Part 2 of this series is going to be on the topic of what to eat. With all the new fad diets and trends popping up, sometimes knowing what is good and what is bad can be tricky. First thing is that I want to get rid of food being categorized as “good” or “bad” and just think nutritious food and less nutritious. Although there may be some foods that just are plain bad for you, when food is categorized as bad or rejected, it makes the mind think itself is bad for wanting it, craving it or even enjoying it. Food is meant to be enjoyed, but it is also meant to be fuel. By focusing on filling your diet with nutritional, whole-foods and then indulging in less nutritional foods every once in a while, you will eat much better and it’ll be healthier for yourself especially in the long run.
The first step in what to eat is figuring out the amount, aka calories. There are always the arguments of whether calories actually matter and whether or not quantity vs. quality matters, and here’s the truth. Yes, calories matter because over or under eating them leads to weight gain/loss. Yes calorie quality matters for the most part because we want to eat healthy foods. BUT, you shouldn’t get hung up on calories. As mentioned in part one, listening to your body and its cues is usually the best way to go. Now, sure it is good to get an idea of the number of calories you are allowed in a day and keep a distant eye on it, but unless you are having major weight gain or weight loss issues, meticulous calorie counting is not the way to go. I cannot stress this enough because counting calories gets you on a long road that is not healthy, fun or easy to quit–so please, trust me, just don’t start. And if you already are stuck in that mindset, realize it takes time to get over it and there are resources out there to help you. To get a basic idea of calories, there are calorie calculators out there. Or you can find your basic metabolic rate (BMR) which is the calories you burn just by living and breathing, and increase the number for exercise or depending on your daily activity level. This will give you a rough estimate; however, what types of foods you are putting into your body is ultimately key.
Proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats are key components of a well-balanced and healthy diet. This will consist of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Of course, if you choose to follow a certain way of eating such as vegetarianism or paleo, this will look a little different for you (I won’t go into them because I am definitely no expert at those types of eating habits), but you should still be getting the 3 key components mentioned above. But wait! Aren’t carbs bad and fattening? Won’t protein make me bulk up like the Hulk? The basic answer to these are no. Whole grain and fiber-rich carbohydrates are not bad in the right amount, and same goes for lean protein. The key to remember here is the amount. Yes, there is such a thing as too many carbs, BUT there is also such a thing as too little carbs that can hurt your workout performance and your everyday life as well as drain your energy levels among other things. These 3 components, carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats, are your macro-nutrients. If you ever heard someone ask or say “what are your macro levels” this is what they are talking about. The 3 categories should each take up certain amounts in your diet, which will be different for everybody. For example, because I am active in lifting and cardio, I aim for 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat. If you are a super active athlete, that could be 50% carbs or if you are sedentary and at a desk job all day with no exercise, that could be 30% carbs. There are calculators and many suggestions on the internet as to what each person should eat. Ultimately, everyone will be different and even day-to-day could be slightly different just depending on your daily activity. But no matter what your lifestyle looks like, everyone should be getting good sources of proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats in their daily diet.
So, what are good sources of these? Good protein sources consist of eggs, Greek yogurt, milk, nuts, seafood and other lean meats such as chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of beef and pork. Many people think red meat is unhealthy, and it can be due to its high fat levels. However, a diet filled with just chicken or turkey (or just beef and pork) is not actually healthy. A better idea would be to have a good balance of these lean meats and to choose the leanest cuts such as pork tenderloin, pork boneless top loin chop, sirloin, round top roast or tenderloin. Look for high percentages of lean such as 90-97% lean. Whole grains such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat breads, barley and whole-grain oats are your best option for carbohydrates. This doesn’t mean that white breads and rice have to be completely eliminated. The reason people say white foods are bad is due to their lack of fiber and whole grain. This means that it may not fill you up as much and keep you full which can lead to eating more and overeating later on in the day. Plus, fiber and other nutrients from whole wheat are good for your body and your nutrient needs. However, with the 80/20 (or whatever percentage you are using) there is room for getting most of your grain requirements from whole-wheat (at least half) and adding in other sources such as white bread and rice. Lastly, healthy fat options are things such as nut and nut butters, avocado, salmon, olive oil (or coconut/avocado oil), and seeds. Good fats will be rich in polysaturated and mono-saturated fats. Trans-fats and saturated fats are the fats you want to stay away from! There is no need to fear healthy fats for your healthy lifestyle!
All of this information may seem too complicated or overwhelming for you and your life. But, it’s really not–just take it a little bit at a time. Don’t expect yourself to completely change your lifestyle and eating habits all in one week, especially if you’ve been eating a certain way for a long time. Start reading nutrient label and ingredient lists for food items to look for healthy finds. Aim to have a serving of fruits or veggies, lean proteins, whole-grains and healthy fats at every meal and snacks. Then, still be okay with consuming less nutritious items here and there. Build an eating plan filled with good nutrients, that is both healthy and works best for you, and makes your body feel the best–the results will be worth it!