying frozen meals. And I’m sure no one needs me to know those two actions are far from healthy.
Here are the bullet pointed tips in no particular order.

  • Buy fresh AND seasonal produce from your local farmers market or join the CSA (I would be happy to share the one I have started using, just leave a comment if interested). There is really nothing like going to a farm and seeing the multitude of produce that has been grown. You really learn to appreciate the labor and time that went into this process. Anyone that has a garden or has attempted to start a garden (myself including) can understand this on a personal level. In any case, fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season are just about the best thing I think you can do to begin a healthier eating routine.
  • Plan your meals. This is a tough one for anyone that has a busy schedule or that plain and simple doesn’t like to plan. But this is the best way to make your food last longer, keep a better track of your eating and get the most nutrition out of your meals. Planning meals can happen once a week or throughout the week, whatever works for you. I like to plan after going to the farmers market on Sundays. That way I have what produce I need to use for the week in mind and I have some time to search for new recipes I want to try and create a plan for executing them during the week. You can plan your meals in your head, on a white board or in your phone, just do what works for you.
  • Plan for nutritionally balanced and diverse meals. This tip can go hand in hand with planning but for those that just want to try incorporating a nutritionally balanced meal a couple of times a week to start, this can simply be though through as you are cooking or getting ready to cook. One of my favorite diagrams floating around the nutritional world is the plate which shows how much of your plate should be made up of the four building blocks – Vegetables, Fruits, Whole Grains and Proteins. I don’t want to dwell on the details of how much of each so the rule of thumb I suggest is to fill your plate with color. If you can’t incorporate fruit into your lunch or dinner, be sure you eat a few pieces (and different types) for breakfast. One other tip I really liked is to include the colors of the rainbow in your food (think different types of fruits and veggies) and since white is not a color you will find in the rainbow, take out all the starchy whites (white rice, white bread, white sugar).
  • Look at food labels and take a minimalist approach when shopping. If I venture out of the produce, nuts, beans and grains sections at the market, I will usually pick up an item and study the label for it’s ingredients. When I come across ingredients I do not know, would not use in my kitchen or that puzzle me (think “natural flavors”) I say to myself, are all these things worth eating? Usually the answer teeters between taste and nutritional value and on the days I am feeling strong willpower, I will always say no. I know this isn’t a fool proof suggestion but I would say it is a step in the right direction and way of thinking about food.
  • Make your food! Prep it, chop it, slice it, do anything to it! This should be the fun part of eating healthy, putting together delicious dishes which are healthy and nutrient dense. The less you look at time in the kitchen as a chore and more as an experience you are using to achieve health, the more you will start to enjoy it. I even starting challenging myself to follow recipes less and try to be more creative with my meals.
  • Listen to your body. This is one of those things that although not complicated once understood, is a challenge to understand and implement into an everyday lifestyle. Listening to the needs of our body nutritionally, physically, spiritually is not an easy task with the amount of noise we face every day. All the distractions around us allow us to think we know the things we are doing are in line with society and we are following the norm but that norm differs for each of us. We have to get in tune with our body’s needs, deficiencies and respond to them. Although I wish there was a simple way to group the needs of certain individuals, I would genuinely suggest that each person find this out for themselves as that would be a much more fulfilling reward.

I have one final observation to point out in my healthy eating journey. When I first decided to become a vegetarian a little over 6 years ago, I knew it was going to be easy because of the many alternatives to meat. I thought how cool! I can stop eating meat but still eat things that resembled meat in taste and texture. I know some vegetarians have no desire for this void but for me it just seemed like an easy alternative to fill that gap. Well, in my wiser and more experienced days, I have learned that those products are also heavily processed. Their labels are often times convoluted and cluttered with things that are not any better than the meat products to begin with. I think this is a struggle for many vegetarians that like the resemblance of a burger between the burger bun on occasion. So what is my point? Moderation. Although I would much rather prefer to make a veggie burger from lentils and mushrooms or black beans and rice, I will on occasion now enjoy a veggie burger sold in a package. But this is not something I include as a staple in my grocery shopping anymore. I find that if I want to eat anything heavily processed, I should try to make it myself. That has even taught me to eat those items in more moderation because of the work that goes into them! Have you ever tried making bread? I have tried several amazing recipes which I cannot wait to try again but they really made me appreciate the effort that goes into making bread and that picking up a bag of bread wrapped in plastic does not come anywhere near replicating. Now if all that is not food for though to make a complicated issue uncomplicated, I don’t know what is!

Feel free to share in the comments section if you have more to add!

Here are some of the recent recipes I was able to snap shots of 🙂

Roasted Chickpea Salad

Mushroom and Cashew Bake

Chocolate Cashew Cheezecake