Eating healthy poses a challenge nowadays with so many options that taste great but aren't really good for you. Nutritionists have made it their life's work to understand what actually does a body good. Here's how you can follow their example.
"Unlike naturally-occurring sugars (think whole fruits), added sugar contributes harmful, nutritionally empty calories. Ideally, you want to cap your intake of added sugars at 24 - 30 grams a day. Most of the time, the sugar you see listed on the Nutrition Facts label is added (the exceptions being plain milk, unflavored yogurts, and dried fruit where no form of added sugar shows up on the ingredient list)."
Andy also noted that there are a couple of foods we need to watch out for, as they may seem potentially nutritious but generally are not:
"100% fruit juice may not have added sugar, but it is a fiberless, concentrated form of fruit sugar. As far as our bodies are concerned, it's not that much different from soda. One easy way to decrease the sugar in your diet is to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. Additionally, 86 the breakfast cereal (the vast majority of brands are sugar bombs and offer very little nutrition)."
When it comes to dessert, he has an important tip for chocolate lovers:
"Always choose dark chocolate. Chocolate that contains a cocoa percentage of 80% or higher is lower in sugar, higher in fiber, and richer in minerals than milk chocolates."
While you don't want to make too many assumptions in life, it's generally safe to assume you'll find sugar hidden in most packaged foods. If you want to take sugar avoidance seriously, stick to whole foods as much as possible and expect to find sugar in most other options.
We may love our protein- and carbohydrate-rich foods, but nothing packs a nutritional punch like vegetables. Unfortunately, they're not a favorite for most people. While you certainly can eat them alone, Andy suggests always thinking of ways to integrate greens into your meals:
"No matter what you are eating (pilafs, stir-fries, pasta, etc.) always add leafy greens, which are a nutritional powerhouse. Add a few handfuls of arugula to your next pasta dish, top a pilaf with shredded brussels sprouts, and add some swiss chard to your favorite stir-fries."
If I'm ever eating anything that isn't exactly a healthy choice, I always try to take this advice. For example, I have a nostalgic soft spot in my heart for Kraft Mac and Cheese. It isn't healthy, but you can cut down on the serving size and add some nutritional value to the mix with broccoli. It's not perfect, but it makes a meal otherwise devoid of nutritional value a bit more worth its while.
Whenever you want to have a "cheat meal" of some kind, don't forget to add the greens. They're actually tasty and make a problem food a little less problematic. Plus, there are many ways to make veggies taste good.
You don't want too much of any oil, but certain ones cause more trouble than others. Andy explains:
"Stay away from foods that contain corn or cottonseed oil. Most highly processed foods are cooked in these oils, which are highly inflammatory (cellular inflammation is increasingly identified as one of the main culprits behind various chronic diseases)."
Of course, you won't be able to avoid these oils in every situation. If you eat at restaurants, you won't know how your meal is prepared. That's why it's best to cook at home, but if you are eating out, you'll want to make healthier choices using the principles we previously discussed. If it's olive oil you're worried about, just make sure you're getting the good stuff.
Most people don't bother with seeds, but they're a wonderful addition to your diet. If you don't enjoy them plain, Andy has a suggestion:
"Seeds are chock-full of many nutrients the average American does not eat enough of. One way to incorporate them easily into the diet is to combine hemp, sesame, poppy, ground flax, and ground sunflower seeds in a shaker and sprinkle that on top of your favorite dishes. Since seeds contain fragile fatty acids, store the shaker in your refrigerator."
Basically, think of them in the say way as greens: as additives to your favorite dishes. In some cases, you can even use seeds as substitutes for other ingredients, like flaxseeds in lieu of eggs. Even chia seeds make a good egg substitute.
You don't have to give up eating the foods you love. Diets that remove the joy of food don't work because you'll hate following them. Instead, you can use the tips discussed here to improve the nutritional value of foods you enjoy. Some things you'll have to cut out or at least eat in moderation, but for the most part you can just add the healthy stuff and find a better way to appreciate the foods you love.