The start of a new year is a great time for self-assessment and setting new goals. Out with the old habits and in with the new. Some people call them resolutions. My yoga guide says it’s about setting intentions. Whether your intention is to lose weight, eat healthier, gain energy or age more healthfully, here are my Top 10 Healthy Habits for the New Year. And not just 2018, but any year.
#1 Prioritize Plants
Eating more plants is healthy habit number one. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with powerful, healthy plant compounds called phytonutrients (or phytochemicals). The saying “eat the rainbow” means the more colors you eat, the more variety of nutrients you give your body to work with to be healthy. Other plant foods such as nuts, seeds, beans and legumes are good sources of plant-based protein, fiber and healthy fat. Although whole grains often get a bad rap, they can be healthy depending on gluten and grain sensitivities.
Adding more plants foods to your diet, especially low starch vegetables and leafy greens, insures you will get your 5-10 servings a day. The benefit? According to researchers, reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer and all causes of death. Need ideas on how to learn to love vegetables? Read this post.
#2 Focus on Fiber
Getting more fiber is healthy habit number two. Health benefits include increased satiety, decreased cravings and hunger, plus better elimination and detoxification. New research shows that eating more fiber supports better overall health and adding more fiber to your diet is associated with a leaner figure and lower weight.
Most importantly, fiber feeds your gut microbiome; the trillions of beneficial bacteria that live in your gut and control the health of your immune and cardiovascular systems, your brain and more. Fiber may even help reverse obesity according to new study findings. Choose high-fiber, plant-based foods such as berries, apples, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat and brown or black rice.
Another good fiber to add to your diet is resistant starch, a unique starch that functions more like fiber. Unlike regular starch, resistant starch passes through your digestive system virtually unchanged, resisting digestion, hence its name. Resistant starch provides benefits for digestion, tames your appetite (helpful for weight loss) and, improves insulin resistance and blood sugar levels. Resistant starch feeds the good bacteria in your gut. If you are not used to eating much fiber, start adding it slowly to minimize possible digestive discomfort. More to come on the importance of fiber in a future post.
#3 Rethink Your Protein
Healthy Habit number three is about protein. If the word protein brings to mind poultry, meat or seafood, rethink your protein by including plant-based options. Can we get enough protein from plants? Absolutely. Plants foods that provide healthy protein are found in beans, grains, seeds, legumes, nuts, nutritional yeast, even fruits and vegetables. You can remain an omnivore and gain benefits without going vegan. Plant-based proteins are also budget friendly, planet friendly and good for everyone. Start with one day a week, like a Meatless Monday and expand from there. For ideas on where to find plant-based proteins, try these posts.
#4 Add Healthy Fats
Demonized for decades, healthy fat has been redeemed, so fear fat no more. High quality fats are not only good for you but important for a healthy brain, weight loss and more. Find healthy fat in avocados (fruits and oil), nuts, seeds and their butters, extra virgin olive oil, unrefined coconut oil, wild salmon and other delicious foods. Fat is a concentrated source of energy and how much to consume varies by individuals, so you need to find your own balance. Usually twenty to 30 percent of your daily dietary intake is a good place to start. The bad fats to kick to the curb? Trans fats, hydrogenated fats, and poor quality, industrially produced vegetable and seed oils that promote inflammation.
#5 Dump Sugar
Eliminating added sugar is healthy habit number five. Research reports that sugar is as addictive, maybe even more so, than drugs like cocaine. Skyrocketing sugar consumption in the U.S. is behind dangerous lifestyle-related diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Skip the soda, sweetened drinks, and processed and packaged foods. Become a sugar detective and read labels to understand where sugar hides. If an ingredients ends in “ose” it is sugar, such as fructose, sucrose, maltose, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Other common names are corn syrup, molasses, honey, cane juice, fruit juice, and many others. When a nutrition label reads 16 grams of sugar, realize that translates to 4 teaspoons of sugar. Do the math and make smarter choices. It just might save your life. That means artificial sweeteners too.
Top 10 Healthy Habits – Part Two
I planned to write this all in one post but quickly realized it is too much to cover all at once. Volumes of books have been written on each subject. For more ideas on Healthy Habits for 2018 (or any year), please read part two.