The following 6 steps are inspired by the '12 Steps' taught at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. These steps are simple, but they make up a path to eating really well! As with any nutrition advice, your body is the authority, so if any of these steps don't feel good, then let it go. Your body knows best. Do these steps in whatever order feels good to you.
1. Drink more Water
Water has so many benefits, and drinking more can be easy. If you drink more water, you will crowd out less healthy beverages like pop, juice and coffee. Water in herbal tea counts as does water with lemon, lime or even cucumber. Water in a green drink or smoothie counts too! And I highly recommend finding herbal teas that you enjoy as they have so many health benefits. Try peppermint, ginger, red rooibos, green tea (half the caffeine of coffee), tulsi, yerba mate, liquorice (very sweet) and even fruit teas. I bought a backpack that has a holder on the side for a big water bottle, one of the best choices I have ever made. I fill it up twice a day from my Brita water filter at home. A Brita filter is around $25, and while a Brita won't make alkaline water, it *will* remove chlorine and other contaminants. I find it tastes much better than straight tap water.
2. Eat more Leafy Greens
Greens, especially the dark greens, are one of the most nutrient dense food you can eat, so I highly recommended finding ways to prepare them that you enjoy. These include spinach, kale, chard, arugula, mustard greens and others. They are usually bitter. In our culture, we tend to favour sweet foods, and our main bitter foods are beer and coffee. But bitter foods have many health benefits, including helping to cleanse the body if we've been feeling sluggish or eating a lot of fat. Check out my other article Dark Leafy Greens (coming) for more on greens, and suggested ways to eat them. For now, simply be on the lookout for how they are prepared at the local Whole Foods or at your friends' potluck. Personally, I love a spinach caesar with walnuts. I also love kale in a stir fry or salad, and almost any greens can be added by the handful to a smoothie with fruit and protein for a tasty, nutritious breakfast or snack.
3. Increase Sweet Veggies
Who wouldn't benefit from eating more veggies? Eating more sweet veggies can help crowd out cravings for sweets and sugar. Sweet veggies includes sweet peppers, onion, carrots, beets, yams, tomatoes and others. Colourful veggies have all those great phytonutrients like lycopene (in tomatoes) and all those other names that scientists make up to challenge our spelling abilities!! A great goal to start with is to aim for eating 3 servings of veggies a day. As you eat more sweet veggies, you might find you cravings for sugar diminish, and your sense of vitality going up! Carrots and beets can be added to a salad, onions and carrots can go in a stir fry, carrots with hummus or nut butter is a great snack, and yams can be roasted 4 or 6 at a time in the oven and then eaten all through the week.
And all the above veggies can be roasted in the oven with olive oil, rosemary and sea salt. :-)
4. Increase Whole-Grains
I personally feel better on more veggies and less grains, but for many people, increasing whole grains works. There are many ways to experiment with eating more grains: Try making brown rice bowls with miso dressing, veggies and your choice of protein. Quinoa is a pseudo grain that is high in protein that many people love. Oatmeal for breakfast with nuts and raisins, apple, cinnamon or even some almond butter is very popular. Some people will find they will feel better with little to no grains, and more vegetables instead. I am like this myself, so do give that a try too, and if you want more support in that direction check out any of the 'paleo' or 'primal' educators, since that is a grain-free way of eating.
5. Experiment with Protein
Protein, like everything else, is very individual. That said, many north americans eat way too much protein, mostly in the form of low-quality conventional beef. So the first thing maybe to try is doing less red meat, and maybe more fish, poultry and eggs. However some people will want to try eating more red meat. And I encourage spending the extra money and getting the highest-quality you can afford. It will be much more nutrient dense, and free of toxins like hormones and anti-biotics. Many people benefit from eating more protein in the morning and especially if you suffer from blood sugar instability or sugar cravings, etc. And if you do protein powders, I recommend trying hemp, rice, or pea protein to start with. If you know you tolerate dairy, then whey is another option, try and find grass fed. Some people eat meat basically as a condiment, and base their meals around vegetables. Lots to try.
6. Eat less Dairy, Sugar, Caffeine, Alcohol and Processed Foods
Do I really need to say this? I personally believe that dairy is good for many of us, so long as 1) you're eating organic dairy, 2) you're not sensitive to dairy. Also raw dairy is best, but good luck getting it as most dairy in north america is pasteurized. Some people who are sensitive to dairy find they do better with goat's milk. Milk can be replaced with almond milk, hemp milk (buy unsweetened), rice milk or - depending on what you believe - soy milk (buy organic!).
Sugar: wow, this is a big topic! For now, let me say that sugar comes in a bizillion forms, and many of them end with '-ose' (lactose, maltose, fructose, galactose...), or '-itol' (maltitol, sorbitol, erythritol). Eating more sweet veggies may help. Also choosing more natural sweeteners is recommended (like honey or maple syrup), as cane sugar is the most refined and is often GMO. Avoid high-fructose corn syrup as it is super addictive. Reading labels will help. If you find you are sensitive to sugar, then stevia is a great herbal sweetener to have around. It is much sweeter than sugar so you will only need a little.
Caffeine: like all things, some coffee may even be really good for you! But if you find that when you miss your daily cup (3 cups?), you get a bad headache, then you might want to consider cutting back. And I recommend doing that slowly, as caffeine withdrawal is not fun. Try doing half today of your usual amount, then half again tomorrow. Green tea, btw, has half the caffeine of coffee, so it can be a nice transition bevy or replacement.
Alcohol: is empty carbs and basically is weight-gain food. And that half glass of wine in the pm may not be as healthy as you think. As always, listen to your own body, and try things.
Processed foods: If you think about it, most of the grocery store is processed food. So a good idea is to do most your buying from around the periphery of the store. Start with the veggies and then visit the meat and dairy sections. If you read labels, you'll see what's wrong with processed foods: refined foods have much less nutrients, and many additives: sugar, seed oils, preservatives and corn and soy derivatives are often added - and most of that is GMO, which has been connected to a myriad health problems. I like the 80/20 rule: eat 80% of your food as real high quality whole food, and the other 20% could be...less ideal. But if you are dealing with chronic health issues, you will want to do the 95/5 rule, or even 100/0.
One of the things that will make all these suggestions easier is: cooking more at home. Unless you have a Whole Foods near you and don't mind budgeting for that. Spending some time planning can also help. And this has real rewards as you can: 1) make exactly what you most love, and much cheaper than eating out, and 2) use high quality, even organic, ingredients. Learning to cook is a real investment in yourself, your partner and your family, and can reward you for the rest of your life.
As a final suggestion for when trying out the above 6 steps: ask what other people have tried that they like. Many, many people have tried the above things and found ways to make them work for them. I also highly recommend food journaling on that journey.
Hi, I'm Donovan Giraud. I'm a health coach, meditator and visionary, and I'm on a mission to help people heal themselves and evolve our world.