Sticking with a new diet can be difficult, but adopting at least one of these tips is a step toward being more health-conscious this summer.
1. Distinguish Sugars
It can be tricky to recognize the many types of sugar. This is especially the case today, seeing as there are more than 50 varieties of sugar! But step one to being more health-conscious is knowing the difference between natural sugars and added sugars.
Natural Sugar: These are sugars that are found, you guessed it, naturally in food like whole fruits. They’re generally considered the healthier option before added sugars. Apples contain fructose, a common component of added sugar; and while excessive ingestion of fructose can have negative effects, it’s very difficult to get an excessive amount of fructose from eating fruit. So continue eating fruit! Especially fruit with more skin, since it’s rich in nutrients.
Added Sugar: These are sugars that are added to food production to make it sweeter. One popular example used widely in the U.S. is high-fructose corn syrup. Ingesting too much added sugar can cause blood glucose levels to rise, leading to health concerns. A great deal of our food today contains added sugars, but being aware of items containing high amounts of it can help you minimize harmful effects.
In essence, as long as you recognize these types of sugar and consume in moderation, you’re more likely to lead a health-conscious lifestyle.
2. Exchange a Habit
If you find yourself frequently craving sugary snacks, it might be time to find a healthier alternative. Fruit snacks are a good place to start! Luckily, there are a ton of options when it comes to delicious and good-for-you fruit snacks.
Dried fruit such as Fruit for Thought taste sweet and contain zero added sugar or preservatives. It may be difficult to adopt since it’s not what you’re used to, but stick with it and you’ll eventually feel better about settling with the smart choice when you prefer it over your original craving.
The same can be said for less-than-healthy snacks like cheese-doodles or dark chocolate almonds; two snacks that aren’t awful for your health if eaten occasionally, but they both have healthier competition that also tastes good. Trade in the cheese-doodles for Hippeas, and you might just find a snack that’s better for you and tastes great. They’re an organic, light and crunchy chickpea puff that comes in multiple flavors like white cheddar, barbecue, and sriracha. Plus, they’re vegan and gluten-free. Similarly, while almonds are a good source of protein, the ones covered in thick layers of chocolate turn this superfood into something to be cautious of. They can be replaced by Skinny Dipped Almonds, a snack that is covered by a thin layer of dark chocolate and dusted with flavors like espresso, peanut butter, cocoa and raspberry for an indulgence you can feel good about.
3. Support Your Gut
The gastrointestinal system or the gut is what allows us to absorb nutrients and water, meaning it’s pretty much essential for survival. It can be thought of as the ‘building blocks’ of bodily function, essential in supporting the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, and more. It even helps defend us against disease! So what can we do to make sure our gut is happy? The answer is pretty simple, and it’s eating specific foods for the right nutrients.
Fiber is the most important part of good gut health. If there’s nothing else you take from this read, remember to stock up on fiber! If you already enjoy any fiber-rich foods, you’re headed in the right direction. But there’s plenty of other ways to effectively treat your gut, including eating fermented foods such as kimchi or sauerkraut, greens like broccoli or asparagus, and fruits like bananas or apples. Regular exercise and the recommended amount of sleep can also have an impact on your gut’s level of effectiveness.
4. Probiotic versus Prebiotic
On the subject of maintaining good gut health, probiotic and prebiotic compounds are very important to mention.
Put simply, these compounds reside in the gut and fill an important role in regulating health. But in addition to helping the digestive system, probiotics are suggested to improve mental health as well. Less research has been done on the positive effects of prebiotics, but some studies suggest that they enhance metabolism and change how quickly the body processes carbohydrates. Probiotic and prebiotic supplements are available if there’s a shortage of these compounds, but our recommendation is to take a look at foods that are already rich in these healthy bacteria.
The foods mentioned earlier such as kimchi or asparagus are great sources of both probiotics and prebiotics, but some additional options include oats, kombucha tea, berries, beans, and peas.
5. Consider Meat Alternatives
Meat substitutes that look, smell, and taste like the real thing made entirely from plants is slowly becoming a reality. Just look at the ‘Impossible Burger’ from Impossible Foods, lauded for its ability to act as a convincing meat substitute. It isn’t as widely available as regular meat, but expect to see similar products crop up in the next few years.
One such company is already seeing great success from the get-go. The ‘Beyond Burger’ from Beyond Meat, called a “game-changer” for both vegetarians and carnivores alike, is a plant-based burger that has been receiving plenty of attention. It’s healthier than red meat by being free of GMO’s, soy, or gluten, and provides 20 grams of protein in each burger.
6. Lay Off Red Meat at the Company BBQ
Speaking of meat, if you’re attending a company barbecue this summer, keep an eye on how much red meat you eat! Many of us enjoy a delicious burger now and then, which is perfectly understandable. But red meat shouldn’t be relied on as the sole source of protein. Reducing red meat consumption can lower the risk of death from heart disease, stroke, or diabetes. Try reaching for the grilled chicken to get a low-fat, high-protein option.
7. Stay Hydrated
Research shows that up to 60% of the human adult body is made up of water. This makes it one of the most, if not the most important resources for life. Multiple pages could be dedicated solely to the positive effects of drinking water, but the following are just a couple of reasons why drinking a healthy amount of water is a smart decision.
Water dissolves minerals and nutrients, allowing us to digest them properly. Additionally, it helps with weight loss if chosen over artificially-sweetened beverages like soda. Not everyone fancies the taste of regular water, which is why numerous home-grown strategies to alter its taste while maintaining the same nutritional benefits have grown increasingly popular.
8. Build a List of Favorites
This idea is pretty self-explanatory, but it helps in the long run. If you save a list of your favorite meals, snacks, or drinks that are proven to be healthy and you enjoy, you can build a list of killer health-first options.
9. Dive into Fruit Snacks
Similar to other types of food, there are healthy and less-healthy options when it comes to fruit snacks. The market isn’t limited to sweet gummies or portable fruit; today there are a bunch of options for anyone hoping to snack smart in a variety of ways. Fruit bars, bites, rolls, dried fruit, and plenty more where that came from!
10. Combine Choices
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and you can’t go wrong with a bowl of cereal to start strong. Some cereals are healthier than others, but if you know where to look, there are a bunch of healthy options for cereal fans.
One way to make cereal even better is by adding fruit into the mix. Banana, strawberries, blueberries, and more are all great additions to make breakfast more exciting! Trade in the added sugars from sweet cereal for natural sugars provided by fruit, and you’ll get the best of both worlds: sweet taste, satisfying flavor, and it’s health-conscious.
11. Understand the Food Label
An entire blog post could be dedicated solely to information on food labels. Thankfully, the FDA has a comprehensive guide on specific areas to look for in the fine print, so we have our work cut out for us. But one point we will highlight here is the %DV or the Percent Daily Value. It’s a system that requires using a bit of math, but it can help monitor just how much of each nutrient you’re getting daily. It’s all based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet.
The food label is nothing new, but the FDA still releases updates to the label on occasion to improve our understanding of how food affects us.
12. Ask Friends
Who doesn’t like talking about food? Consult with friends or coworkers about what their favorite healthy choices are. Their recommendations can broaden your range of options, and possibly introduce you to a dish you hadn’t thought to try. Add it to the list so you don’t forget!
13. Recognize Formats
French fries and baked potatoes are made from the same base ingredient – a potato – but one is far healthier than the other. You may be surprised to hear that, yes, baked potatoes can be a smart, health-conscious addition to any diet. It’s a good source of protein and fiber and only contains 278 calories before butter is added. Just one potato has 18% of the recommended daily value of potassium. Additionally, it’s full of vitamin C, fiber, vitamin B6, and iron. Potatoes are high in carbohydrates which have lessened their appeal in recent years, but they shouldn’t be missed for that trait alone. As long as they’re enjoyed in moderation, the benefits outweigh the negative aspects.
14. Don’t Worry About Appearance
While we’re on the subject of potatoes… You know what they say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Even if food looks ‘ugly’ that won’t diminish its nutritional value. After all, it’ll end up in the same place as everything else regardless of appearance.
The average potato isn’t exactly the most visually-appealing food item, but it sure is good! Add in the nutritional facts mentioned earlier and you’ve got a smart addition to being health-conscious. The next time you are at the market, choose ‘ugly’ produce to do your part in reducing food waste!
15. Strive for Sustainability
Being health-conscious refers to one’s personal relationship with healthy eating, but its effects extend beyond self-growth. Making health-conscious choices can reduce our carbon footprint. For starters, consider any local farmer’s market. Purchasing local produce cuts down on the fuel needed to transport food to faraway locations, saving energy. This leads to at least three net gains; it supports your local economy, allows for healthier eating habits, and lessens environmental impact.
Leading a health-conscious lifestyle yields so many positive results, many of which aren’t covered here. We didn’t even mention the value of proper exercise! Still, adopting just one of these tips can have a positive effect on daily life.