This week was very educational for me. It inspired my husband and I to go shopping for the week's groceries and to follow these guidelines closely. I can't tell you how satisfying it feels to feed my babies good food, free of the processed crap I was feeding them. And I feel like I have so much more energy, myself. I don't feel sick when I eat. I don't crash after an hour. I don't crave junk. And the week's only started! Read on to see what I've been learning:
While many behaviors affect your health, good food choices have the biggest influence on weight loss for most people, which makes them a top priority for meeting your goals.
Two important guidelines will help you succeed: eat less fat and eat fewer processed carbs.
Fat contains more than twice the calories of the same amount of sugar, starch, or protein, so cutting back fat will greatly impact your weight loss.
Diets tend to focus on the quantity of fat, but it’s equally important to know the types of fats you consume. While monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy and even helpful in small quantities, saturated fats and trans fats are harmful. These fats, which are found in many packaged foods, are the two kinds you should especially avoid.
Saturated fats occur naturally in animal products like meat, butter, and cream. They are also found in some vegetable oils, like palm kernel oil and cocoa butter. Because saturated fat occurs naturally, you might think it is a good thing to eat. It is not! Your body actually produces all the saturated fat it needs on its own. Every gram of saturated fat that you get from eating is excessive, and can lead to health problems like high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
Trans fat is rarely found in nature. It is generally manmade for the purpose of increasing shelf life and flavor stability in packaged food products. Originally developed to be a healthier substitute for saturated fats, trans fats are now recognized to be even worse. Things like shortening, doughnuts, French fries, and margarine are high in trans fat.
Have you ever heard of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil? The word "vegetable" may lead you to believe that this oil is healthy, but it’s actually just another term for trans fat. An accumulation of trans fat can increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. In fact, trans fat is so unhealthy that the American Heart Association recommends never eating more than 2 grams in a day.
Practice tracking your saturated and trans fat intake for a few days, as your weight changes, so will your goal.
Trans fat is found in prepared foods, but it’s also used as a means to prepare the foods! Some restaurants cook things like French fries in trans fatty oil. Watch out--that serving of fries might contain up to 5 grams of harmful trans fat (more than you should eat in over 2 days)!
You probably know that added sugars are an unhealthy choice, but processed carbs are just as bad. Processed or refined carbs include foods like white rice, white bread, bagels, cold cereals, potato chips, and many sweets and crackers. They have been stripped of their fiber and processed for longer shelf life. When you eat refined carbs, your body breaks them down into sugar molecules that rapidly enter your bloodstream. The next time you’re eating white bread, imagine you’re eating pure sugar, because there’s just not enough fiber to make a big difference.
Cattle aren't fed highly refined grains. Farmers take special care to crack the grains enough to aid digestion, but they include the original unprocessed fiber to slow down absorption. They've learned that processing the food too much makes cattle sick.
Processed foods are typically found in convenience stores and the middle aisles of supermarkets. Because they’re not whole foods, they keep without refrigeration. Watch out for packaged foods that are easy to store in your pantry for a long time! Refined carbs also tend to be lower in nutrients and higher in calories, which is the opposite of what you want.
Focus instead on choosing healthy sources of carbs. There are so many available! Start with whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Switch to whole grains in every way that you can, including bread, crackers, tortillas, and pasta. Choose apple slices and almonds instead of cheese and crackers for a snack. Include fruit and vegetables at every meal.
The fewer packaged foods and sugary beverages you consume, the better. Even if you miss some of your old favorites at first, your tastes will change over time, and soon, you will love your new choices.
The first step to eating less fat and processed carbs is to find them! Unfortunately, they can be tricky to spot. Some of the foods we assume are healthy aren't very healthy at all. Most cold cereals are loaded with added sugars, even the ones that are branded as good for you. In fact, some "healthy" cereals are worse than the obviously sugary ones! Canned soups and packaged chips or crackers are typically high in fat and salt. And you already know that even 100% juice is particularly unhealthy.
Begin by reading the nutritional labels on the food you buy and checking for high fat and high carbs without fiber. To be a great source of fiber, a food should have at least 5 grams per serving.
Any package with a Nutrition Facts label will also list its ingredients. Seek whole grains, and watch out for oils and added sweeteners. Stick with ingredients that you recognize and that you can pronounce. You can also look at the length of the list to estimate how much processing the food has gone through.
Breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day. If you have prediabetes, that is even more true, since a good breakfast (high-protein, high-fiber) will help stabilize your blood sugar levels all day long. So don’t skip it! Always plan to eat within one hour of waking up.
Instead of succumbing to a pattern of indulging, anticipate and head off the snack attack. Eat an apple during your commute home, before you feel starving. Drink two glasses of water right when you walk in the door. Or, get outside for a soothing stroll to relax your mind instead of eating or drinking anything.
Shop healthy to live healthy. Make a complete shopping list before going to the store. Make sure your list includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with the whole grains and lean proteins needed to make a meal. Once you get to the store, buy only what you put on the list ahead of time. And never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry!
Once you have a healthy snack and enter the store with your list, start shopping the perimeter. The store edges are home to most fresh foods like produce, dairy, and whole grains. The less time you spend in the center aisles, the healthier your purchases will be. Make it a habit to do a lap around the edges of the grocery store first, picking up the majority of your groceries before heading into the aisles. Once you are in the center aisles, buy only what you have on your list!
Make healthier versions of prepared foods you want to avoid. Canned beans and tomatoes make a low-fat and low-sodium base for soups and chili. Frozen fruits are the start of blended smoothies, a great substitute for more sugary frozen desserts. Instead of fatty prepared salad dressing, make your own with herbs, spices, vinegar, and olive oil that you buy separately.