The long (long) awaited Back to Basics series begins ! As you can see, today’s post will be all about Food / Nutrition basics. Here I’ll offer advice and give you some handy tips/tricks to help you out the next time you find yourself troubling over that grocery list. For a brief rundown, I’ll be talking about: what nutrients are and why they’re important; nutrient density in foods/superfoods; smart tips to tackle grocery shopping; nutrition labels; other tricks to incorporate more healthy foods into your daily lifestyle.
So What Are Nutrients ?
We all get a mini introduction to them in our high school bio classes (I hope), but for the sake of clarity, let’s review: a nutrient is defined as “a substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life”. This can be broken down further as different types: macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients. Many of these are also defined as “essential nutrients” because your body cannot make them itself, and therefore gets them from an outside source, also known as our food.
The macronutrients are the major nutrients everyone is familiar with: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Then we have the micros, which are the 12 vitamins and 13 minerals our bodies need every day. The phytonutrients are a bit less known, and most of them can only be found in plants. These refer to the natural chemicals found in the skins of many fruits and vegetables–which might be why you hear the skin is the most important part ! It’s so important to remember that no one nutrient is more important than another: your body is a flawlessly working system, and it needs all of these nutrients to perform at its best.
Nutrient Density In Food
If nutrients are the essential substances our body gets from outside sources (read: food), nutrient density is the system by which we can measure our food to rate its nutritional punch. Nutrient density is defined as “foods that give the most nutrients for the fewest amount of calories”. Basically, the higher a food is on the nutrient density scale, the better it is for you. Simply speaking, adding more of these foods into your daily food intake will nearly guarantee you’re receiving adequate nutrients from your diet.
Once again, my favorite food topic 🙂 You know technically, the term “superfoods” is completely arbitrary--it’s mostly thought to be a marketing term used to describe foods with certain health benefits.. but that doesn’t stop me 😛 I first discovered the idea of superfoods from my favorite documentary, Food Matters, which you can of course read more about here. You’ll be delighted to know that nearly all superfoods fall under the category of the aforementioned nutrient dense foods, since it’s basically a requirement that these foods are indeed “super” due to the high amounts of beneficial nutrients they provide you. Many of them, such as raw honey, spinach, kale, broccoli, carrots, various berries, etc., are of course well known and found everywhere. However, though I was very happy to see that I could get to superfood status by simply buying more fruits and veggies, my real discovery was more exotic in nature.
The superfoods I fell in love with were unheard of to me until I saw David Wolfe in his interview from Food Matters. His energy and enthusiasm about these foods is extremely contagious, and it was because of him that I wanted to learn more about them. We’re talking chia seeds, flaxseeds, spirulina, raw cacao beans, goji berries, hemp seeds, aloe vera, maca powder, chorella, and so many others (for more awesome reading, check out this link). He didn’t only mention the vast amounts of nutrients that these exotic and exciting foods provided, but also went into detail about exactly what such nutrients do to your skin, your nails, your hair, your entire system. I won’t go into it here because I’ll be talking forever (don’t even get me started) but absolutely check out the documentary–so life changing it’s unbelievable.
Tips To Remember At The Market
I always thought that shopping for good foods in a supermarket was pretty basic: veggies and fruits, some dairy, seafood. Though I always advocate shopping locally at farmer’s markets, sometimes you have to compromise. So during my research, it shocked me that there are a great many incidences where families simply don’t know how to shop for healthy food. I want to change that. For a little extra guidance, here are some simple tips for you to remember the next time you go shopping:
- Shop the perimeter of the store. A great and very basic rule of thumb to remember at grocery stores is that most of the good stuff is kept on the edges: produce, dairy, seafood, fresh meat. The further into the store you get, the trickier it gets to keep healthy food on track. What could be an easier food label than knowing that an apple is an apple ?
- Read the ingredients on food labels. The “new” nutrition labels do have some handy features that include the amount of added sugars and emphasis on total calories/serving sizes. For me, I always say that I don’t really care what the label says, the ingredients are the real things that matter. You want to eat foods with ingredients you are familiar with, and also don’t have any harmful chemicals you can’t pronounce down the list. A good rule of thumb: the shorter the ingredients list, the better the food. It’s really not about calories, I don’t worry about them at all. The closer you get to a whole foods, plant based diet, the more the good outweighs the bad, the less you have to worry about counting every single calorie you eat.
- Focus on whole, plant based foods. Like I mentioned, focusing more on this type of diet allows you less room to worry. Remember: the simpler you get, the healthier you’ll be. If you center your diet based on fresh food that you can actually identify, you won’t have to worry about added sugars and high sodium levels. Like the fruit myth: everyone knows fruits have high amounts of sugar, but honestly, this type of sugar is not harmful to your health. Sure, if you have a weight loss goal in mind, lessen the fruit intake if you desire, but don’t be afraid of them. I mean, have you ever seen a fat monkey ?
- Add in the “good” to crowd out the “bad”. When you begin a healthier lifestyle, it may feel difficult or restrictive. After all, you are trying to eliminate bad food sources from your diet to help cleanse your system. But a good place to start instead of immediately eliminating all bad food, is to add in the good foods. It’s much better to add in the fresh, raw veggies to your lunch and dinner, rather than remove everything and have no idea what to eat instead. So add in the kale, and the cucumber and the carrots and beets. Find clever ways to slowly add in healthy foods, and eventually, your palette will start to notice the real taste of quality, healthy foods. It’ll become so accustomed to them that the bad foods will soon be crowded out and forgotten.
- When you can, shop locally. It’s one thing to spend a bunch at Whole Foods or any specialty store, but another entirely to shop at a local farmer’s market. Not only do you support your community and keep small farms in business (read: higher quality foods/more variety in small farms) but here you can get information straight from the source: the farmers. These guys know exactly what they do to create their soil content, they can tell you how their animals are treated, they can tell you what foods are coming up next season. Solid information is absolutely key to staying on top of your health, so why wouldn’t you want it from the best source ?
- Try new foods. AKA the aforementioned “exotic superfoods”. I love learning about these foods, so naturally they’re exciting for me (I recommend Whole Foods for the easiest access). There is an entire world of new foods out there that I assure you, you haven’t tried yet. But just because you haven’t doesn’t mean they aren’t beneficial to you. By simply finding one new food to add into your daily diet, you are giving your entire system an incredible nutrient boost that will make you feel twice as good as you do now. And who knows, feeling that good might get you excited about it too, and inspire you to try more and more 🙂
- Treat yourself. Personally, this lifestyle is wonderful to me. It gives you buckets of energy, ensures your body/system are taken care of, and is overall an amazing lifestyle choice. But one thing it shouldn’t feel is restrictive. You shouldn’t feel like you’ve had to eliminate everything you “want” to eat from your diet. Pick a meal, or day, or even weekend to treat yourself to things you love. You can even find healthier substitutes for meals you enjoy–pizzas, desserts, hamburgers, they have healthy choices for everything ! And what’s more, I can guarantee they taste even better than you remember. This lifestyle isn’t about feeling miserable, it’s about introducing your tastebuds to how good food is supposed to taste.
For More Tips and Tricks
If you’d like to read more, check out this fantastic page by Greatist, and make sure to add it to your bookmarks ! It’s your very best source (besides this blog of course) for everything health, fitness, and wellness related, and it’s absolutely my go-to website. I know it says “to lose weight” but the focus is really on incorporating more healthy habits into your lifestyle. Things like preparing meals/snacks beforehand, drinking more water, snacking more, stocking your fridge with healthy foods, and so many other handy tips. I try and use as many as I can every day ! They’re so simple, just take the time to read over them and soon they’ll become habit.
Thanks so much for reading you guys, this has been one of my favorites to write so far ! Hope you enjoy and happy shopping ! 🙂