Four times a year for the past 20 years, I’ve written articles for a national quarterly wellness newsletter. My editor recently requested an article about how to optimize nutrient intake. She asked for ‘technical’ information on safe food selection, storage and cooking. I delivered. Even talked about gardening.
Thing is, it left me wanting to boil things down even further into what I’ve seen really, truly improving nutrient intake. The REAL stuff that actually works. The boring stuff that the healthiest people out there do day in and day out. So, in fun and complete seriousness at the same time, from the past 30 years immersed in consumer’s challenges around eating healthy, here are my ULTIMATE top 11 tips for CONSISTENTLY getting more nutrients into your diet. (even though ‘ultimate’ kind of implies just one 😉
It’s not about periodically buying organic food, adding chia seeds to your oatmeal or taking the cleanest line of vitamin supplements you can afford. Nor is it about being vegan or ensuring your gut bacteria are abundant. Not that those efforts aren’t helpful. Thing is, none are replacements for what you are about to read. Some of what follows may seem kind of obvious. Maybe even like commonsense. But ask yourself, “Do I actually consistently do these things?” If so, keep up the fantastic job!
Healthy eating is supposed to seem like common sense, not a bizarre prescription for a precise number of sour dried cherries to eat each day to relieve pain, boost energy or melt fat. Every single person I’ve met over the past three decades who has cracked the code on consistently implementing the following 11 measures is in fantastic nutritional health.
- Buy groceries. Regularly. You can’t eat what isn’t there. Keep a supply of healthy food on hand, mainly foods that have to be stored in the fridge. Obvious? Surprisingly, not always consistent for many folks. The first part of that famous Michael Pollan quote, “Eat food.” Having good food on hand also results in less quick grabbing of excessively salty, overly processed convenience items.
- Cook more meals at home. Meals, more so than snacks, are associated with wholesomeness – vegetables, protein, whole grains. Making a hearty meal soup, spaghetti and meatballs in a homemade sauce or a quinoa-chickpea veggie salad for example means you’ll eat a great dinner and maybe even a great lunch the next day or two due to leftovers. More mastery of eating real food.
- Only buy potato chips or other salty snack food occasionally, if at all. Avoid keeping them on hand. If they’re in your cupboard, you know it and they might even know you. They’ll call out to you until you eat them while watching a little TV once the kids are in bed. You aren’t in a small minority or an unusually weak person who lacks discipline and focus. You are human. Without the instantly accessible salty snack foods you’ll be ‘forced’ to open the fridge and choose something with more nutrients. Celery and cheese, an apple with a few almonds or maybe even a bit of leftover stirfry from dinner? (Chips not your secret vice? Same concept applies with cookies, donuts, cake, candy, ice cream, pop and baking ingredients like chocolate chips and marshmallows.) Helpful tip here: Mostly eat food that rots – food that breaks down naturally over time instead of foods that have an eternal shelf life.
- When you bring the groceries in and are putting them away, take time to wash and cut up at least one large container of vegetables. This drastically increases the likelihood they’ll get eaten in the days to follow rather than thrown out once limp in a bag at the back of the veggie drawer. Thrown out veggies aren’t better for you because they were local and organic. Wash and cut up fruit to bring with you during the day to increase the chances it gets eaten – even if just a few apple wedges. How many times have you taken an apple and returned it back to the fridge at the end of the day? It has to be easy to be consistent. “Mostly plants?” Here it is in daily action again.
- Keep a bowl of fruit on the counter. The visual presence will remind you to eat it. Although most fruit should be stored in the fridge and especially so once cut up, keep even a small bowl out with perhaps a pineapple, a few bananas, oranges, apples or pears.
- In the period of the day where kids, and often grownups, are the hungriest – the time slot between school (or work) and dinner – set out a platter of veggies and dip. It will get eaten. More ‘plants’ eaten.
- Don’t only collect cookbooks and gorgeous photos of food. From those, pick a few recipes your family will like and actually make those meals at least a few times each and every single week of the year, your whole life long. Sigh. Healthy eating is not for wimps. No acai berries and hemp protein powder will ever replace the degree of commitment that home-cooking takes.
- Consider ‘splurging’ once a week or even once a month on a special ‘treat’ that is actually quite nutritious. Some ideas: a case of fresh mangoes, a novel nut and seed mix, some smoked salmon chunks, gourmet granola, dried or frozen blueberries perhaps? If these are in the kitchen, they’ll be consumed.
- Ensure you have available freezer space. This will make you more likely to save leftover portions of healthy meals for time-saving meals later on. It will also allow you to stock up on items like frozen fruit, salmon or whole grain breads when they’re on sale. If you avoid baking because you eat it all the same day, individually wrap and freeze muffins or cookies for quick adding to lunches or snacks over a few weeks, not just a couple of days.
- Enjoy a little nice wine if it’s your thing, but be VERY mindful of the amount. As sugar, salt, gluten and other food ingredients are increasingly harshly criticized, there remains relative silence around the fact that alcohol supplies calories without nutrients?!? Too much can even cause your body to lose nutrients and at the same time it might add unwanted weight. It also leaves you snacky for those darn chips!
- Eat mindfully. Slow down. Chew your food so it can actually be digested. Notice it. Enjoy it. Take time to learn more about mindful eating and portion control if you feel it would be helpful.
Then, if you still feel you need rare berries from a pristine rain forest and a prescription for gut bacteria-enhancing supplements…I know a whole bunch of amazing experts I can connect you with across this great land. Ask anytime. Had I written my 11 Ultimate Ways to Stay Healthy. everything in the points above would be summed up in one item leaving room to talk about exercise, sleep, acts of kindness, self-worth, fresh air, gut-busting laughter and a few other key points.