Follow These 6 Healthy Eating Habits to Live Healthier
By: Andrea Hayley-Sankaran
We all want to eat healthier, but sometimes this is easier said than done. Studies show that most people think they make around 15 food and beverage decisions a day when the reality is more like 200.
What does this mean? It means that eating on autopilot is the norm and that it’s super easy to be influenced by the marketing barrage all around us—with its steady stream of new inventions on the supermarket shelves—and by what others are doing.
This is a problem because allowing others to influence our eating habits is not a recipe for success. Just take a look at the growing tally of the chronic illness and obesity afflicted in the world today. Scientists say these are lifestyle diseases.
The good news is that people who establish daily healthy eating habits are in a much stronger position to control their own health outcomes and enjoy happier and healthier lives.
Healthy eating habits are the perfect solution to sensory overload because by definition a habit is also something you do on autopilot, just like finding your way home without thinking.
Establishing good eating habits can help you stay on course and avoid unhealthy autopilot behaviour.
Here are six healthy eating habits to help you live healthier:
Healthy Eating Habit #1: When in Doubt, Choose More Vegetables
If there is one thing everyone today seems to agree on, it’s the value of adding more vegetables to their diets. Vegetables are nutrient-dense, satiating, high in fibre, and naturally low in fat.
Many vegetables, such as legumes, tofu and soy products, and leafy greens, are also high in protein.
A simple healthy eating habit to keep in mind is to include enough vegetables to make up around 30 percent or more of each meal.
These days, there is a growing movement championed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to shift vegetables away from their typical “side dish” status to the center of the plate, replacing the meat.
Actually, this is typical of many Asian dishes, where the primary ingredients are vegetables, with a small amount of meat used for flavour. Mapo tofu is a good example.
Or imagine having a salad with salmon or grilled chicken as a topping, or anchovies or bacon as a condiment that adds extra flavour to your meal.
Healthy Eating Habit #2: Reduce Your Refined Sugar Intake
The dangers of too much added sugar are numerous, and only in recent years are the facts really coming to light. That’s why you might not have thought much about this one before.
One of the biggest problems with sugar is that your body can only safely process so much at a time, and when it gets to be too much, that’s when the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers goes up significantly.
Sugar can also damage your body’s ability to fight off infections because the bacteria and yeast that live inside your body just love feeding on sugar.
So the safest bet with refined white sugar is to reduce your intake to 5 teaspoons or less per day. That might look like two small cookies, or half a can of coke, half a chocolate bar (43 grams), or a doughnut.
Read labels carefully, because sugar shows up everywhere in processed or refined foods. Common danger spots include flavoured yogurt, salad dressings and sauces, instant oatmeal, crackers, and canned soups.
As a reference point when you are reading labels, 1 teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams, so you want to limit yourself to 20 grams or less.
Make it your habit to reduce your refined sugar consumption, and you will enjoy a healthier lifestyle for sure!
Healthy Eating Habit #3: Embrace Diversity in Your Diet
The body is like an incredibly complex organism that requires adequate nutrition to fire on all cylinders. You want this so you can reap the rewards of excellent health.
Since nutrition comes in many forms—you’ve heard of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals—it is wise to eat a variety of foods each day to increase the chances of giving your body what it needs.
One way to look at this is to choose foods from every colour of the rainbow. Say you are making a Chinese stir-fry. You could choose white onions and garlic, yellow bell peppers, orange carrots, red tomatoes, green kale, and purple cabbage.
You don’t need to know the nutritional profile of each vegetable, but you do know that your meal is loaded right?
Another way of looking at this is to challenge yourself to try new things. Is there a vegetable that you can tolerate, but you don’t love it yet? Give it another try, and over time you can learn to like it, if not love it.
Be open to trying new things too. There is a huge variety of grains, nuts, seeds, and spices in the world that are all excellent. Who knows. You might find something amazing!
Healthy Eating Habit #4: Cook for Yourself as Much as Possible
The best way to live healthier is to cook for yourself. This way you know exactly what you are putting into your body, and you don’t have to pay as much attention to reading labels.
Make cooking a priority for your health, and set a goal to cook at least 3 days a week. On the other days, you can eat leftovers, like soups, stews, sheet-pan dinners, and meal plan prep.
A lot of people find that meal prepping is a great solution. Typically, you’d spend 1 to 2 hours on the weekend and have food prepared for the rest of the week. There are a lot of great resources online. Run a google search and see what you can find in this area.
Cooking is also a wonderful way to de-stress after a busy day. When you embrace your time in the kitchen you’ll relish that attention on you and your health in a good way.
If you can view cooking as a form of self-care, you will feel healthier and happier spending creative time in the kitchen that results in something tasty.
Healthy Eating Habit #5: Eat Dinner Before 8 PM
The most important habit for your body is to eat dinner before 8 p.m., or even earlier. You should never sleep immediately after eating, and ideally, you should sleep only after 3 hours.
Eating late and going to bed soon after is one of the hardest things for the body to deal with. It is extremely taxing to the digestive system.
Nighttime is when the body performs deep healing and repairs, and if your body is struggling to digest a late meal it can’t deal with anything else.
Even worse, you might experience indigestion.
You’ll know eating late is a problem if you wake up in the morning feeling heavy, you have smelly flatulence, and/or you don’t have any hunger until midday.
It can be challenging to eat early with today’s hectic lifestyles, but whatever you can do to adjust your schedule is going to make a big difference in your life.
Healthy Eating Habit #6: Drink Hot Water Throughout the Day
This healthy eating habit is the health industry’s best-kept secret, so I’ve kept it for last.
They don’t want you to know about it because hot water is an incredibly effective medicine, and it doesn’t cost you a cent to take.
This doesn’t mean you should drink hot water only if you have a disease. Everyone can benefit from drinking more hot water. I’ve included a few of the biggest benefits below.
The most important benefit is for digestion. So if you ate late, and don’t feel good in the morning, the first thing you can do is drink hot water. (In general, hot water first thing in the morning is a good idea.)
Hot water soothes and activates the digestive tract, and supports good digestion and elimination overall. Good digestion is going to make you feel better, and definitely help you live healthier.
Hot water is great for the head and throat, since it relieves nasal congestion, soothes a sore throat, and can help with a sinus headache.
The simple act of drinking hot water is calming to the nervous system, which means you may also feel less anxious or stressed.
Hot water is also mildly purifying. Who couldn’t use a bit more of that right?
Particularly if you are a person who frequently feels cold, make it your new healthy habit to drink hot water as much as you can.
And if you can’t drink it hot, at least choose room temperature over ice water.
Andrea Hayley-Sankaran is a passionate vegetarian chef and digestive health coach who helps people with sore tummies find relief through the self-healing wisdom of Ayurveda. Andrea founded her blog, Buttered Veg, to teach people how to use food as medicine to nourish both mind and body. You can find her @buttered.veg