Hey there, lovelies!
This week’s post is a crash course in the basics of nutrition and healthy eating. You guys hear me talk all the time about what you should and shouldn’t eat, but now I want to do an educational post about why you should avoid certain foods and consume others. With this groundwork in place you’ll be able to make even better decisions on your own and know more about what you’re putting in your body.
First, let’s talk food groups. You’ve all probably heard about the five food groups since you were a kid, so let’s use that as our starting point.
• The Five Food Groups:
The main point I want to make in sharing these five food groups is that you want to have balance and variety in your diet. Maybe you’ve heard people say that they try to “fill their plate with all the colors of the rainbow.” I recommend filling your plate with lots of fruits, veggies, and protein first. Then add small amounts of dairy and grains since the body has a harder time digesting them and they tend to be more fattening. Go for lean meats, low fat dairy, and whole grains. I’m intolerant to gluten so I don’t eat wheat and avoid most grains because things like brown rice don’t do well with me either. I have also found that dairy makes me break out, so I avoid dairy whenever I can. If you’re like me and don’t really eat dairy or grains, try to consume more healthy fats like avocados and almonds, and healthy carbs like sweet potatoes and bananas. Below I’ll tell you a little bit about each group along with some tips about proper consumption:
– Fruits: Fruits contain so many vitamins, minerals and fiber and absolutely should be a staple in your diet. The thing to be aware of with fruits is that they do contain lots of natural sugars, so make sure you’re consuming them in moderation. Obviously, natural and healthy sugars are good for you in moderation so no need to be paranoid when you hear the scary word “sugar”! I like to use fruits in smoothies or have an apple or orange for a snack in the morning (try to consume fruits in the morning so that the sugars in them don’t keep you from sleeping well at night… it might not make a difference for you but it sure does for me!).
– Vegetables: Again, you’ll get lots of your vitamins, minerals and fiber from your veggies. Go for variety: ex. you can use zucchini and mushrooms with eggs in the morning, lots of leafy greens and sprouts in a chicken salad with lunch, and broccoli and carrots with your dinner. As much as possible, try to eat veggies raw so they retain all of their nutrients. I recommend baking them or sauteeing them in olive oil or coconut oil when you can’t eat them raw.
– Dairy: This is an area to watch out for fat! Of course, not all fats are bad for you (a topic I’ll go into more detail about below). But in general, especially if you’re trying to lose weight or get lean and toned, it’s a good idea to go for the low-fat options when it comes to milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products. If you’re lactose intolerant or you avoid dairy for other reasons like me, you can use almond milk alternatives – they’re super lean and a great source of healthy fats.
– Grains: Grains are a rather controversial topic for a lot of people today, many believe that humans are not made to digest grains and therefore should avoid them. And honestly, they’ve got a point! I’m not saying everyone should go gluten-free or paleo, absolutely not… girl, you know I can’t live without a little bread. 😉 But I do recommend paying attention to the kinds of grains that work best in your body. I bet that the bloating or indigestion you may experience can be tied back at least partially to the grains you’re consuming. For me, I cannot handle gluten at all and rice tends to not sit well either. So instead I go for quinoa if I really need a grain, or breads made with almond flour. Honestly, consuming fewer grains means I fill that gap with way more veggies. Listen to your body and find what works best for you. If you do stick to wheat and other grains, make sure to use whole grains and avoid the processed crap that makes up most of the baked goods in the grocery store.
– Meat/Protein: When it comes to meats I’m a bit more laid back in the things I recommend my clients eat. The main thing here is to focus on lean meats, things like chicken, turkey and salmon. Proteins or “amino acids” are your building blocks for muscle growth, so it’s so important to be consuming plenty of healthy protein so that your muscles can be properly fed and strong (especially if you’re working out regularly, which you are, right? 😉 ).
Next, let’s go into a little bit more detail about the actual nutrients in your food. This is something I could go on and on about because it’s such interesting stuff, but for the purpose of this post I’ll keep it pretty simple.
• Macronutrients: These are your “big nutrients”, the ones that make up the bulk of what you eat. When you hear body builders and athletes talk about “counting macros”, these are what they’re talking about. Below are the three macronutrients and things to know about each:
1. Carbohydrates: Carbs get a lot of negativity since people tend to think they’re mainly to blame for making people fat. The reality is that there are lots of yummy, unhealthy carbs out there that are being consumed in huge and unhealthy amounts – therefore contributing to (not causing on its own) what is already an unhealthy lifestyle and weight gain or unsuccessful weightloss. There are lots of healthy carbs in fruits, veggies and grains that are perfectly healthy in moderation. I want to clear up some of the negativity and let you know that you don’t need to be terrified of carbs, you just need to know which kinds to eat.
Here’s the basics: there are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. The body burns up the energy from simple carbs fast, and burns complex carbs more slowly (simple= quick energy; complex= long-lasting energy). You want to consume more complex carbs because they’ll be better used by the body for lasting energy. That’s not to say that simple carbs are bad at all, they can be a great addition to your short-term energy when eaten in moderation. Energy is good, you guys! Properly consuming the right types of carbohydrates can help you maintain balanced blood sugar levels and keep you energized all day.
Here’s some examples of healthy simple carbs: lots of fruits, especially bananas, mangoes and grapes; natural fruit juice and lactose containing products like milk are also good sources of these short-term energy carbs. Things like processed baked goods, chips and snacks that include white flour and refined sugars are the simple carbs you do not want to consume. Keep it clean and plant-based as much as possible!
Finally, here are some healthy complex carbohydrate examples: leafy greens, whole grains, beans, sweet potatoes, oatmeal and peas. Again, avoid processed foods, white flour, and refined sugars.
2. Protein: I’ve already covered the main points about protein above, but I’ll add that protein is another way to give your body long-lasting energy and fuel. Make sure to use an organic, plant-based protein powder after your workouts to feed your muscles and help them repair and grow.
3. Fats: This is another macronutrient that gets a lot of negative talk, and like carbohydrates, it’s really a matter of knowing what type to consume. Here’s the basics: the “bad fats” are saturated and trans fats, these are usually solid at room temperature (ex. Butter). Once again, avoid processed and high-calorie products like butter and goods that contain refined sugars and white flour. Pastries, chips or crackers, processed meats, canola and hydrogenated oils are examples of foods that contain the unhealthy or bad fats. The “good fats” are unsaturated fats, both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Examples of these would be avocados, almonds, eggs, salmon, flaxseed, olive oil, coconut oil, and leafy greens.
• Micronutrients: These are the smaller components in your diet that play a huge part in keeping you healthy. Basically, vitamins, minerals and a few other small compounds make up the majority of your micronutrients. The goal should be to get as many of these from your food as possible and take organic supplements for the rest. You can google which foods contain which vitamins and minerals, there are plenty of tables online you can print and hang on your fridge for reference to make sure you’re getting all of the necessary micronutrients.
Okay, now that we’ve gone through the basics of food groups, macro and micronutrients, let’s talk a little about the big things to avoid. You know now that there are good and bad types of carbs, fats and proteins. Now you can fill your plate with the good stuff and avoid the bad stuff, eating all things in moderation. I want to take a minute to talk about sugar and alcohol, the two big things you should also try to avoid and consume only in small amounts. I’m not saying you have to give them up completely, having a little sugar or a glass of wine now and then won’t kill you. 😉 However, added sugar in treats and processed foods you eat put a strain on your immune system, your liver and your body in general. Alcohol does the same thing, and really alcohol can be seen as a type of poison in your body. There are no nutritional benefits to be gained from eating lots of sugar and drinking alcohol. Both of these put stress on your body and count as “empty calories” which are never a good idea. When it comes to sugar and sweeteners, grab sweet, yummy fruits and berries for snacks and natural sweeteners like stevia. Avoid added sugar, corn syrup, and especially unnatural/chemical sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame.
Fill your body with things that will nourish and help it to properly function and perform at its best. Always read the nutrition label and practice recognizing the things that should and shouldn’t be in your diet. Food is an amazingly powerful thing and can be used as both a preventative and healing medicine for your body.
There’s so much more to the topic of nutrition, it can be very complicated and cool! But for now here’s the basics, I hope you’ve learned a lot and will start applying these lessons to your healthy lifestyle.