Today’s craze is some new version of the old diet & exercise. Paleo, Nutrisystem, Cross-Fit, running marathons–you name it and we’ve got it! But it’s just too hard these days with work, school, kids, family, and friends. It’s really easy though because you don’t have to eat a salad every day, you just have to eat consciously! Here are my key tips on tracking calories, balancing macronutrients, avoiding sodium & additives, and avoiding processing:
A lot of health conscious people use some kind of calorie tracker–this is the first step. If you can get comfortable with a set caloric amount each day, you’ll 1 – teach your body to adapt to a calorie deficit (therefore forcing it to burn fat) and 2 – learn how to eat in a way that fills you up on low-calorie foods which further helps to burn fat.
I use an app called “Lose it!”, which is available on Android and iPhone, that can track calories and macros easily.
Balancing “macros”, as it’s abbreviated, is crucial to taking the next step. There are a lot of macro-balancing charts out there, but I’ll simplify it for you. If you can balance all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) at about one third (33%) each of your daily diet, you’ll be doing well. For those who have a faster metabolism, you can afford a few more carbs; and for those who are a little on the heavy side, try to avoid carbs–this balancing will help you lose some extra fat.
An important note on this balancing is understanding what foods are what. Meats, eggs, and beans are common proteins. Nuts and plant oils are great, healthy (unsaturated) fats, while beef and eggs provide common animal fats. Basically everything else is a carbohydrate: bread, potatoes, rice, chips, oats, grains, brownies, cookies, etc.
The biggest evil in all the macros are the copious amounts of sugar in soft drinks and sweets around today–watch these because one single bottle of coca-cola can be upwards of 60-70 grams of sugar/carbs. This can ruin your macro balancing, but also there are some notes on this kind of sugar–see below.
SODIUM & ADDITIVES
The next thing is unnecessarily added ingredients. We are supposed to eat natural ingredients, not things that were cooked up in the lab (listen I’m the first one to push science further, but unnatural food will make you unnatural).
Firstly, sodium. The American Heart Association’s daily recommended amount of sodium for a healthy human being is 2,300 milligrams (mg). Keep in mind sodium is found in salt, artificial spices, and in lots of prepared meats (as preservatives). Some might think 2,300 mg of sodium would be easy to keep, but this amount is equivalent to just one teaspoon of table salt (which is about 40% sodium). So really try to avoid salt, extra spices, and unneeded processing, which I’ll come to in just a minute. If you can get reduced sodium, always get it–we know all the heart problems with excess sodium (high blood pressure and heart disease. Also, consuming a lot of potassium can counteract the sodium.
Secondly, artificial sweeteners and such. All kinds of artificial additives can make otherwise healthy food ruined. Aspartame and other “artificial sweeteners” 1 – can cause cancer and 2 – are treated by your body just the same as sugar, but it doesn’t count towards sugars or carbohydrates on the nutrition label. Diet & zero-calorie drinks have these, which are actually worse than regular sugar. Other additives like nitrates and nitrites are horrible for your body–try not to buy foods that include these.
Lastly, we will discuss something more abstract than limiting sodium, balancing macros, or counting calories. Avoiding processing requires understanding what processing is: apples are unprocessed, apple pie is more processed, apple sauce is even more processed. Think of processing like middlemen in retail–a product starts out at $4, then the middle man sells it for $7.50, then the final retail store sells the product (that only costs $4 originally) for $10. Each step in the processing process adds sugars, sodium, preservatives, and additives to keep it “good” by the next sell. Always think to yourself, what was this food originally? When you eat an apple, you can tell it was picked from a tree. When you eat queso cheese dip, you think this is cheese, made from milk, that came from a cow–that’s processing.