It’s that time of year again, when the shorts start to make their way out of hiding and those New Year’s resolutions of sticking to your diet really come into full bloom. After months of consoling yourself through the cold with everything warm and buttery in sight, spring is finally upon us. You might be ready to break out of your croissant cocoon and shed some of those survival hibernation pounds. Maybe you’re just feeling a little sluggish and need a revival. A few simple swaps can help you do some spring cleaning on your diet and put you on your way to a healthier you.
Spring Cleaning Diet: What to Toss What to Keep
You should not be focused on “diets.” Your diet overall should be balanced and healthy. For one, crash or restrictive diets are just not sustainable and will end up hurting your progress in the long run. For the everyday person, if your goal is to stay or get in shape, consistency and balance is key. This means not only the way you eat, but maintaing a consistent fitness regime as well. A healthy and fitness supporting diet doesn’t have to be as complicated as the health food industry tries to sell you. In fact simple is your main objective, you should be aiming to eat food that is minimally processed, the simpler the better. The best place to start (or re-start!) is as easy as cleaning up the type of foods you’re already eating.
Contrary to their portrayal in the media, carbohydrates are not evil. All carbs however, are not created equal. If you are eating white breads and pastas or anything made with white or refined flour you might as well be shoveling sugar into your mouth. They break down the same way in the body as sugar does. White flour is what is left after removing all the nutrients and fiber from whole wheat grain. Pretty much any processed carb is the bad guy here (white bread, chips, instant mac and cheese, most crackers.) Think of carbohydrates as the fuel that energizes your body. You should stick to them in moderation if you are not expending a lot of energy and they should be coming from whole grains.
Ditch white bread and pasta, try Ezekiel Bread and whole wheat pasta
Ditch sugary cereal, try Organic Oatmeal
Ditch white rice, try Quinoa, Barley, or Brown rice
Ditch white wraps, try tofu wrap
Ditched processed snacks, try homemade healthy cereal bars
This can be a somewhat controversial subject. Some people think animal proteins should be ditched all together, some think red meat should be tossed. The goal is to get plenty of lean and nutritious proteins in your diet. Red meat does have plenty of protein, but many studies have found that it and should be limited. This is generally because it usually has more fat and cholesterol than other animal proteins. Lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, and fish make great substitutes. Ground turkey or chicken can be substituted in pretty much any recipe that calls for ground beef. Salmon is an amazing super food that is chock full not only of amazing protein but heart and brain healthy fats like omega-3’s. The same goes for eggs, they are an amazing source of protein and omega-3’s but are high in cholesterol. Certain nuts and beans can also provide heart healthy protein. Whatever your stance, again the goal is the less-processed the better.
Ditch cold cuts and hot dogs, try fresh chicken strips
Ditch the greasy hamburger, try a homemade turkey burger using ground turkey
Ditch peanuts, try walnuts and almonds
Ditch packaged bean dips and hummus, make your own with chick peas and pinto beans
Fat is another one of those words that has been endlessly villianized. Healthy fats are absolutely essential to our health and well being, again it’s about choosing the right kind. Imagine baking muffins in an old tin pan without greasing the cups first. The end result isn’t pretty. Essential fats help build healthy membranes for every cell in our body. As mentioned before, omega-3’s are one of the healthy fats our bodies need. We also need other unsaturated fats. Cooking is an area where this really makes a difference. Vegetable oil usually contains hydrogenated oil and butter is high in saturated fat, there are much better cooking substitutes like olive oil that are high in unsaturated fats. We need to stay away from trans and saturated fats and hydrogenated oils. These are found in many processed foods like chips and sweets and juices.
Ditch vegetable oil, try olive oil or coconut oil
Ditch generic peanut butter, try Smart balance or a natural organic brand
Ditch packaged salad dressing, try salsa or balsamic or vinegar vinaigrettes
Salads are probably the most abused when it comes to labeling healthy meals. Most “salad” options available today at restaurants have more calories than just about any other meal on the menu. The fat and calorie content is coming mostly from the dressing, the cheese, the croutons, and a possibly fried protein on top. To make it worse, many salads are on a bed of iceburg lettuce which has pretty much no nutritional value what so ever. Salads are great as long as you choose the right ingredients. For starters, you should be choosing a base packed full of nutrients like spinach or kale. As mentioned earlier in the fat profile, pre-made dressings should be avoided if possible (ranch is maybe the biggest offender) as they are packed full of fat and calories and often lots of sugar. Vinaigrettes are usually a better choice if dining out however ask about their sugar content if possible. Croutons are like little fried pieces of white bread, not OK as mentioned in the carb profile. Lastly a protein on top can make a salad a heartier meal but stick to the rules we talked about before, no fried chicken!
Ditch iceberg, try spinach or kale
Ditch croutons, try walnuts or almond slices
Ditch american cheese, try feta or goat cheese instead.
Ditch lettuce altogether, try a caprese salad with fresh tomatoes
Here in the South they call it soda, and you’d be endlessly ridiculed if you called it by its Midwestern counter- part, pop. This gets its own category because it has practically made its way into its own food group they way a lot of us drink it. The debate is still out about diet soda, whether it’s an actual ingredient that increases weight gain, or mental attachment that triggers the desire to eat more. However, diet soda has been linked to long term weight gain in some cases. Regardless, it’s addicting and it isn’t good for you. We should be drinking simply water as it is what our body needs to flush out toxins, stay hydrated, and keep our metabolism humming. If you’re having a hard time totally making the switch or miss the carbonation, there are at least some healthier options. Sparkling waters can be great, but watch out for those that still contain artificial sweeteners because they aren’t much better than diet soda. There are all natural flavored waters but the sugar content is still pretty high. Infused water is also another awesome way to go.
Ditch soda, try Pellegrino (on occasion!)
Try infused water with cucumber, mint, or lemon
Try La Croix sparkling water, no artificial sweeteners or flavors, no sugar
We all learned in fifth grade that we should try and stay away from that tiny little triangle on top of the food pyramid labeled “sweets”, and thus began the epic battle of will. Here’s the clincher, while you may have finally tamed your sweet tooth when it comes to desert, so many processed foods today are full of extra sugars. Frozen meals, pasta sauces, dressings, juices, breads, packaged meats…the list could go on and on of items that have extra sugar in them that you wouldn’t necessarily thing of as a “sweet.” That’s why one of the most important things when it comes to a healthy diet is trying your best to stay away from processed foods. The goal is to eat more real food and less “stuff.” Stuff would be anything on the ingredient label that you can’t pronounce or don’t know what it is.
Ditch flavored yogurts, try plain greek yogurt with fruit
Ditch milk chocolate, try dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao
Ditch icecream, try making your own fruit pops
This is not an exhaustive list of all foods you should avoid but it’s a good start at getting on the right track. What tips do you have for maintaining a healthy and balanced diet?