Retooling Your Diet

March is National Nutrition Month: Know What You Eat!

Do today’s food trends make you think you need to eat more like a caveman, a Viking or maybe even a giraffe? Do diets like the Paleo, Mediterranean and Whole 30 make you crazy with indecision on how and what to eat?

Relax. Your Health Matters tapped Tim Higgins, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Meritus Health to demystify improved health through better eating.

Move closer to the real deal

Before you pop something into your mouth, ask yourself what is real and what is not. “Clean eating” is about eating food that is closest to the food’s natural form. More of an awareness exercise, eating clean requires you to make conscious decisions to eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and less refined grains, added sugars and unhealthy fats.

“Eating clean is not an overly prescriptive diet,” says Tim. “It allows you to incorporate changes that are more familiar to you.”

Steer clear of processed foods

“Look at food labels,” says Tim. “If you can’t pronounce the words, then it’s a highly processed food.” Think of corn syrup and how far removed it is from corn on a stalk: processed foods are overly manipulated and highly fragmented. Keep in mind that ingredients on a food label are listed in order of predominance. If the top five begin with sugar, salt and corn syrup, you should put the item back on the shelf.

Shop the perimeter of your grocery store

Concentrate your shopping time to the produce, diary, fish and meat departments located at the sides and back of a grocery store. Fresh foods have less fat, sugar and sodium and are better for your health.

Eat well on a budget

People in third-world countries eat beans, rice—and if available—vegetables. A one-pound bag of dried lentils, an excellent source of protein, costs $0.99. Fresh broccoli costs around $1.70 per pound. A bag of potato chips totals nearly $4 per pound. You do the math. Tim also suggests frozen vegetables as an alternative to fresh produce.

Make food swaps

Eat nuts like peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, almonds, instead of chips. For snacks on the go, Tim recommends dried apricots and pears versus muffins and candy bars. Instead of a ham and cheese sandwich, he suggests oat-bran bread with humus topped with cucumbers.

Discover the joy of cooking

People complain that cooking takes up too much time, but Tim marvels at how many people will stand in line or wait in the drive-through for fast food. “Clean cooking will come more naturally if you know what you’re putting into a meal,” says Tim. He also suggests crock pot cooking and preparing foods over the weekend to freeze for future meals throughout the week.

Look for sustainability

Tim believes that food-restricting diets are often unsustainable and therefore, people are less likely to succeed. Instead, look at what you’re eating now and slowly integrate change. Try swapping out processed food for home-prepared meals gradually over 12 weeks. “Being mindful and consistent is a big step,” says Tim. “Ask yourself if your meal choices are getting you closer or further away from clean eating.”