Good nutrition and healthy eating are on everyone’s mind these days, and with good reason as obesity and heart disease rates continue to climb. Here in the Golden Triangle we are fortunate to have a rich cultural heritage that comes packed with delicious recipes and traditions. However, while there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying traditional family favorites and special events with friends, it is important to be mindful of simple ways to eat a healthier diet. What follows are some small, bite-size tips that can be easily incorporated into your routine. We focused on four core areas: grocery shopping, home cooking, restaurant eating, and daily activity.
Grocery Shopping Tips
Don’t Shop Hungry – Shopping hungry is not only bad for your wallet, it can also lead to impulsive, unhealthy purchases.
Know What’s in Season – Food that is out of season is often less fresh and nutritious, since it may need to be shipped in from further away. It may also require more chemicals and pesticides to grow, not taste as good, and be more expensive! If possible stick to seasonal fare.
Consider Local Options – The local food movement is great for healthy eating because local foods are typically fresher, more nutritious, and are often grown with fewer chemicals and pesticides. Consider looking for local farmer’s markets or asking your grocery store if they stock any foods from local farmers.
Know When Organic Is Worth It – Organic food can get expensive and it may not be worth the extra cost for all items. On the other hand certain foods that would otherwise contain more chemicals, growth hormones, and pesticides may be worth the extra cost. Do your research on the foods you and your family loves most.
Skip ‘the Middle’ Aisles – While of course this may vary somewhat from store to store, most grocery stores arrange their aisles and sections so that healthier options like produce, fresh meats and seafood, and frozen foods are around the perimeter of the store. Meanwhile heavily processed, packaged foods that are loaded in calories and lower in nutrition often occupy the middle aisles.
Make it Social – Going grocery shopping with your spouse, children, other family members, or friends not only makes the trip more fun, it also allows you to exchange useful information and keep each other motivated to make healthy choices.
Plan Your Meals for the Week – It’s easy to give in and have an unhealthy meal after a long day if you aren’t prepared and don’t have a healthier option waiting. Instead plan your meals ahead of time so that you can go on autopilot.
Cook Ahead of Time – Planning is only half the battle, however, if you won’t have the time or energy to actually cook what you’ve planned. Whenever possible do your cooking and basic food prep ahead of time and freeze or refrigerate your meals.
Steam Don’t Boil – Whenever possible steam rather than boil your veggies since it helps preserve nutrients and vitamins better.
Skip Peeling – While this may not be possible for certain fruits and veggies, whenever possible also consider leaving the skins on since many of the vitamins and nutrients are in the peels or skins.
Add Salt at the Table – Limiting sodium intake is a great healthy step for many people, especially those with high blood pressure. Instead of salting as you cook and then again when you sit down to eat, consider only salting at the table, or tasting the food first before adding salt to see if you can do without.
Think about Portion Size – Serve yourself and your family smaller portions to start. You can always go back for seconds if you need to, but by starting with a smaller amount you’re less likely to mindlessly clean your plate.
Start with Soups and Salads – When dining out consider starting with a low-cal, nutritious soup or salad before ordering your main course. You may find that you’re full or that a lighter option would be sufficient to fill you up. Just make sure that soup or salad you start with is itself a light, healthy option. Cream soups or excessive salad toppings and dressing can easily negate any would-be calorie savings.
Speak Up about Your Needs – Don’t be afraid to speak up about your dietary needs when eating out, whether that means informing your waiter of food allergies, asking about gluten-free or vegetarian options, requesting smaller portions, or having half your entrée boxed up to go before you get it.
Ask Questions – Likewise, it is important to ask questions about things that may affect your diet or cause an unhealthy reaction. Just because a menu item doesn’t say it includes an allergic or restricted food, doesn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t prepared on the same surfaces, or even that it doesn’t outright contain the item as an unlabeled ingredient. Similarly, consider directly asking your server what he or she would recommend based on your needs.
Make Savvy Substitutions – Just because a dish comes with french fries or mashed potatoes doesn’t mean you can’t substitute some fresh grilled veggies or a green salad instead. Consider getting even more creative and asking for fresh fruit as a garnish to desserts instead of chocolate or caramel sauce.
Share an Entrée – Another great way to save both money and calories is to go out to eat with someone who shares your food preferences and split an entrée between you.
Don’t Join the Clean Plate Club – One of the most common healthy eating mistakes is feeling like you need to keep eating until your plate is empty. The reality is that most restaurants serve portion sizes that are much larger than necessary for a healthy, satisfying meal. Don’t feel like you have to finish. If you’re worried about the food going to waste you can always get the rest to go or share an entrée as discussed above.
Hydrate Early – One easy, highly beneficial thing you can do for your health is hydrate early. Try to drink a full glass of water as early as possible in the morning, and remember coffee doesn’t count toward your fluid intake since it’s a diuretic.
Stay Hydrated – After you’ve had your morning glass of water, stay on track throughout the day by staying hydrated. This can also help control hunger levels in a safe, healthy way. Just make sure you don’t skip meals or skimp on nutrition.
Eat Breakfast – Another great health strategy is to make eating a nutritious breakfast a priority and a non-negotiable part of your daily routine. This will get your metabolism fired up early, help you wake up, and improve your energy levels throughout the day. It’ll also help you avoid binging on an unhealthy lunch or a mid-morning box of donuts due to hunger.
Slow Down – Practice mindful eating. Savor each bite and chew slowly. Pause between mouthfuls. This will give your stomach plenty of time to send the message to your brain that you are full and will help prevent overeating. It will also you to enjoy your food more and feel more satisfied.
Include a Healthy Snack – Snacking between meals isn’t necessarily an unhealthy practice as long as you’re choosing healthy options. Instead of a candy bar or a bag of chips, opt for a handful of nuts or a pack of yogurt.
Think but Don’t Obsess – When selecting your food or beverages take a moment to think about their calories and nutritional content, but don’t obsess and don’t beat yourself up over small lapses in judgment. Focusing too much on mistakes can damage your motivation.
Focus on the Big Picture – Instead of fixating on an ill-advised donut or fried treat, focus on the big picture. Your goal should be to establish and maintain a healthy weight and eat a nutritious, balanced diet. One detour doesn’t need to derail your overall journey toward a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Eating a healthier diet is a great first step toward overall better health. However, sometimes despite your best efforts an underlying health problem can still cause major problems or prevent you from reaching your health goals. Golden Triangle Emergency Center is here 24/7 to help you be your healthiest, best self with high quality medical care, attentive, caring medical staff, short wait times, and a comfortable environment.