Kristina Zalnieraite

The First 5 Steps You Need to Take to Start Eating Healthier

Jun 16
All

Improving your eating habits might sound like a demanding task. But it does not have to be impossible. Eating healthy is all about gradual change and working on new habits that will last.

I’ve gathered several practical tips after working as a licensed and registered dietitian for close to a decade. Hope they might help you make healthier choices today without feeling overwhelmed or deprived.

1. Eat What Your Great-Grandmother Would Recognize as Food

All our food comes from either plants or animals. We should eat foods that our grandmas would recognize as food — so always pick the least processed version of the plant or animal while grocery shopping. Check the label and see if there are more than 5 ingredients on it. Is it easy to pronounce each of them?

Eat whole foods such as berries, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, oily fish, legumes, and whole grains as much as possible. They contain essential nutrients like protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Filling up half of your plate with fruit and veggies will not only provide a bunch of essential nutrients for your body but will also make you fuller and more satisfied for longer.

2. Cook Your Food at Home at Least Twice a Week

Generally, you would spend around 15 minutes cooking a high-quality steak. It takes less than 8 minutes to boil an egg. Most soups will only require 10 minutes for chopping up some veggies. Reinventing leftovers might take up even less than that. If you decide to try meal prepping, you can cook once or twice a week and eat healthy meals every day.

While cooking, you control the ingredients and eat fresh and wholesome meals. Pre-made meals and restaurant food typically contain higher sodium, fat and total calories than home-cooked meals.

3. Don’t Drink Your Snacks

Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, tonic, fruit juices, milkshakes, lemonade, or energy drinks provide many calories and virtually no nutrients. Sugary drinks do not feel as fulfilling as the same calories from solid food.

Research indicates they also do not compensate for the high caloric content of these beverages by eating less food.

Think about these liquids not as drinks but as snacks. Most of them will have way more than 150–200 calories than a nutritiously rich snack would have. Even though I am not a big fan of counting calories, this is still quite a valuable measurement that helps choose what kind of foods should be more common in your meals.

If it’s high in calories and low on everything else, it’s probably not the best option.

Instead, follow the clues your body offers. Choose hydrating drinks such as water, sparkling water, and herbal tea if you feel thirsty. Get yourself a yogurt with fruit and nuts, apple slices with peanut butter, dark chocolate with almonds, popcorn, or beef jerky if you feel hungry. You might also be just bored — instead of getting a milkshake, call a friend or go on a walk.

4. Take Better Care of Your Gut Health

Our gut bacteria is often neglected, which leads to plenty of health issues. It’s not only digestion problems that we might occur — since everything in our bodies is closely connected, our gut health can also impact our immune system, sleep, mood, and even cognitive capabilities.

Also, fiber is food for the good bacteria in your gut and it balances your microbiota. It also regulates your blood sugar levels, lowers cholesterol levels, improves digestion, and ensures regular bowel movements. Finally, fiber can reduce the risk of some types of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Opt for whole-grain pasta, bread, rice, and other whole-grain cereals to increase your fiber intake. Top your porridge, toast, or yogurt with nuts and seeds. Snack on whole fruits, leave skins on vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, and add lentils and beans to your meals.

Eating at least 30 grams of fiber per day increases the feeling of fullness, and most Americans do not pass this threshold.

Include plenty of probiotic fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, kombucha, Greek yogurt, or kefir. These foods increase the number of helpful bacteria in your gut and help to keep your digestive system healthy.

5. Cut Down on Saturated Fats

Dietary fats are not inherently bad for you. Nuts, seeds, or fatty fish are rich in vitamins and microelements, and your body needs some fats to protect your organs, store energy, and produce necessary hormones.

There are 3 main types of dietary fats: unsaturated fats (found in nuts and fatty fish), saturated fats (such as cheese or red meat), and trans fats (found mostly in junk food).

Consuming too much saturated and trans fats can raise your cholesterol levels and put you at higher risk of heart disease. Choose foods with unsaturated fats such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, spreads, or avocado.

Fatty cuts of meat, coconut oil, butter, hard cheese, cream, and other full-fat dairy products, and cakes, biscuits, fast food, and pies are not the best choice — eat them infrequently.

What Should You Eat Instead?

A healthy diet helps you consume enough macronutrients — carbs, protein, and fats. This way, they can support energetic and physiologic needs and provide enough vitamins, minerals, and hydration to meet the body’s physiological needs.

Choose quality carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the primary energy source in the diet and are found in grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables.

Whole grains are preferred over processed grains — you should always prefer eating the less processed version.

Fresh fruits and vegetables supply energy and dietary fiber. It promotes the feeling of satiety and has positive effects on gastrointestinal function, cholesterol levels, and glycemic control. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also key sources of phytochemicals (e.g., polyphenols, phytosterols, carotenoids). These bioactive compounds have many health benefits associated with fruit and vegetable consumption.

Enjoy high-quality protein

Dietary proteins provide a source of energy and amino acids. Some of them the human body requires but cannot produce on its own (i.e., essential amino acids).

Dietary proteins are derived from animal (meat, dairy, fish, and eggs) and plant (legumes, soy products, grains, nuts, and seeds) sources.

Animal-based sources of protein contain saturated fatty acids. They have been linked to cardiovascular disease, dyslipidemia, and certain cancers, and they should be consumed in moderation (e.g., twice per week).

Pick unsaturated fats

Dietary fats (or lipids) are the primary structural components of cellular membranes and are also cellular energy sources.

As we already discussed, unsaturated fats are found in various foods, including fish, many plant-derived oils, avocado, nuts, and seeds. In contrast, animal products (and some plant-derived oils) contribute significantly more saturated fats. Among dietary fats, unsaturated fats are associated with reduced cardiovascular and mortality risks.

Trans fats and saturated fats are associated with negative impacts on health.

Would you agree that these are the main steps toward healthier nutrition? What is your best tip for someone who is just starting out?

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