Remember when all you had to think about for a healthy meal was the four food groups? Now we’ve got superfoods, saturated fats and nonsaturated fats, calories from fat, high fructose corn syrup, cave man diets, antioxidants, low-carb diets, blood type diets…there aren’t even four food groups anymore. There are six. It’s no wonder we’re facing an obesity epidemic in this country. We’re too confused to know what’s healthy and what isn’t.
“In the ‘90s, eggs were bad for you. Now, they’re good for you,” says Casey Potts, a nutritionist who helps endurance runners and cyclists find balance with their nutrition plans. “Most Americans don’t know how to eat well, and the ones that do are too busy to bother.”
With Potts’ guidance, we’ve cut through all the research and advertising hype and developed five basic steps to eating healthy. Follow these guidelines and you’ll find yourself eating leaner, more nutrient-dense meals without even knowing it.
Don’t change anything too drastically.
Instead of trying to go cold turkey on a no-fat, no-carb, no-fun diet, try substituting healthier items for the less healthy options you usually choose. “Make little substitutions, and you’ll see a big difference overall,” Potts says.
For breakfast, switch to plain yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal and sprinkle fruit on top. Or instead of an egg biscuit, try egg and cheese on a whole-wheat bagel.
For lunch, keep the sandwich, but switch to whole grain bread instead of white bread.
For your snacks, replace your candy bar or package of cheese crackers with fresh fruits like apples and bananas.
For dinner, go heavier on your portions of veggies and lighter on the meat.
Don’t discriminate against any whole food.
“It’s easy to hone in on one food and expound on the nutritional value of that item, but the truth is, you need a lot of different foods to eat a healthy diet,” Potts says. “Chicken has good nutritional value, but so do beef and fish. Green leafy veggies are good for you, but so are orange veggies.”
Plan your meals at the beginning of the week and make sure you vary your protein sources and veggies. If you’re eating a high variety of foods, you won’t have to worry about supplementing certain nutrients.
Eat at home.
“Cooking your meals at home takes more time, but it’s a simple way to cut out overly processed food, fast food, and foods that are high in fats and sugar,” Potts says. This doesn’t mean buying microwavable Kentucky Fried Chicken meals. This means cooking non-processed, whole foods that you pick out yourself at the grocery store, which leads us to…
Shop around the outside edges of the grocery store.
“This is where the fruits, veggies, meats, and dairies are,” Potts says. “All the processed stuff is stocked in the middle. If you never wander into those aisles, you’re less likely to crave the box of hamburger helper and bag of cookies.”
Write down everything you eat.
This is probably the toughest of the rules, but keeping a diet diary could be the ultimate key to curbing your midnight cookie cravings. “Just writing it down makes you more aware of the fact that you just ate three cookies,” Potts says.
Bonus Rule: It’s absolutely okay to cheat. “People freak out when they see me eat a cookie,” Potts says. “But those occasional extra calories aren’t going to hurt you if you have a healthy diet otherwise.”