Now that Time Magazine is saying they were all wrong about saturated fats and people should actually eat butter(1), the world of nutrition just got a bit more confusing and contradictory.
As a yogi dedicated to integral wellness, nutrition is incredibly important to me, but so is simplicity. Here are six easy tips that I try to live by every day and every meal:
1. Cook healthy things that you like
I don’t believe in any diet that involves big sacrifices and tough restrictions on my diet. As a result I ignore the latest trends and forget all about paleo, South Beach, Atkins, Jenny Craig and Beyonce (well, her diet at least). Going against my very nature and hardened desires is not only stressful but also simply unsustainable.
Rather, I take some time to find healthy foods that I actually like. Such healthy additions I particularly enjoy include garlic, ginger, coconut stuff(2), healthy spices(3), dark chocolate and one alcoholic drink, like red wine, a day (at two drinks, healthy effects are dubious while any more than that and things start to worsen(4).
One great way to eat healthy things I like is to actually cook meals myself so I can customize the taste and flavor to my preferences. People enjoy food they cook themselves much more(5) than food given to them. More importantly, people eat less of the food they cook(6) because they savor it more.
2. Eat actual food
I remember reading an article about 100 super foods to add to your diet(7). As I read through it, I slowly realized they were just listing almost every fruit and vegetable on the planet.
That’s because actual food is good for you. As long as I’m eating things that grow—like mushrooms, eggplant, onions, and pumpkin—I’m already 10 steps ahead of frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, muffins, Oreos and drive-thru hamburgers.
The Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants(8) movement is as straightforward as it gets. If food has a long list of ingredients with more chemical compounds than actual organic edibles, I tend to avoid it.
3. More specifically, eat dark leafy greens, whole grains and healthy fats
These three categories should play an integral part in any healthy diet:
Dark leafy greens: I like to diversify my salad beyond iceberg lettuce by adding a variety of dark leafy greens such as spinach, hearts of romaine, red leaf, red chard, watercress, mustard greens and kale. This makes eating a salad more nutritious and much more enjoyable.
Whole grains: I was surprised to find out that pulverized grains are much, much worse for your health than whole grains(9). Now almost any dinner entrée of mine includes brown rice, wild rice, quinoa or some combination of the three. Bread with at least 10g of whole grain per slice not only is better for us, but tastes better too. And guess what? Popcorn is a whole grain too, which tastes even better with a touch of rosemary.
Healthy fats: Yes, fat can be good for you, but not just in the form of butter. You’ve probably already heard of good sources for healthy fat: olive oil, nuts, avocados and eggs.
The importance of healthy gut bacteria cannot be overemphasized. Some studies directly link obesity to gut bacteria(10), while researchers are just beginning to determine the effect of gut bacteria on mental health, emotional disposition(11) and a variety of intestinal ailments(12).
My favorite probiotics are kombucha (fermented tea), tofu, tempeh, yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso. Basically anything that’s been fermented has some probiotic benefits.
5. Know thyself
Everybody is different, thus everybody’s ideal diet is going to be different too. It is important to be mindful of how foods affect you, as well as make appropriate changes over your lifetime.
I’m lactose-intolerant, my family has a history of heart disease, and I’m fairly active, which means no dairy, being vegetarian, and taking in more calories than your average bear.
Particularly, as I get older I watch out more and more for:
Inflammation, which plays a role in arthritis, blood pressure, asthma and diabetes. Inflammation can be lowed with tomatoes, beets, berries, and much of the foods listed in part four.
Neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I incorporate treats with antioxidants like those found in tea, dark chocolate, apples and berries.
Cancer, yep, cancer. To tame this monster, I try to eat as many cruciferous vegetables(13) as possible: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and bok choy.
Heart disease. I enjoy heart healthy foods like soy (tofu), bell peppers, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, beans and salmon.
I try to get the nutrients I need from food first, then supplements if necessary, then medication as a last resort (which thankfully hasn’t happened yet).
A minute of exercise is estimated to give you an extra seven minutes of life (14). However, going to the gym to put heavy things up and down or running on a treadmill is about as appealing to me as eating a diet I don’t want to eat, and simply not that effective when paired with a sedentary lifestyle (15).
Dan Buettner points out in his TED talk (16) about living to be 100+ that centennials rarely exercise in the traditional sense. Rather they have healthy, active lifestyles that involve lots of walking and more manual work than your average person.
Since even the act of sitting can increase your chance of dying almost 50 percent (17), having an active lifestyle is incredibly important. For me that includes yoga, acroyoga, dance, and biking instead of driving whenever possible.
So there you go! Stay healthy, stay happy my friends.
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Editor: Travis May
Photo: Wiki Commons