I’ve talked before in my blog posts about the health journey that I have been on for at least the past 10 years – although I can remember being obsessed with eliminating fat or counting calories back in college and that was a few more than 10 years ago! But, as I talk about here, I really started reading up on the specific health benefits of different foods about 10 or 11 years ago when I worked as a personal chef and was also trying to get pregnant and start a family. It’s funny how the thought of growing a whole other human being inside your body will make you wake up and pay attention to what we put in (and on) our bodies and how that might affect the functioning of our bodies and what we pass on to our children.
Now that we have three beautiful, healthy boys that are growing every day – and eating more food than I thought possible for such a tiny person – I am still hyper aware of what sort of food I am putting on our family table. I will admit that it’s difficult to try and keep up with what is considered “healthy” these days and also frustrating to try and sift through all of the studies and articles to tease out what’s real and what is just a manufactured outcome based on the company or consortium that is funding the research.
My personal approach is to constantly read and learn as much as I can from various sources and then look for common themes – as long as those themes don’t feel sensationalized or more like a fad than a health recommendation. Still, that’s easier said than done. Take agave nectar for example. When the boys were little and I was searching for a healthy birthday cake option, I remember learning about this new thing called agave that was a sugar substitute made from a plant that was proven to keep your blood sugar from spiking after you ate it. It was even recommended to diabetics! I thought this sounded great for my little wee ones because I felt safe giving them a birthday cake baked with agave in place of sugar and knowing that they wouldn’t get a big sugar spike and go crazy afterwards! So, for years, I baked them birthday cakes made with raw agave nectar and felt good about it. I, of course, used the “raw” form of the product thinking that raw is always better. Well, it turns out that even the “raw” agave nectar is highly processed and not much better than eating high fructose corn syrup. What?!
Unfortunately, I can’t go back and bake a different birthday cake for all of those past birthdays but I can choose to keep learning and growing and getting a little bit healthier with each little change that I make. I’m not going to give up!
For 2018, I am working on looking at any meal or snack that I am eating or serving and trying to think of a way to make it even healthier. (Whatever “healthy” means at that moment in time!)
Here are 5 examples of how you can eat healthier this year:
1. Whenever possible, serve it over a bed of salad greens. When you think about it, there’s not much that can’t be turned into a salad. Breakfast foods are a bit difficult, I will admit. But most snacks, lunches, or dinners could stand to have some greens added either under the other food or, at the very least, as a side salad with a homemade vinaigrette. Most of my lunches consist of taking leftovers from dinner the night before and putting it on top of some sort of greens. On pizza night, I love to toss some arugula with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and put the greens on top of the cooked pizza. It may sound strange but it’s really yummy!
2. Flavor with herbs and spices. Any time you can add some fresh or dried herbs or spices to your meal, you will be greatly increasing the antioxidant power of the food. Each individual herb and spice also comes with its own unique health benefits – from the antibacterial and antiviral properties of cinnamon to the anti-nausea effects of peppermint and ginger. So, you can add extra flavor to your meal at the same time that you are making it healthier!
3. Replace refined sugars and reduce the amount of sweetener used in any recipe. As I’ve mentioned before, you can replace 100% of sugar in a recipe with natural sweeteners, such as honey or maple syrup. (Just steer clear of the agave!) Because these natural sweeteners are so concentrated, you can also reduce the amount of sweetener in a recipe by ¼ to ½ of the amount called for and still get the same sweet taste!
4. Choose color! The nutritional content of a food is tied directly to the intensity of its color. Any time you have the choice between something with color and something without, always choose the more colorful option! For example:
- Choose brown rice over white rice
- Choose wheat flour over white flour
- Choose red onions over white onions
- Choose sweet potatoes (or purple potatoes!) over white potatoes
5. My personal favorite – pick one thing that you currently buy in processed form and learn how to make it yourself – from scratch. 🙂 You could try making homemade granola or vanilla extract. Or maybe something more exotic like kimchi or kombucha. Whatever it is, try to start with all whole food ingredients and make your version as healthy as possible!