Who doesn’t enjoy the glowing feeling you get when you’re treating your body right. Sadly, being healthy is more than just the commitment you make to yourself. It involves navigating the tumultuous waters of the health-industry where everyone is trying to sell you something and it often feels like no one is looking out for your best interest. Luckily, the answers to your questions are more simplistic than you may expect.
Fair warning now, there will be some of you who get upset with what I am about to say. Many people want a miracle fix that instantaneously eradicates their problems, which is why there are so many dishonest salesmen out there just waiting to prey on you. I will disagree with these swindlers. Health takes time. It is not something you do overnight, but the sooner you start the better. So let’s get right to it.
There is something to be said for quality foods. Any food that provides you with vitamins, minerals, and fiber is superb! Usually fruits and vegetables fall into this category. As you can probably guess, a healthy diet is chalk full of them. It’s one of the first key points that you want to look at when you’re evaluating a diet or creating one of your own.
Fruits and vegetables should always be free foods without maximum limits (although having a minimum intake per day is a great idea). You should have at least 5 servings of each per day, but if you go over then that’s great! Especially dense nutrient foods such as blueberries and acai, which are considered superfoods due to their extra benefit of having lots of antioxidants, should be celebrated! Any diet that tells you to limit something that is purely good for you is wrong (unless you’re diabetic, of course).
It is also incredibly important to your health that you take in at least 1,200 calories per day. If you eat less, your body will think you are starving and a whole cascade of health issues will come crashing down around you. If you are already at your 1,200 calorie minimum, consult with your doctor first before considering cutting any more calories.
If you’re shorter and you’re wanting to lose some extra vanity weight, you might want to consider some supplements to boost you over the edge, but again talk to your doctor first (see our article on weight loss supplements). People who become obsessive with their diets are at higher risk for body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Health is the ultimate goal and sometimes that involves changing our own outlook on what it means to be lean.
So what else can you indulge in on this wonderful journey to health? Well, fiber is always a great one. Eating the right amount of fiber can help lower your risk of colon cancer. Also, it makes those unmentionable times of the day less unpleasant. Likewise, you will decrease your risk for developing hemorrhoids from having to push too hard.
I can tell that you’re already sold. So how much fiber should you get? It’s recommended that you take in 14g of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat at the bare minimum. Eating more never hurt, especially since quality foods are the ones that usually have a higher fiber content such as prunes and whole grains.
Sadly, there are always foods that you have to limit to be your healthiest you. This isn’t to say that you have to avoid them for life. In fact, well-balanced diets account for the occasional slice of cake at your kid’s birthday party. It’s about moderation not abstaining. As a general rule of thumb you’ll want to limit sugars, saturated fats, sodium, and alcohol.
You should get less than 10% of your daily calories from added sugars and saturated fats and you should eat less than 2,300mg of sodium each day (which is a lot less than you think when you realize that almost everything has salt in it). A critical point to make here is about rewards. Moderation does not mean that you use unhealthy food as a reward because you will condition yourself to like the bad food even more. Moderation means that you don’t have to be *that* person when you’re out eating at a restaurant with your friends and family. It’s important to set up a reward system for yourself that stays far away from the kitchen if you’re going to be successful. Eating healthy should never be considered a punishment.
You should never ever completely cut out carbs from your diet. You cannot live without them. However, low carbohydrate diets have been shown to have many health benefits. A low carb diet consists usually of about 50-150g of carbs per day. The regularly recommended amount of carbs is 45-65% of your daily calories. Without going into the math, the minimum recommend is 135g for 1,200 calories. This should be your goal for a low-carb diet. So what does low carb do, aside from limit the amount of delicious pasta you can gorge yourself on?
Low carb diets have actually been shown to help people lose weight and maintain it. Not only that, it’s proven to be more efficient than low-fat diets at lowering triglycerides while increasing your healthy cholesterol (yes, there are good and bad types of cholesterol). The benefits don’t stop there! Most people who are on low carb diets tend to eat more fruits and vegetables to replace processed carbs in their diet. Just remember that not all carbohydrates are bad. So don’t throw out our favorite quinoa just yet. Choosing quality carbs is equally important to limiting your intake of them for weight loss and heart health. As always, opt of quality instead of quantity.
It’s also important to know that if you lead a high stress lifestyle (and who doesn’t?) you are at an increased risk for atherosclerosis, which is only compounded if you eat processed sugar. To paint a mental image for you, sugars are often drawn as triangles because they are rough. They almost act like a sandpaper on the lining of your blood vessels. Your body then tries to repair the scrapes with cholesterol. Get the picture? Because it’s not a pretty one. Save yourself the heartache and start cutting back on the sweet stuff now.
High protein diets often accompany low carb ones, but they don’t have to. First, you will never be deficient in protein as long as you are not starving yourself (and you don’t live in a developing country). It’s also important to know that high protein diets are not without their risks. High protein diets are associated with some pretty scary side effects. For instance, people who eat a lot of meat have a higher risk for colorectal cancer because they’re often not getting enough fiber.
They also have a higher risk for heart disease due to the increased consumption of cholesterol and saturated fats found in meat. Kidney disease is also rampant among carnivores due to the increased uric acid levels produced by meat consumption (not to mention that conditions like gout can be extremely painful). Most long-term, meat-lovers can develop osteoporosis because they don’t get enough calcium in their diet thanks to a focus on proteins over other nutrient-rich foods. This is not to say that you can’t have your meat and eat it, too. Just realize that a diet is complex and it cannot be overshadowed by any one food in particular. After all, variety is the spice of life!
Fats have more calories per gram than carbs and proteins, which is why they are often the target for weight loss. However, research has shown that low carb diets are actually more beneficial for shedding those extra pounds. Now this is not to say that fats don’t play an important role in your health, because they do. Good fats allow your body to produce hormones and other important compounds your body needs to function. Bad fats, though, will just clog your arteries potentially leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Focus on getting unsaturated fats and avoid transfats like the plague. You’ll be feeling like a new you in no time.
You may have heard of intermittent fasting. Typically, you try to take in all of your daily calories within a certain timespan (usually 8 hours). This can be very inconvenient; however, it does have it benefits. Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase insulin response in humans. Additionally, most people report feeling satisfied when applying this type of diet because you are taking in three large meals rather than trying to snack all throughout the day. Regardless, you need to find what is easiest to maintain for you.
Maintaining a diet is more important than all the benefits it can offer. If you can make intermittent fasting work, then definitely go for it. Otherwise, don’t be too hard on yourself because you can’t get every dietary benefit out there. You need to pick and choose what you can do.
As you go through your diet journey, you may wonder if you’re getting all of the nutrients that you need to. If you notice that you’re still feeling not quite right after making positive changes for over a week, you might want to do a quick self-check for vitamin deficiencies. Of course, your doctor can do bloodwork for you to give you definitive results. But if you want to avoid needles as much as possible, you might opt for these quick tests.
Iron deficiency is a huge concern because iron allows your blood to transport oxygen. When you are lacking you’ll feel tired and drowsy even after you sleep. A quick self-assessment can be done in front of a mirror. Pull your lower eyelid down and if the area you see is white instead of pink then you’re anemic. Sadly, iron supplements don’t do much to remedy the situation because you can only absorb so much anyway. Try to increase your consumption of naturally iron-rich foods such as raisins and spinach.
If you have started suffering from mouth sores, you can tell that something is off. This is often an important sign of a lesser known vitamin B6 deficiency. Although, its effects are not as widespread as iron, you’ll feel much better when you’ve replenished your stores of this vitamin. Your mouth will definitely thank you.
Tests for vitamin B12 and D are less accepted than the above self-exams. Vitamin B12 is important for neurological health, so a neurological assessment is typically chosen. You can stand on one foot with your eyes closed for three seconds and supposedly if you can’t then you have a B12 deficiency. This can be inaccurate if you already have coordination limitations.
Likewise, since vitamin D is associate with bone health a bone assessment is often chosen. You can press your thumb into your breastbone and see if it hurts. This probably has way more to do with your pain receptors than your actual bone, but some authors believe it is an effective testing method.
Something that is always a good idea is a general self-exam. Do you have dry skin? Do you have brittle hair? What do your nails look like? Our body gives us many signs to tell us something is wrong. Try to be familiar with how your healthy body looks so you can notice when something changes. For example, if you hair has gotten brittle, your skin is dry, and your nails are cracked then you probably have a vitamin A deficiency.
Although these quick assessments can be helpful, nothing replaces knowing your body. When you are in tune with your physical self, it will not only be easier to maintain your health but you will also feel more motivated to take care of the amazing gift of a body that you have been given.
1. Boldrini, K. (2011). Atherosclerosis: The link between sugar, stress, high cholesterol, and the formation of atheromas. World Medicine Institute. Retrieved from http://kimboldrini.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Atherosclerosis.pdf
2. Brown, J., Mosley, M., & Aldred, S. (2013). Intermittent fasting: A dietary intervention for prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular disease? The British Journal of Diabetes and Vascular Disease, 13(2), 68-72. doi:10.1177/1474651413486496
3. Harvard. (2016). Low-Carbohydrate Diets. Retrieved from The low-carb diet was most beneficial for lowering triglycerides, the main fat-carrying particle in the bloodstream, and also delivered the biggest boost in protective HDL cholesterol.
4. Health.gov. (2016). Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved from http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/key-recommendations/
5. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. (2016). Low-Fat Study Underscores Need for Dramatic Dietary Changes. Retrieved from https://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer/weight/low-fat-study-underscores-need-for-dramatic
6. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. (2016). The Truth About High-Protein Diets. Retrieved from http://www.pcrm.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/health/High-Protein-Diets.pdf