5 Tasty Ways to Eat Healthy

“When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.” - Zen Koan

My stay in Yuma has been part vacation, part education. Yuma, Arizona is familiar to most through movies and highways signs, but to me it is home to one of my best friends, Brandon. Among being an excellent host and guide to San Diego and Yuma, he is a clinical dietician, minimalist and man of insight. Throughout our 10 year friendship we’ve gone through many changes, guiding and supporting one another along the way. In the end, we always seem to end up in similar places.

Lately, I’ve been increasingly interested in eating healthier, environmentalism and minimalism. The latter has been a long time connection with us, while the former two were points of disconnect. Brandon has long been mindful of nutrition and environmental concerns while I remained aloof. That being said, since my arrival I have been more open to his insights and experiences and have gained a great education to take home with me and share with everyone here.

In a nutshell, I’ve learned that eating healthy doesn't have to be flavorless or joyless. Since arriving, I’ve eaten a variety of delicious foods, many of which were both flavorful and healthy. The following are insights used in the daily life of a dietitian and that I have already begun to incorporate into my own diet.

1. Minimize Ingredients

Take a moment and check the ingredients on a canned or dried food item in your cupboard. If it's language is similar to a chemistry book, then the food inside may not actually be what it advertises. Similar to what we bring into our home, what we eat has an effect on how we feel. Feeding our body preservatives and artificial additives is like filling our home with clutter. It serves no purpose and takes up needed space. When eating processed foods we're cheating ourselves of essential nutrients that make us function and feel better. Instead, opt for fresh food with fewer ingredients. 

Buying organic has become increasingly popular over the years. If organic foods are too expensive for your budget, buying local produce and meat is a cheap and healthy alternative. Eating fruits and veggies with skins that can be cut or peeled off will reduce the amount of insecticides put into your body. The closer to what we find in nature, the better. Also, making your own sauces and grinding spices will help decrease exposure to additives as well.

2. Paint Your Plate

A good way to determine the nutritional value of a meal is by it’s color. Plates full of greens, reds, purples, browns and orange are not only aesthetically pleasing, but full of nutrients and flavors as well. It gives a whole new meaning to culinary arts. A common reference point is the improved food pyramid, while Harvard's Healthy Eating Plate provides an excellent visual as well.

When starting out, focus on variety. Include types of foods you normally wouldn't eat and try new foods within groups you already enjoy. For example, incorporating tofu or chicken into Thai or Mexican dishes usually eaten with beef. Remember, variety and portion size are key.

3. Season Without Salt

The other night Brandon and I cooked a simple stir fry. I prepared it as usual, with light sodium soy sauce and Sriracha. Once the brown rice was cooked, Brandon introduced me to a new world of flavor. By simply adding diced cilantro and lime juice, he transformed a salty dish into a fresh, low sodium delite! While I love my salty foods, and usually douse my rice in soy sauce, the lemon juice and cilantro was a big improvement. I highly recommend it.

Salt is a common spice added to meals and packs a flavorful punch. However, many foods are full of sodium and consuming too much can raise blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Instead, explore low sodium options such as fruit juices, spices and veggies as substitutes. For example, adding green onion, cilantro, lemon and lime juice or ginger to a meal can add a lot of flavor with little or no sodium.

4. Spare the Dairy

If you’re a cereal person, this may be a difficult one. While milk provides protein and calcium to our diet, growing muscles and hardening bones, it also contains a lot of hormones. I love cereal and used to drink a gallon of milk each week. However, when my brother started a low carb diet and started drinking almond milk it opened doors for me. I’d heard of almond milk’s advantages, but was put off by the idea of it. After trying some, I was impressed by the similarity of taste and texture to regular milk. So, I made the switch.

Almond milk comes in a variety of flavors, but for milk lovers, the unsweetened kind is the closest to cow’s milk. Almond milk provides lower calories per serving, similar calcium levels and a variety of nutrients not found in normal milk. It is also reasonably priced and tastes great with cereal! Soy milk is also an excellent alternative.

5. Get an Oil Change

Giada De Laurentiis, for those familiar with the Food Network show Everyday Italian, is an olive oil fanatic. You could make a game out of how many times the acronym EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) is used. However, from a health perspective, her fanaticism is justified. EVOO helps improves heart, bone and digestive health, can be used for nail care, moisturizing skin and it makes a great dip when mixed with Italian spices. While butter and margarine are the go-to cooking fats, they contain higher levels of unhealthy fats and doesn't share the same benefits as olive oil.

Keep in mind that overcooking olive oil and improper storage can reduce the health benefits listed above. Lastly, Brandon shared that canola oil is an excellent second choice to EVOO.  For more info, click here and here.

Making changes to our diet can be intimidating. I’ve found that aiming towards healthfulness over weight loss has helped keep me focused on the big picture. While eating healthier can seem expensive on the front end, it will save thousands in long term medical costs and may save your life. In addition, in the short term, eating healthier provides more energy, better sleep, improved digestion and can have significant effects on our mood and mental well being.

Photo by Muddbutter