From Intern Luke
Nutrition: Yes, it’s personal.
Carbs are bad and should be avoided, right? And fat definitely makes you fat, right? And protein makes you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, right? Okay, I’ll fess up, the last one I made up. The first two, however, are questions I commonly encounter, as a current nutrition student and dietetic intern.
I sympathize with the people who ask the aforementioned questions. It is no secret that most people want to eat healthy. The execution is where most people are accused of falling short. While in a sense this is true, in reality, people tend to fall short because their approach is remarkably misguided. Minimal to no formal education is implemented in our education system. The media focuses on the “WOW!” factor, and chronically publishes “breakthrough findings” based on one study.
Further complicating matters is that nutrition is surprisingly grey. Yes, nutrition is manifested in biochemistry and objectivity; but- ultimately- what works best for you, works best for you. So anything remotely regarding nutrition: yes, it’s personal.
This personal aspect is what we are going to focus on. Practical steps that you can implement with minimal inconvenience today. See, people often focus on their macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), and fail to consider the quality of those macronutrients. What exactly does this mean? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines suggest 45-65% of your Calories come from carbohydrates, 25-35% of your Calories come from fat, and 10-35% of your Calories come from protein. Your diet probably already fits within those guidelines. A guide will be included at the bottom of this page if you feel compelled to check, and I commend your initiative.
Regarding quality, one can fit perfectly inside the USDA’s recommendations... and still eat heinously. This is because the quality of the food products has not been considered. No two sources of carbohydrates, protein, or fats are quite the same.
So, you want to start eating healthier today, and you do not want to be inconvenienced? Try one or more of the following ideas:
1. Switch from whole milk to 2%, 2% to 1%, or 1% to skim. Skim milk has all the protein, vitamins, and minerals of whole milk without the excess saturated fat. Make your transition incremental. For example, do not switch from whole milk to directly to skim. Make your progress gradual but steady. You are more likely to stick with it this way. Spend two weeks with 2%, then two weeks with 1%, before finally switching to skim. For you nutty ones out there who prefer almond milk, that’s perfectly fine. Just be aware that the nutrient profiles are very different. Lastly, this recommendation can be applied to most dairy products, so do not think that this is unique to milk.
2. Make (at least) half of your grains whole grains. But like milk, do not jump straight into it. If you currently do not eat any (or minimal) whole grains, consciously choose a whole grain once per day for two weeks. Then two per day for two weeks, etc. There are an abundance of grains to choose from, so liberate yourself from the confines of wheat. Quinoa, spelt, brown/wild rice, millet, etc. If all of that sounds a little unconventional for your preference, my advice is to try different pastas or spaghettis. Yes, some will be terrible. But remember, you only need to find one that you like.
3. Eat one (more) vegetable per day. Everyone has to start somewhere; and no, corn and potatoes do not count. Sweet potatoes do though. Apply the same two week incremental pattern, or whatever pattern jives best with you.
4. Eliminate one soda per day. Apply the same incremental pattern until you have kicked the daily soda habit. Still need a caffeine kick? Tea and coffee are excellent alternatives, just be mindful of any honey, sugar, and cream you use. That is not to say do not use it… Just don’t make your coffee like Buddy the Elf makes his pasta.
5. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store first. Most of your items should come from this section. Getting into the habit of shopping the perimeter first, oftentimes effortlessly improves the quality of items bought. Along these same lines, save yourself the misery and do not shop hungry. Do not underestimate the value of this recommendation, as the decision to eat healthy is made in the grocery store, not the kitchen.
There you have it. Five recommendations to start eating healthy today with minimal inconvenience. Just like getting in shape or breaking up with a significant other, it sucks at first. But you always feel better quicker than you expected, and never, never have you regretted it.
Also, do not try to make more than one or two of these changes at once. Burnout is all too real, and permanent progress is the end game. Remember: baby steps people, baby steps.
By College Chefs' Luke Dolan