When people see or hear the word diet they usually think about a temporary eating situation that you use to gain or lose weight.
That really could not be further from the truth. The word diet describes the way that you eat in general, as in you have a healthy or unhealthy diet in general. Since people tend to get confused when I mention changing their diet, I like to refer to it as a lifestyle change.
If you really are serious about losing weight and becoming an overall healthier person then you can’t rely on simply dieting for a while and then going back to your normal eating habits when you’ve lost the desired amount of weight. It simply doesn’t work like that. All you’ll do is put forth all that effort to lose the weight and then gain it right back after you quit eating healthy.
The only way to make a long term change in your personal appearance is to make a long term change in your lifestyle. The most important aspect of your lifestyle is your diet: what you eat. There are a lot of resources you can check out online to help you decide which eating plan suits you best but the important thing is that you stick to that plan for as long as possible; ideally for the rest of your life.
Casual dieting will do absolutely nothing except contribute to your “yoyo” dieting experience.
Let's get right into it, shall we?
Things to Remove from Your Diet
Let’s get the not-so-fun part out of the way first. There are some things that you should avoid altogether; I personally don’t even recommend these things in moderation. Thankfully for many of you, this list is short. Just about everything that’s sweet and tasty can be part of your new diet if it’s in moderation.
These things are 10 different types of unhealthy. There’s really no good reason to even eat a single gram of them. They have absolutely no health benefits at all and many, many detriments. Even by fat standards they’re at the bottom of the totem pole; if fat could talk it would totally be embarrassed to be associated with trans-fat. The sneaky thing about trans- fat is that if it’s under a certain amount, food companies can say there’s absolutely none on the package. Read the ingredients and nutrition label carefully; it will almost always tell you if there’s a minute amount of trans- fat. This minute amount may not be harmful but avoid buying from these companies anyway so maybe they’ll get the hint to just avoid it altogether.
High-Sugar Energy Drinks
I know, this may be the hardest thing to get rid of. I love many of these intense energy drinks myself. And why wouldn’t I?
Not only are they filled with sugar and flavorings, they’re chalked to the brim with caffeine, an addictive drug!
You might think caffeine is innocent and innocuous because it’s found in everything from coffee to soda but it’s extremely addictive like many illegal drugs.
Companies who make these energy drinks put tons of sugar in them and then add copious amounts of caffeine. When they reach the legal limit of caffeine they put in something called guarana seed extract. This extract is essentially just more caffeine; however, since it’s extracted from a seed and the process is different from the one they use to put caffeine in the drink, it’s perfectly legal to add.
When you drink these energy drinks, you’re actually drinking potentially more than the legal, safe limit of caffeine.
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that can keep you awake. In large doses it can also give you panic attacks, high blood pressure, paranoia or a heart attack! And what’s horrible about these drinks is that they’re so chalked full of stimulants and sugars that even if you get energy from them, the crash you’ll receive when you’re body’s done storing all that sugar can make you faint and lose consciousness! If you can find a low- sugar energy drink with moderate caffeine levels, be my guest, but I honestly suggest you avoid these things altogether.
That’s it for my list of things you need to avoid at all costs.
Things to Keep in Moderation
Moderation is the absolute key to any good diet plan. There are millions of tasty foods in this world and it would be a shame if we all just had to sit and munch of raw vegetables and grains all day. Who doesn’t love a tasty piece of chocolate cake or a good old slice of buttered garlic bread?
Eating things that taste good can easily be a part of a healthy lifestyle because they help you reduce stress.
You also need to keep the decadence in moderation. Eating a wonderful slice of chocolate cake on the weekend is fine; having one every day is a heart attack waiting to happen. By moderating your intake of unhealthy foods you not only improve your health and lose weight, you make those foods even more special. You'll find that your favorite comfort food tastes even better when you’ve been waiting all week for some.
On the flip side you might find that you really don’t like some of your old favorites after you start eating healthy; that’s okay too. Many people who go on low- fat diets actually get sick when they eat very fatty foods; your body can’t handle rapid changes in diet very well.
Soft drinks are the cornerstone of American and even worldwide fast food consumerism. They’re also some of the unhealthiest things anyone could ever try to consume. The problem with most soft drinks is that they’re jam- packed full of sugar. What makes this even worse is that they’re liquid; this allows the sugar to be absorbed very rapidly into the body.
Unfortunately the body wasn’t designed for such rapid releases of carbohydrates; your body reacts by producing massive amounts of insulin in your pancreas to use up the sugar or turn it into fat and store it.
The result is that you retain most of the calories in soda before you get to use them; they turn into fat.
Drinking a lot of soda can also make you crash pretty hard. After the insulin has dealt with the sugar you consumed, it starts reacting with whatever sugar was already in your blood until it’s used up. This can make your blood glucose levels drop drastically in a short time and make you very lethargic.
In a perfect world, sodas would only be useful for quickly getting up blood sugar level for certain diabetics and hypoglycemics if they needed it. Beyond that it has no health benefits. I recommend you take soda out of your diet or at least drink it in extreme moderation; only at special events or on holidays.
What You Can Drink Instead
Sodas are definitely delicious and convenient but there are a lot of great alternatives that you might enjoy just as much without the negative health effects.
Sparkling Flavored Water is my personal favorite. There are hundreds of different flavors and many grocery stores carry their own brands. The great thing about sparkling water is that it’s hydrating and has no calories. I’m personally fond of flavored water that’s sweetened with sucralose; it tastes very natural and doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste like aspartame-sweetened waters.
You can also drink 100% fruit juice instead of cokes. Fruit juice is still essentially sugar water so it may not help you lose weight but it does contain essential vitamins and nutrients so at the very least you can be getting some health benefit while you’re downing your sugary drinks.
Sugar, Certain Dairy Products, Fat and Oils.
Your body actually needs some fat to maintain proper functions. That amount, however, is far lower than the amount many of us generally consume. Sugars would be harmless except our body turns excess sugars into fat so if you eat too much, you’re just adding to your fat stores.
Oils are just another name for fats; a lot of people try to differentiate them but they’re just a different form of fat (which does affect how the fat is used but fat is still fat).
One thing to mention about oils is that they usually contain cholesterol. There are two different types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL.
LDL is bad cholesterol, it clogs up your arteries with plaque and causes serious health issues like heart disease.
HDL is good cholesterol, not only is it necessary for your body to function, it also lowers your bad, LDL cholesterol. You should keep your oils and fats that contain LDL cholesterol in moderation; only eating them on rare occasions. You can eat a lot more oils and fats that have HDL cholesterol such as olive oil, sunflower oil and peanut oil. All the same, these are still fats.
They will reduce your bad cholesterol levels, which is great, but they will also add fat to your diet and contribute to weight gain.
Refined sugars, candies and deserts should be limited to special occasions, holidays and other events. Constant consumption of refined sugars and fat can lead to obesity and eventually developing diseases like diabetes.
What You Can Eat Instead
Fruits are an absolutely wonderful alternative to refined sugars, fats and candies! Any fruit will do, they all contain sugar and can be used to make healthier deserts (though I haven’t found a good tomato sorbet recipe just yet).
Fruits do have some sugar in the form of fructose so you should still keep them in moderation, but high-fiber fruits contain higher-quality carbohydrates that last longer and not as much of them are turned into fat.
You’ll also be getting a healthy amount of nutrients if you use fresh fruits that aren’t freeze dried or preserved. If you buy canned fruit, get it in its natural juice, not light or heavy syrup.
As far as oils go you can replace LDL-filled fats like butter, lard and shortening with HDL-filled fats like peanut oil, olive-oil and trans-fat free vegetable spread. Keep these in moderation as well. A good replacement for high-fat dairy products like ice cream is sorbet; it’s simply frozen fruit that’s shaved into ice cream. Get low fat or no fat cream cheese; you can even get soy-based dairy products that are quite healthy.
What Should Make Up the Bulk of Your Diet
Now that we’ve thoroughly discussed what you should avoid eating, let’s talk about all the wonderful things that you can have.
If I made this list as accurate as possible I’d have two or three ultimate guides on my hands. I’ll try to keep it brief but informative enough to let you fill in the blanks.
The bulk of your diet should come from high-quality carbohydrates and fibrous foods. More than 45% of your overall diet should contain grains. Next on the list are vegetables and protein. Each of these can take upwards of 15% of your diet. Fruit is next will at least 12-15%, followed by dairy with a modest 10-12% and oils, fats and sugars should only comprise of 1-3% your total diet. Everyone is different however, so before you go following these guidelines too strictly, do some research.
Wonderful Whole Grain Breads
Bread that’s made from whole grain or multi-grains is excellent for you. It’s a good source of fiber and high-quality carbohydrates that are slowly released and usually don’t end up turning into fat. Try to avoid white bread with refined, bleached flower. This bread is full of low-quality carbs and has very little fiber. The more fiber and the more grains your bread has, the better it is for you.
Bountiful Beans and Legumes
Beans are so incredibly healthy, I get a warm glow on my face every time I talk about them. It’s sad that they’ve developed a negative reputation because of their “side effects.” Flatulence jokes aside, beans are an excellent source of fiber, carbohydrates and minerals. They provide sugars that are slowly released and aid in digestion. These are even better than whole grain bread!
Beautiful Brown Rice & Whole Grain Pasta
These two things aren’t specifically related but how much can I really talk about grains before you get sick of it? Brown rice is much better than white rice. It takes longer to cook but it’s full of fiber. Whole grain pasta is also better than regular pasta; again it has a lot of fiber and more nutrients in it (in my opinion it also tastes way better but to each his or her own).
If it’s green, leafy and you bought it from a grocery store, chances are it’s pretty darn good for you. Vegetables are some of the most underrated foods out there. They have a bad reputation for tasting terrible, to some people anyway.
If you can’t handle the taste of some vegetables, you can blend them with fruit juice to take the edge off. Vegetables are hard to digest and absorb nutrients from anyway so cooking and blending them is actually healthier, in some cases, than eating them raw.
My personal favorites: Carrots. Not only do they have the vitamin A precursor, beta- carotene, they’re sweet and delicious and full of fiber!
I’m talking about apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, grapes, grapefruits, lemons, limes, guava, jackfruit, mango, dragon fruit ... I could go on forever. Fruit is extremely healthy; most of our vitamins come from fruits and they’re usually packed with fiber as well. If you want to replace some proteins or grains with fruits in your diet, I won’t tell. Good as they are they also contain sugar so if you’re stocking up on extra fruit, maybe lay off the refined sugar and try to balance it out.
Cheery Chicken and Fish
If you’re reading this it’s not likely that you’re a vegetarian. Vegetarian diets are usually very low in fat and good for you.
That being said they are not perfectly nutritionally sound without a little work; eating meat products can totally be part of a healthy diet; chicken and fish are prime examples. Chicken is great because, if it’s cooked properly, it’s high in protein and relatively low in fat. Fish is probably the best protein you can get because it’s extremely low in fat and contains beneficial fatty acids like Omega 3 fatty acid.
There is some minute risk of mercury exposure with certain types of fish; if you keep it in a moderate amount you should be fine. Fish has been a cornerstone of the Japanese lifestyle for centuries and they have a rather comforting average life expectancy of 80 years.
Delightful Dairy Products
Dairy is really a diamond in the rough when it comes to nutrition. If you don’t want to eat meat, you might consider a vegetarian lacto-ovo diet. This means that you don’t eat meat but you eat eggs and milk products. The wonderful thing about eggs and milk is that they are complete proteins.
No single vegetable has all the essential amino acids that your body requires (these acids are the building blocks of proteins). Milk and eggs, on the other hand, do. So if you’re enjoying the massive health benefits of your vegetarian diet you can still get your complete proteins from dairy products and not have to carefully plan out your diet to include a mixture of plants that have all the right amino acids.
A healthy diet is essential for good health and nutrition. It protects you against many chronic noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Eating a variety of foods and consuming less salt, sugars and saturated and industrially-produced trans-fats, are essential for healthy diet. (Source; World Health Organization or WHO)