Good nutrition ultimately comes down to developing strong daily food habits that help to build a strong nutrition platform. We all have days when we overindulge or eat more than we should, but having a strong baseline diet ensures that we can return to good habits quickly and keep our mind and body functioning at their best. Here are the easiest, yet most powerful areas you can focus on in order to build your own nutrition platform.
1. Planning is the key to dietary success
It may surprise you to hear that it is actually planning as opposed to knowledge that determines how well we eat on a daily basis. It is about having the supplies we need in the fridge and cupboard; having the nutritionally balanced snacks on hand to enjoy when we are hungry and not letting ourselves be caught out with no healthy food readily available. Simply commit to planning a few of your meals each week and actively schedule in your grocery shopping and immediately your nutrition will benefit.
2. Focus on vegetables
If you do not eat 1-2 cups of vegetables or salad at lunch and another 2-3 cups with your dinner, you simply are not eating the volume of low calorie, nutrient dense plant based food in your diet to be at your best. Not only are vegetables important for the key nutrients that they offer, but their low calorie content means that you can literally eat vegetables and salad to your heart’s content without worrying about weight gain.
3. Remember the golden rule
If there was a golden rule of nutrition, it would be to always eat a carbohydrate rich food with a protein rich food. Combining these two nutrients in your food choices ensures that your blood glucose and energy levels are kept well regulated throughout the day, and teaming carbs with protein also helps to regulate insulin levels which help to regulate appetite and keep you full. Examples of meals and snacks that fit this carb and protein combo include grain toast with eggs for breakfast, cheese and wholegrain crackers as a snack and a salad with tuna and beans for lunch – in all of these examples one protein rich food has always been teamed with a low GI carb.
4. Watch your liquid calories
Juices, smoothies, shakes, milk based coffees and soft drinks may appear it times to be ‘healthy choices’, but rarely do we compensate for liquid calories, hence they are closely linked to weight gain. Where possible focus your drink selection on plain water, black coffee and clear tea to be your beverages of choices and avoid added sugars from juice, cordial, soft drinks and smoothies.
5. Always carry a protein rich snack with you
Often it is not that we do not know what we should be eating but we find ourselves in situations hungry but without any nutritious snack options available. Get into the habit of always carrying a protein rich snack with you, whether it is a protein or nut bar, some prepackaged cheese and crackers or some roasted chic nuts or broad beans and you will find that you are never forced to go and pick up a high carb, high calorie muffin or cake simply because you were hungry and that was all you could find.
5. Be strict with your eating times
The funny thing about food and weight control is that it is often about the time we are eating as opposed to what we are choosing. Often busy lifestyles means that breakfast is not eaten until after 9am, lunch is pushed back to 2 or 3pm and you are lucky if dinner is on the table by 9pm. As the human body is programmed according to a circadian or 24 hour rhythm and our hormones work to burn food during the day and store at night, this means the more calories we eat during the second half of the day, the more likely is it that they will be stored. For this reason, always aim to eat your breakfast by 8am, lunch by 1pm and where possible dinner by 8pm to give your body 10-12 hours without food overnight.
7. Go light at night
For the vast majority of us, we eat so many calories during the day that we really do not need a heavy meal at night. During the week, when your meals are under your own control, focus on lean protein teamed with plenty of vegetables for your dinner choices. Heavy pasta, noodle and rice based dishes may be needed by active young people or athletes but for most of us who spend far more time sitting than we should be, “go light at night” is a perfect dinner mantra.
8. Take a meal or two off
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a meal out – in fact socialising and enjoying good quality food creates much pleasure for human beings but of course it depends on how often you do this. With the average meal eaten away from the home containing at least 200-300 more calories than a meal you would prepare at home, try and limit your heavy meals eaten away from the home to just once or twice each week.
9. Keep an eye on the alcohol
Some of us may choose to drink only on weekends, while others may prefer a small glass of wine each night with dinner. While there are no rules about how much you should and should not drink, there are guidelines that suggest we need at least two alcohol free days a week and really should not drink more than 2 standard drinks at any one time.
10. Keep it fresh
The fresher and more natural your food choices, the better they will be for you. Improve your nutrition simply by focusing on fresh produce and keeping your intake of processed snacks, fast food and refined sugars to a minimum and you will be on the right track.
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