The current consensus among many nutritionists is that what you eat is more important than how much you eat. Many people's diets are composed of convenience foods that have unknown additives, and sugar is hidden in foods that you wouldn't expect, like bread and tomato sauce. As ever, a healthy diet works best when it's paired with moderate exercise. However, cutting out the foods that lead to less than optimal health is the first step toward better health.
Calories are Not All Alike
Some foods satisfy your appetite better than others, provide more fiber for digestion and give you lasting energy throughout the day. Counting calories alone isn't going to help you stay in shape if you include foods low in nutrition and high in sugar and fat. Vegetarians tend to eat a significant amount of food throughout the day but, since it's plant-based, the calorie load is below the threshold of what it would take to become overweight.
Here are three pieces of advice to help you to make the right choices in your diet. First, eat fresh, natural food that you prepare at home. Second, make vegetables the main focus of your diet. Finally, use sugar sparingly if at all. Some people crave sugar more than others, but not many people realize that it's possible to break the sugar addiction. Once your body hasn't had any sugar for several days, a funny thing happens. You start to lose the cravings! One piece of pie can put you right back where you started, however.
Stick to Whole Foods
The best way to avoid sugar and excess fat in your diet is to eat primarily whole foods. The definition of a whole food is a food that is free from additives and in its natural form, with minimal processing. Cutting up apples and oranges to make a fruit salad isn't considered processing, but adding preservatives, sugar and/or flavor enhancers to prepared food puts in in the category of processed food.
Examples of whole foods are: lean meat, chicken and fish; nuts, beans and legumes; whole grains and oats; organic dairy products; and fruits and vegetables. The things that are missing from this list are processed foods like refined sugar, white flour and white rice. Some nutritionists refer to these as "the white poisons", since they have little nutritional value. As a matter of fact, refined, white sugar actually uses up vitamins and nutrients in your body when it's metabolized.
Whole Food Eating Plans
There are several eating plans that embrace the whole food approach, with names like Atkins, Paleo, Clean Eating and South Beach. They're all variations of the idea that good health includes avoiding processed foods and empty carbohydrates. These plans emphasize good nutrition through including a variety of different fruits and vegetables in the diet, along with whole grains, nuts and beans in moderation. They also include lean meat, fish, chicken and organic dairy products.
For people who need to lose weight, diet guidelines are pretty much the same, with a couple of exceptions. For example, the Atkins diet recommends sticking to lean protein and vegetables at first, gradually adding whole grains and fruit to the diet after initial weight loss progress has taken place.
The reason organic dairy products are emphasized is that the dairy foods and beverages you buy in the grocery store may not be free of additives. Some milk contains traces of supplements and antibiotics given to the cows that produce it. And cheese may contain unneeded ingredients to soften it or enhance flavor.
Anchor Your Diet with Vegetables
For some, this may be the most difficult part of a whole food eating plan. Mostly, it's because we're a generation that's used to convenience. It's much easier, and it doesn't cost much more, to buy our veggies already prepared. But what's in that sauce on the frozen asparagus? The only way to make sure you're getting unadulterated food with natural ingredients is to cook it yourself. Another reason for hesitation in eating vegetables is a lack of experience with all of the wonderful varieties available. There are veggies in every flavor and texture, along with low-sugar fruit choices like berries and melon that can liven up your diet.
One type of fun food you can prepare in the kitchen is imitation pasta or rice made from vegetables. A couple of the most popular are shredded spaghetti squash (pasta) and grated cauliflower (rice). The bottom line when it comes to eating healthy is that you have to prepare your own food unless you have someone to do it for you. Restaurants and fast food emporiums simply don't care about the nutritional value of the food they serve as much as they care about the flavor and appearance.
Stay Away from Sugar
There's a great deal more nutritional value in the natural sugars you get from fruits and some vegetables than in processed sugar. Some whole foods proponents include 'whole sugars' like molasses and honey in their diets, and that's fine in moderation. One thing to remember, though, is that you can kick the sugar cravings. Once all the processed sugar is out of your system, apples and berries taste sweeter than they did before.
Don't be tempted to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners. There are two problems with this, and the first is that they're made of additives and chemicals that you don't want in your diet. The second problem is that they interfere with your ability to wean yourself off of sugar. Even though they have little or no calories, artificial sweeteners can keep your sugar cravings alive. Studies have shown that drinking diet sodas can actually make you hungrier and more likely to give in and eat something with real sugar in it.
It's What You Eat, Not How Much
In general, the kind of food you eat has more significance when it comes to good nutrition than how much you eat. You can eat salad all day long and the calories will only add up to the same as eating one banana split (as long as you don't use salad dressing). The point is that certain foods are overloaded with calories and deficient in vitamins, fiber and protein. Whether you're trying to improve your health or interested in losing some weight, whole foods will help you achieve your goal.