By Claire Holmes
Eating well can be one of the most empowering things a person can do for themselves. Food is not just what we put on our plate; what makes food truly special is the emotions, memories, company, and stories behind how our food came to be on that plate. There is no one right way to eat, which makes your food journey unique. Each individual has the power to figure out what works for them, and on their terms. What could be more empowering than that??
Today, I am going to share 5 tips on how you can improve your nutrition on your terms, and how to stay motived throughout your journey.
Tip 1: Cook at Home
Preparing food in your own kitchen puts you in charge of exactly what you are eating: you not only get to pick the menu, ingredients, and the portion sizes, but you are no longer reliant on what is available at work or in the school cafeteria. In fact, food prepared at home has been found to be healthier since it contains less added salts, sugar, and calories.1 This finding is important because all three are correlated with an increased risk for diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.2 An added bonus is that cooking at home can also save you money!
A way to fit home-cooked meals into your busy schedule will be to incorporate meal prepping. Meal prepping can be done one or two days a week. This ensures you cook all at once and then package the food you will be eating throughout the rest of the week. Meal prepping is great for when you are in a hurry and don’t have time to cook during the week—making food one less thing you need to worry about.
Tip 2: Eat Whole Foods
Whole foods are nutrient dense, which means they are high in the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to support a healthy metabolism. Foods high in sugar, salt, and fat have been linked to increased risk for diseases, including type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.2 By eating whole foods, you are eliminating manufacturing steps that add unnecessary ingredients, salts, and preservatives. Whole foods are also low in sugar, salt, and high in healthy fats! Overall, eating whole foods can give you better heart health, a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes3, and reduced risk of cancer.
One of the most positive health benefits of whole foods is that they include sources of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are made up of longer chains of sugar molecules than that of simple carbohydrates. This allows them to take longer to digest, keeping you satisfied longer and with more stabilized blood sugar!
Examples of whole foods include: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses (certain types of legumes), and animal protein (meat, seafood, poultry).
The easiest way to incorporate whole foods into your diet is to do simple swaps. Here are a few delicious examples of good replacements:
- White pasta can be replaced with Quinoa. Quinoa is higher in protein and fiber, while providing a delicious source of carbohydrates.
- Store bought tomato sauce can be replaced by sliced up tomatoes, basil, and garlic to make a sauce that has all of the flavor, but none of the additives.
- Blueberry granola bars for breakfast may be quick and easy, but they are also filled with added sugars. Try whole oats with blueberries instead.
Try doing that with three meals a week and see what sticks! If you are looking for easy breakfast ideas check out my YouTube video: https://youtu.be/GsU607TrVI8
Tip 3: Feed Your Microbiome
Our body contains a higher quantity of bacteria cells than human cells. Fun fact: the ratio of bacteria cells to human cells in our bodies is 10 to 1.4 As a result, rather than viewing the bacteria as a separate entity, we need to see them as team members working together to reach a common goal. We work with the bacteria in our microbiome to process our food, digest vitamins, and support our immune system. Our gut health depends on how well our bacteria are able to perform those tasks—making it all the more important for us to work together. A less diverse microbiome has been linked to many diseases such as types 1&2 diabetes, coeliac disease, and atopic eczema.5
In order to work with and support our microbiome, we can eat probiotic-rich foods. These can include yogurt, kimchi, miso, fermented pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha and more. Probiotic foods have the potential to help replenish your microbiome, which can take anywhere from a few days to a year, depending on the current state of your gut health. You can also eat pre-biotics which are foods that the good bacteria will eat. Pre-biotics include garlic, onions, bananas, apples, oats, and many more.
Tip 4: Eat The Rainbow
When selecting your foods try to get as many natural colors into your shopping cart as possible. You will not only be stocking your kitchen with the vitamins and essential nutrients you need, but your food will be gorgeous!
Examples of nutrient-dense foods to choose from include:
Red foods: tomatoes, berries, red bell peppers
Orange foods: carrots, oranges, winter squash, sweet potatoes
Yellow foods: lemons, corn, yellow peppers
Green: broccoli, spinach, kale, celery, cucumber, kiwis
Blue: Blueberries, blackberries, blue corn,
Purple: Dates, eggplant, grape, cabbage
Brown/white: whole grains, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, garlic, nuts
When preparing your meals, pick a few items from each list and mix them into your meals! See which combinations you like best!
Fun Fact: Each of the foods mentioned above has unique health benefits for your body. One way to make meal prep fun is to think about which benefit you would like your body to receive. There are so many possibilities! For example, carrots are a great source of beta carotene (what your body uses to synthesize vitamin A) which means that when you’re buying carrots, you’re investing in your eye health!
Tip 5: Listen to Your Body
Listen to your body. Allow yourself time to adapt to dietary changes and take notice of how you begin to feel overall. If something doesn’t make you feel good after a few days or weeks of incorporating it, try something else. If something you eat makes you feel amazing, incorporate it into your daily life. The benefits you should be looking for are an increase energy levels, better control of your appetite, and a reduction in general aches and pains.
There are many ways to start taking control of your diet, including which foods you eat, how they are prepared, where they come from, and how you eat them. You are the one in charge. We’re hoping that by taking your food journey into your own hands, you can feel empowered by your choices—and even learn a little more about yourself each day.
Every food journey is unique. Do what feels and works best for you and your own lifestyle. Even the simplest changes can have a huge impact on your energy and overall mood.
Not sure where to begin still? If you start with the above tips: cooking at home, eating whole foods, feeding your microbiome, eating the rainbow, and listening to your body, you will be on the right track. You could start with all five, or even just choose one, to slowly incorporate it into your everyday life. The most important thing to remember is that it is your health and journey. You want it to be sustainable for you.
- Wolfson, J., & Bleich, S. (2015). Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention? Public Health Nutrition, 18(8), 1397-1406. doi:10.1017/S1368980014001943
- How Dietary Factors Influence Disease Risk. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-dietary-factors-influence-disease-risk. Published March 21, 2017. Accessed June 22, 2021.
- Bennett BJ, Hall KD, Hu FB, McCartney AL, Roberto C. Nutrition and the science of disease prevention: a systems approach to support metabolic health. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015;1352:1-12. doi:10.1111/nyas.12945
- Sender R, Fuchs S, Milo R. Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body. PLoS Biol. 2016;14(8):e1002533. Published 2016 Aug 19. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002533
- Valdes AM, Walter J, Segal E, Spector TD. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. The BMJ. https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179. Published June 13, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2021.
One of the greatest gifts that I have received in my life was my own discovery of health through nutrition. My background in Environmental Engineering and my career as a Fashion Model have shown me the variety of pathways that affect our health as a whole. The environmental toxins in beauty products, nutrients in food, or the energy in media we consume all have a significant impact on our health. In order to continue my life’s passion and to be able to help others find their health, I have become certified as an Integrative Nutrition Wellness Coach by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and I am entering a masters program in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at Teachers College Columbia University to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I want to help others find their journey to sustainable health as I have found mine. I use the phrase “sustainable health” because health has to continuously work for you in your everyday life and environment. Perfection is not the goal, it is the journey that matters.