Eating healthy can seem daunting, especially with all the conflicting messages about nutritious eating that bombard us on a daily basis. Such confusion can cause some to doubt their food choices or make drastic diet shifts. According to our IFIC Foundation 2019 Food and Health Survey, 38% of people reported trying a new diet in the past year, with two of the top motivations being to “feel better and have more energy” and “protect my long-term health and prevent future health conditions.” If you’re not interested in adopting a whole new diet, there are a few things you can do to improve your health without too many rules. Here are a few quick and easy ways to eat healthier without feeling overwhelmed.
1) Add color
Sometimes we get so laser-focused on not eating all the “unhealthy” stuff that we lose sight of the healthy additions we could be making. One of our recent Fast Take articles highlighted that what we’re not eating enough of (e.g., fruits and vegetables) might be more detrimental than focusing on the less-healthy options we eat too much of. If you’re looking to start somewhere, try adding some color (think fresh, frozen or canned produce) to your meals or snacks in whatever way possible.
2) Tune in to hunger
You may have heard of intuitive eating, which is a method of eating that involves listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues and giving yourself permission to eat all types of foods. Listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues (instead of external cues for eating) can help avoid overeating. If we can trust that our bodies can tell us when we’re hungry, we can also learn to stop when we’re full. Check out our eat-mojis for a visual guide to help you tune into your hunger.
3) Utilize the inner aisles of the grocery store
Have you ever heard that you should “only shop the perimeter of the store”? While it’s often well intended advice, it’s not exactly the most evidence-based. There are many healthy packaged foods found in the inner aisles of grocery stores: whole-grain pastas and breads, cooking oils, nuts, high-fiber cereals and oats, canned fish, and dried and canned beans. Some people narrowly define “healthy” as “fresh” or “unprocessed” with anything outside that considered “unhealthy.” Broadening your definition of healthy beyond its location in the store can help you make more affordable, flexible and enjoyable food choices that also happen to contribute to good health.
4) When in doubt, remember the macronutrients
You might have read the last few points thinking, “Okay, but how do I actually build a meal?!” There’s no black-and-white answer, but a lot of registered dietitians recommend building your meals to include a variety of food groups or all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat and protein. Fiber and protein are thought to aid in fullness, so including those could be a good place to start. Examples of breakfasts using this logic are: (1) a banana, peanut butter and yogurt or (2) oatmeal topped with walnuts and half an avocado on the side. Lunch might be a spinach salad topped with a sliced hard-boiled egg, cheese and/or lean chicken breast and a pita on the side.
Eating healthy shouldn’t be too complicated—it should work for you, your schedule and your budget. Hopefully these tips will make building healthy meals and snacks a little bit easier and more enjoyable.