#1: Identify Your Why
The first and most important step when creating healthy eating habits that last is to identify your reasons for making a change and picture what life could look like with those changes in place. This basic step of conceptualizing your vision for a nourishing relationship with food will set the stage for tangible goals and eventually new eating habits.
Consider why you want to improve your eating habits. Do you want to lower your cholesterol, your weight, or your blood sugar? Do you want to prevent the burdensome health conditions you’ve seen in loved ones? Perhaps you want to feel more vibrant, run a marathon, set a good example for your children or improve your relationship with food. Once you have made clear to yourself why healthy eating is important, you can begin to learn and incorporate the pillars of healthy eating.
- Action Item #1: Take pen to paper to brainstorm and solidify your why.
#2: Focus on Whole, Plant-Based Foods
Focus on plant foods in the form most closely found in nature. Plant-predominant and plant-exclusive eating patterns grounded in whole foods have been shown to prevent, treat, and in some cases reverse chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease, as well as help with weight management. Colorful fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds contain disease fighting vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. If you choose to include animal products, make them a condiment rather than the focus, and choose lean, high quality sources. Avoid ultra-processed foods, even those labeled “plant-based” if they have long ingredient lists, chemical additives, artificial flavors, and coloring dyes.
- Action Item #2: Try one new plant-based recipe each week, such as these Smoky Black Bean Beet Burgers or these delicious Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Red Grapes.
#3: Prioritize a Diversity of Plants to Support Your Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome has received a lot of attention in the past few years, and it’s for good reason. Your gut houses over 70% of your immune system, and is connected to your brain as well as several other body systems.
A healthy microbiome happens when you focus on diversity of plants along with high fiber foods. Research shows that the number one predictor of a healthy gut is the diversity of plants that you eat! It may sound daunting, but eating thirty different plants per week has the greatest power. Hit the farmer’s market or produce department and stock up on some new items. And when it comes to fiber, it’s the fuel for the good bacteria within your gut, allowing them to thrive and support your health.
- Action item #3: For the next seven days, take note of the different plant foods that you eat. Start with ten different plant types a week and then push yourself to eat thirty or more!
#4: Balance Your Plate
Preparing balanced and healthy meals does not have to be overly complicated, stressful or labor intensive. Consider this simple meal planning formula to eat well-balanced and delicious meals each and every time:
Lots of vegetables + some protein + some complex carbohydrates + a little healthy fat + flavor element = nutrient-dense deliciousness
This meal formula will add life to your years, and years to your life. When it comes to vegetables, pull in dark leafy greens and cruciferous varieties. Lean in on beans, lentils, tofu and tempeh for protein. Opt for complex carbohydrates including whole grains, starchy vegetables and fruit, as well as healthy fats in the form of nuts, seeds, avocados and olives. Because cooking and eating should be enjoyable and delicious, make sure every meal has a flavor element such as herbs, spices, nutritional yeast, vinegar or fresh citrus.
From tacos to Buddha bowls to soups, pastas and more, this formula can take many forms. For example, soft corn tacos (carbohydrate) filled with black beans (protein) and cumin-spiced mushrooms (vegetable and flavor), topped with sliced avocado (fat), lime juice and cilantro (flavor), and a mixed greens salad on the side (vegetable).
- Action item #4: At your next meal, use the simple meal formula to balance your plate and excite your taste buds.
Want to know more or need more guidance? Many people do and this is why we specialize in Food as Medicine in the El Camino Health Lifestyle Medicine department. If you would like more support to make your vision a reality, schedule an appointment with a member of our Lifestyle Medicine team by calling 650-962-4392.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2020 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.