Often when we think about cleaning up our nutrition, we start to mourn all things we will have to give up to reach our goals. Say goodbye to Ben & Jerry’s, our favorite neighborhood pizza parlor, and deep-fried sushi. When we look at nutrition concerning what we have to give up, we may feel deprived, and eventually rebel against ourselves.
Yes, it’s true. For optimal health, you probably will have to cut back on your junk food habit, but you certainly don’t have to give up all the foods you love. I help my clients think of nutrition regarding what they need to add to their diets instead of focusing on what they have to take away.
I was never very good at math, but I know it’s easier to add than to subtract.
It’s a more positive way to think about healthy eating.
WHAT TO ADD TO IMPROVE YOUR DIET
It’s a more positive way to think about healthy eating.
I’ll often ask new clients to record a three-day diet journal so we can access together where to make improvements. I am never quick to slash out the unhealthy foods, instead, first, we focus on what we can add for more balanced, nutrient-dense meals.
Most people aren’t eating enough protein. If you’re an athlete, aim for .5-.8 grams of protein per lb of body weight. That means if you weigh 150 pounds, you need about 75 - 120 grams of protein per day, or 25-40 grams per meal (assuming you eat three meals per day).
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Adequate protein intake helps us preserve and build our lean muscle as we lose or maintain our weight. Our focus should always be on losing fat, not losing weight. Protein helps us feel full longer, and it has a higher thermodynamic effect, which means it takes more energy for our bodies to process protein than carbohydrates or fats.
HIGH QUALITY PROTEIN FROM WHOLE FOOD SOURCES
Meat and poultry = 14-28 grams per 3 oz
Seafood = 14-22 grams per 3 oz
Greek yogurt (plain) = 18 grams per 6 oz
Cottage cheese = 14 grams per 1/2 cup
Pinto Beans = 11 grams per 1/2 cup
Eggs = 6 grams of protein per egg
If you are not getting enough protein from whole food sources, look into supplementing with protein powder to fill in the gaps of complete food nutrition. Look for powders with limited processed ingredients and low sugar content.
When I want a snack, I always think about reaching for a high to moderate protein snack first. Thinking about protein first helps ensure you get enough protein in your day and steers you away from processed junk food, which is unhealthy carbohydrates.
Build each meal around the number of protein grams you need to reach your protein goals for the day. If you are aiming for 90 grams a day, you’ll need 30 grams at breakfast. You can achieve this with 2 eggs (12 grams) and 6 oz of Greek yogurt (18 grams) however, choose the foods that you enjoy.
Once you have your protein decided, look at where you can add more vegetables to your diet. Aim for 6-8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Adding more nutrient-dense fiber-rich vegetables can help you avoid processed, unhealthy foods. Vegetables keep your digestive system healthy and fill you up with fewer calories than other macronutrients. It’s nearly impossible to overeat vegetables, so they are an ideal choice for a meal, side dish, or snack.
Some ideas to add more veggies into your diet:
Add spinach to your eggs, your stir-fry, or in your protein shake (you won’t even taste it).
Eat a side salad with your meals, add cucumbers, colorful peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Snack on raw veggies like carrots, celery, chopped peppers or cherry tomatoes.
Add extra veggies to casseroles. Eat spaghetti squash instead of pasta.
Use a spiralizer to make “noodles” out of your favorite vegetables like zucchini, carrots or summer squash.
Steam frozen veggies for a quick side-dish.
Many people worry about the sugar content of fruit, but there is no reason for most people to give up fruit. Yes, fruit has natural sugars, but it also has the nutrients that you need for a healthy body. Combine your fruit with a protein source for the best results (try pineapple with cottage cheese, YUM!). I promise that fruit isn’t the problem in most people’s diets. Work to add fruit to replace the unhealthy, processed foods and added sugar from your diet and you’ll be on the right track.
WHAT ABOUT FATS AND CARBS?
Focus first on eating enough protein and vegetables, then you can add in your fats and carbs to round out your meal. Some people prefer a moderate to high fat, and low carb diet, while others (like me) thrive on a high to moderate carb and a low-fat diet. It’s highly individual. You may have to experiment with what makes you look, feel, and perform your best.
There is misinformation that both carbs and fat can make you fat, neither which is true itself. You gain fat by consuming more calories than your body needs, that can happen from over-consuming any food. It’s easier to overeat when you eat highly-palatable carbs; delicious junk food specifically engineered to make you want to eat more. This is why carbs get a bad rap. It’s not the carbs, it’s eating too many processed carbs. Stick to nature’s carbohydrates like potatoes, oatmeal, rice, and fruit, and you’ll take in the energy and nutrients your body needs.
Fats have twice as many calories per gram than carbs or protein so they can be easier to overeat, but fat doesn’t make you fat either. Healthy fats in appropriate portions are a part of a well-rounded diet to provide your body with essential nutrients. Choose high-quality fats, like in salmon, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and avocados.
FOCUS ON THE AMOUNT OF CALORIES AND QUALITY OF THE FOOD
There are two main things to consider when improving your diet: Total number of calories consumed, and the quality of those calories. Consistently eat the appropriate amount of calories for your activity level (not too much, not too little), and choose minimally processed foods derived from nature most of the time.
When you prioritize adding healthy foods into your diet, the less-than-healthy ones sometimes (subtract) fall away naturally. If you focus on eating a protein for a snack (like Greek yogurt or almonds), you’re not as hungry for the chips. If you fill up on flavorful veggies, then you’re more likely to pass on the processed side dish. If you eat sweet-tasting fruit for dessert, the heavy pastries begin to lose their appeal.
I’m not suggesting you never eat cake, ice-cream or pizza again, because when you eat nutrient-dense foods most of the time, you’ll have a little room in your diet for those other treats you enjoy. It’s what you do most of the time that matters, not what you occasionally do. Once you make healthy eating a habit, you’ll never diet again. Then the foods that make you look, feel, and perform your best will be the choices you want to make most of the time.
What can you add to your diet to make it a little bit better this week? When you add healthy foods to your diet, the less-than-healthy foods begin to subtract themselves.
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