One of the hidden benefits of a lifestyle built around environmental stewardship is that it results in some fantastic dietary changes. Think about it like this: when you eat organic veggies from a local farm, you’re definitely minimizing your environmental impact. But it also means that you’re avoiding the health consequences that come free with every stuffed-crust pizza or TV dinner. And there just aren’t many ways to save the planet that involve eating processed foods stuffed with trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup.
Still, being interested in organic living doesn’t guarantee health. An unbalanced diet is an unbalanced diet, whether it’s built on snack cakes or carrots (and before you ask: yes, there is such a thing as too many carrots). So we’ve asked a variety of experts, including doctors, dietitians, nutritionists, chefs and personal trainers, for some healthy food tips. They’ve responded with some easy ways to make your meals as healthy as possible. And, wouldn’t you know it, not one of these tips is going to increase your environmental footprint!
10 Healthy Dietary Changes You Can Make Today
1. Dig into some leafy greens. One piece of advice kept popping up as we talked to nutritionists, so we think it’s worth emphasizing right from the start: green, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and arugula deserve a regular spot in your dietary rotation. “Bite for bite, leafy greens are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet,” says food expert Mareya Ibrahim, an award-winning chef, writer, inventor and founder of EatCleaner.com. “They really nourish us at a cellular level and contain very few calories.” Ibrahim recommends adding the vegetables mentioned above, along with watercress, mustard greens, collard greens and romaine, to soups, salads and juices every day.
2. Consider alternatives to frying. Health and fitness writer Laura Williams, the CEO and executive editor at Girls Gone Sporty, recommends avoiding frying whenever possible – all that oil is just adding fat and calories to your meal. “Healthier methods of cooking like baking and sautéing allow you to maximize the flavor of your food without overloading on fat,” Williams notes. “Sautéing is a great option for vegetables, and baked meats are always awesome. Grilling is also a good choice for just about any food.”
3. Cook in a vacuum. Executive chef Evan Brady, one of the culinary educators at Savory Celebration, recommends an alternative form of cooking called sous vide. “Food is vacuum-sealed in a bag with little or no fat, then cooked in a circulating water bath. The temperature is precisely controlled, so you’re ensuring perfect cooking.” Think of it as a fancy form of poaching, but one that will allow you to eat organic veggies without losing beneficial vitamins and nutrients. “Cooking under pressure preserves nutrients, as they have nowhere to escape to, and concentrates the flavors of what you’re cooking.”
4. Even out your blood sugar. “I’m a big proponent of keeping your blood sugar stable throughout the day,” says certified nutritionist Trudy Scott, the author of “The Antianxiety Food Solution.” Scott, who specializes in the relationship between dietary changes and mood, says leveling out your blood sugar boosts your energy and focus. It reduces stress too. The key to keeping things steady? “Make sure to get three meals a day, including a good breakfast, plus a couple of snacks.” Scott’s healthy food tips for snacking include nuts, fresh fruit, boiled eggs and high-quality, grass-fed beef jerky.
5. Forget about making some food forbidden. Completely cutting ourselves off from problem foods seems like a good strategy when we’re making healthy dietary changes, but clinical psychologist and author Dr. Ramani Durvasula cautions against such extreme measures. “It is critical that people don’t go off the deep end and completely ban their trouble foods. It’s a recipe for failure – by and large, the literature suggests that it just doesn’t work. If you’ve got a serious health condition, some foods will have to be avoided, obviously. But otherwise it’s about moderation, not madness.” Dr. Durvasula suggests limiting easy access to your trouble foods by keeping them out of the office or home.
6. Try to cut back on processed grains. That said, we should all be eating refined wheat less often. Dr. Daniel Prince, a specialist in chiropractic care and sports medicine, advises that refined grains should be avoided when possible because they’re prematurely aging us. “They’re pro-inflammatory – refined grains increase the production of prostaglandins and cytokines that boost the inflammatory response. Low-grade inflammation is associated with diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and degenerative joint disease.” The American diet is full of way too many processed grains, and Dr. Prince says that it’s resulting in a significant burden on our healthcare system.
7. Emphasize fruits and vegetables. One central tenet of environmental stewardship is that plant-based diets put less stress on the environment. Conveniently, dietary changes that put extra emphasis on fresh produce for the sake of our ecosystem also have positive effects for our own health. “Simply focusing on eating more plant foods and less animal products would improve the health of most human beings walking planet Earth,” says award-winning author Dr. Janet Brill, a certified dietitian who is also a nutrition and fitness expert. “For example, choose plant proteins like beans over steak. You’re getting fiber, disease-fighting antioxidants and a host of vitamins and minerals, all for a fraction of the calories.”
8. Pick the right carbs. We’ve all seen the negative press about carbohydrates over the past few years, but personal trainer Russ Howe says that it misses the mark. “Ignore those who tell you that carbs are the enemy, because they’re not. It’s more a matter of getting the right kinds of carbs. Sports drinks, colas and cupcakes are definitely not the right kinds.” Sugary foods can be handy after a workout, Howe says, but they should otherwise be limited – they cause insulin levels to spike, leading to fat storage. “This is why it’s important to get your main carb intake from complex carbohydrates.” That means more whole grains, legumes and vegetables like yams, broccoli and zucchini.
9. Eat the good carbs, in the right proportions. Clinical nutritionist Monika Klein points out that it’s also important to figure out how much of your meal should be devoted to carbohydrates. “Try to balance your protein portion sizes with the amount of carbohydrates you eat in every meal.” Those portion sizes will vary based on your specifics, and that’s because weight, gender and activity level have a lot to say about your nutritional requirements. But Klein has a good rule of thumb: “One-third of your plate should be protein, and two-thirds should be carbohydrates, primarily in the form of vegetables.” And, no, French fries definitely don’t count!
10. Stop worrying about the rules – just pick good food. For many of us, the sheer number of healthy food tips out there can cause diet-based anxiety. It’s hard to keep on the straight and narrow when you’re stressing over every bite. Licensed dietitian Megan Roosevelt, the founder and CEO of Healthy Grocery Girl, says the best dietary changes are the simple ones. “The cleaner and healthier you eat, the less you need to stress about calories and portion sizes.”
Roosevelt notes that you’re almost definitely not going to become obese from eating too much spinach. “However, if you’re eating a diet heavy in processed or convenience-based foods, calories can add up fast. That’s why so many diets have become focused on restricting calories.” When you focus on nutrient-rich foods, you’ll be naturally moderating your caloric input.
We’re confident that these healthy food tips will keep you on the right track. Our experts have all seen positive results in their own patients and clients. But please remember that healthy, organic living is a marathon, not a sprint, and that you shouldn’t expect to see results overnight. The best ways to improve your health are the ones that you can permanently integrate into your lifestyle, and they’ll take time to kick in. It can take a while before you start to experience actual cravings for leafy greens and whole grains, and it takes a bit of body-awareness to learn to gauge your blood sugar levels based on the way you feel. Once you get the hang of it, though, it won’t take much effort to keep your waistline trim and your mind worry-free.
Have you made any dietary changes to increase your fitness and your happiness? Do you feel any healthier when you eat organic fruits and veggies? Comment below to let our readers know how your devotion to environmental stewardship affects your diet and your overall wellness.