Happy 2011! Hope it is getting off to a great start for you. Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I wished my husband a happy New Year the other morning and he responded by asking me what my New Year’s resolution for this year was. I quickly replied that I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, more specifically, I don’t believe in setting a specific day for making particular life changes. I figure, why not start something when you think of it? Why wait? Well, in the end he convinced me that it’s not a bad thing to use this day as a time to reflect on the past year and resolve to set a few goals for the upcoming months ahead. Using that thought, I decided to list what I consider to be ten resolution-worthy nutrition goals that you can incorporate in the New Year. Whether you find just one that resonates with you or decide to shoot for all ten, making a few diet-related goals can really help start your year off right.
1. Eat real food.
What do I mean by “real” food. I mean throwing out or not buying most processed foods. Try to think if you can envision the components of a particular food in nature. No? Probably shouldn’t eat it. Or as Michael Pollen would say, does the food eventually break down and rot? No? Then it’s likely so pumped full of preservatives that it’s probably better left on the shelf. Yes, I realize all of the above apply to my jube jubes. I’m working on it.
2. Eat cultured or fermented foods daily.
Fermented and cultured foods are teeming with friendly bacteria that are very important for digestive health. In our society of nutritionally dead foods and overuse of antibiotics, a lot of us have an overabundance of “bad” bacteria in our gut and have not been regularly replenishing the “good.” By letting these friendly little guys take up residence in your colon, you help strengthen your immune system, break down certain types of carbohydrates, enhance absorption of some vitamins and minerals, and prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
3. Get your Vitamin D Levels Checked.
As I commented a few weeks ago, the new DRI’s for Vitamin D recently came out. They weren’t as high as I was expecting, however it has been noted that higher doses may be indicated in the cases of significant deficiency (which is common in this state). By getting your Vitamin D levels checked and consulting with a medical practitioner you can better know if supplementation, and what amount, is appropriate for you. If you weren’t aware, Vitamin D deficiency has been potentially linked to autoimmune disorders, certain types of cancer, increased risk for fractures, and even dementia.
4. Start an Exercise Plan.
We all know exercise is good for us. It helps improve cardiovascular function, improve mood and mental abilities, and ward off weight gain. To ease into a program that is realistic and achievable, start by doing 15 minutes of some activity, such as walking, 3-5 times a week. Keep this up for a month and likely you’ll notice this pattern starting to become a habit. Continue to increase the time and intensity of your workouts as needed.
5. Make Food From Scratch.
As much as possible I try to encourage people to make their foods from raw ingredients instead of buying packages. Not only do you then know what exactly is in your food but you have complete control over the quality of the ingredients used. While this method takes longer, the health benefits are worth it. A good goal would be to try and make dinner from scratch 2-4 times per week. Also, the beautiful thing with cooking is that you can make an extra large batch and save some for the next night (which vastly reduces your time in the kitchen) or pop it in the freezer to pull out on a night when you are running short on time.
6. Buy Organic.
The “organic debate” is ongoing, however I do believe that choosing organic foods for the most part is the more health-conscious and eco-conscious choice. Fruits and vegetables, for example, are some of the foods I almost always buy organic due to varying level of pesticides in conventional produce (a recent research study linked pesticide intake to ADHD). I also appreciate the opportunity to support local farmers using sustainable farming practices. Meat and dairy are also areas where I try to choose organic, or if not organic then local and pasture-raised. Organic cheese puffs though? On those types of products, I’m not as discriminating. Go back to #1 about eating real food.
7. Eat Vegetables Daily.
I will admit, this can be difficult. Vegetables can take a lot of prep and even after all that work there is no guarantee that your kids or even your spouse will eat them. =) Just remember that vegetables are chocked full of fiber, vitamins and even more minute compounds called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals act as potent antioxidants and may help reduce the risk for cancer, heart disease and other inflammatory conditions. Currently the new food guide pyramid says most of us should be getting 2 ½ -3 cups of vegetables daily. I think if you can aim to eat at least 2 or 3 different vegetables daily (don’t worry about counting cups per say), then you are off to a good start.
8. Know Where Your Meat Products Come From
This somewhat ties into the #6, but with this I want to emphasize learning more about the meat products (and even dairy if you want to go a step further) you buy and knowing where they come from. Are the animals raised on feedlots in confined spaces or are they allowed to roam on grasslands? Are they allowed to be injected with antibiotics? How far has the product traveled to get to your plate? Just a little bit of research and knowledge might affect your purchasing decisions and hopefully improve the quality of meat you consume. In terms of personal health, organic meats typically have more Omega 3 fatty acids, a healthier fat profile in general and fewer toxins, hormones and antibiotics. One common complaint I get is that organic or pasture-raised products are significantly more expensive. This is typically true. I hope that by getting you to at least look into your food and the health benefits more closely you may decide that the price is worth it. Another strategy is just to eat less meat. Most Americans get more protein each day than they need, so cutting back and replacing with more fruits, vegetables and fermented foods might be a good idea.
9. Get Rid of Artificial Sweeteners
I probably should have made this #1 (although I’m not ranking these in any particular order). I do not like or trust artificial sweeteners. More products than ever are “sugar free” and yet obesity rates and incidences of diabetes continue to climb. In fact, I’ve known more than one person who has had persistent difficulty managing their blood sugar levels while consuming diet colas and other artificially sweetened products. Whether it was due to the chemicals or related to other factors I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem that our situation has improved at all with these types of products. In fact, instead of improving health we may be increasing our incidences of cancer, headaches, and mood disorders, among other side effects. I vote no.
10. Stop stressing about calories!
I’ve seen it again and again. People will tell me how they are watching their weight and counting calories, only to then waste the calories they saved on some indulgent treat because they’ve “earned” it. I think if we all enjoyed what we ate and made room for little treats here and there, we wouldn’t feel the need to completely deprive ourselves and then go overboard on indulgences. If you do anything this year, then make it this. Stop stressing about every morsel you put in your mouth and enjoy your food at every meal. Eliminate random snacking, fast food and giant portions and focus on making nutritious meals that are satisfying and tasty. Need help? Just ask.
So there it is, basically the first ten things that popped into my mind. Now that I’ve given you suggestions for your New Year’s resolutions, I probably should think about my own. Hmmmm. I’d love to know yours though as I ruminate on my own. Good luck!