Unless we’re talking puppies, avocados, or Taylor Swift songs, I am of the belief that less is more—especially when it comes to healthy eating. No, I don’t mean less food—I mean less complication. It can be incredibly easy to get caught up in all the different eating plans—I say this as someone who has been on paleo, keto, vegan, plant-based, raw food, macrobiotic, and probably 12 other types of diets in her lifetime. It’s confusing!
It can be hard to cut through all the chatter to know how to eat, something that was touched on during our most recent Well+Good TALK event. “It doesn’t have to be that complicated,” Katlin Smith, CEO of Simple Mills, said. “So while there’s a lot of noise out there, there’s actually a lot of things that we do know work very well. It’s not actually that mysterious.” Or at least, it shouldn’t be.
1. Simple ingredients (ideally from whole foods) are better
“Think about eating simple ingredients that you can pronounce, that you and your body know,” Smith said. Dr. Wijetilaka agreed. “Try to eat whole foods with the least amount of ingredients,” she said. “Ideally something that’s not packaged—and I get it, we’re all busy! But ideally in a perfect world it would be food that doesn’t have any packaging.”
Why? Essentially packaged foods are more likely to be heavily processed—cooked, refined, and manipulated with additives and other ingredients to make them last longer—and a diet heavy in processed foods has been consistently linked to poor health outcomes.
Basically, choose foods in their whole form, and if it’s not a whole food, scan the ingredient list. Simple, few, pronounceable ingredients are better—as are these minimally-processed snacks and frozen options.
2. Plants = good
“Think about eating more plants,” Smith said. Yes, it’s really that simple. The USDA recommends eating that women eat at least two-and-a-half cups of vegetables and one-and-a-half to two cups of fruit every day to make the most of their fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. And diets high in plants (like the Mediterranean diet) are linked with a plethora of health benefits, from improved heart health to a reduced risk of mortality.
Zeitlin added that we could all stand to add more onto our plates. “If you’re someone who eats a lot [of plants], great, maybe you want to double your portion,” she said. If you tend to skimp on the veggies, “think about tripling it.” You can do this in a lot of ways, she said: raw in salads or as crudités, roasted, grilled, sautéed, basically any way that you like it is a good thing.
Speaking of the Mediterranean diet, here’s a breakdown of the plan from an RD:
3. Food should be joyful (and not stressful)
“Food should be enjoyable,” Zeitlin said. “You should be eating what you like to eat and want to eat.” That’s important whether you’re choosing the healthy foods you want to prioritize (don’t try to force yourself to eat kale if you just hate it!) or deciding what dessert to eat. “When you want a chocolate chip cookie, you should have that too. Food and nutrition and nourishing yourself goes both ways.”
And when a food or a way of eating is not hitting those buckets, Zeitlin said it’s important to reassess. “If it’s not nourishing you and is stressing you out and causing you anxiety, it isn’t the right plan for you.”
4. Find an eating plan you can truly keep up with
When it comes to picking an eating plan, Zeitlin had this to say: “If it sounds like cruel and unusual punishment, you shouldn’t do it.” She urged people to consider whether a given eating plan is something that you can do for the long haul, no matter where you live or where you go. Will you be still be able to have options to eat when going out with friends or traveling to a new place? Will it be a huge pain to find alternatives on a regular basis? “It’s not going to work for you,” she said, if it isn’t suitable for the realities of your everyday life.
5. Drink more water
“Drink more water” is the nutrition equivalent of “always wear sunscreen.” It’s that important. “Hydration is so key and it helps with stress,” Zeitlin said. “And it helps you to really get in touch with your hunger… when we are dehydrated, our bodies interpret that as hunger. So we’ll reach for more food, whether that’s a sugary item or not, when really we’re just thirsty.” Consider this your reminder to fill up that S’well bottle ASAP.
Yikes, this is what a serving size of your favorite healthy foods actually looks like. (Honestly shook by the avocado recommendation.) And these 7 healthy foods can help you combat stress.
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