The importance of a healthy diet cannot be overstated. It directly effects both short term performance and long term health. It is one of the components of lifestyle that is most easily modified and controlled, yet it is the area that holds most people back from achieving their goals. So today I would like talk about the characteristics that make up a healthy diet. There are numerous diets that one can choose from and many of them differ greatly, but there are a few common factors that every successful diet has in common. So here is a list of characteristics that make up a healthy diet:
An emphasis on fruits, vegetables, plants, and seeds
No matter which diet you choose to follow there should be a big focus on whole, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, plants, and seeds. Most of the foods that fall in these categories are highly nutritious, full of vitamins and minerals, and relatively low calorie. What constitutes a fruit or vegetable should be obvious, but when I say plants and seeds I am referring to things such as roots, corn, potatoes, beans, fruit/vegetable seeds, and nuts. If you are trying to lose weight then I would moderate your intake of corn, potatoes, and nuts but feel free to indulge in all the vegetables you want. Just remember that it is always best to eat fresh and whole produce. This might require more frequent trips to the store(once per week) but it is worth it for the nutrients and the flavor.
Home Cooked Meals
Plan out ahead of time what you are going to eat for the week. Planning out your meals does a number of things. First, is gets you consciously things about what you are going to eat. This will lead to making smarter choices related to your food intake because it will be more of a proactive process. Secondly, it helps you keep track of what you are eating. Many times people cannot even recall what they ate for lunch a few days ago, but if it is part of your plan then it is a no brainer. This is beneficial because it allows you to see what is working and what is increasing your waist line, acting sort of like a built-in food log. Finally, is saves you from making poor decisions on the fly during the week. If you don't have a plan then you end up eating whatever is cheapest or most convenient, neither of which is a good idea.
Variety is often overlooked when it comes to diet. Everyone has foods that they like and tend to buy every week. Now those foods might be healthy but if you are eating the same ones week after week then you are going to have an unbalanced diet eventually. Not only could this lead to specific vitamin and mineral imbalances but also boredom. Take a look at the picture above and notice all the different colors. Shopping by color is a simple way to add variety to your diet. If you ate a lot of greens and reds last week, then try and get some oranges, yellows, and purples this week. It doesn't have to be difficult or complicated. Once a month try a new vegetable that you haven't ever had before or just cook something you know you haven't had in a while. Just don't get trapped into eating the same handful of meals every week.This is the last piece of the puzzle. A truly healthy diet is one that you enjoy and can maintain for the long term. It doesn't matter how good a diet is, if you don't like it then it is not a good diet for you. You have to find the diet that allows you to maintain your target weight or goal, provides you with the necessary nutrients for optimal health, and pleases your palate. It is also OK to have a cheat meal now and then. Have some beers, eat a pizza, grill some hotdogs, just keep things in moderation. Food should be shared and enjoyed with family and friends, and can serve to enhance your performance, body, mind, and health. So don't think you have to just eat steamed broccoli, baked fish, and brown rice all the time...just sometimes.