Sustainable health: keeping it simple

November 13, 2012

Shelley Myers

When most people hear the word "diet," what comes to mind? Restrictions? Tasteless foods? Torture? But what really is a "diet," and can we be healthy, eat healthy, and get to a healthy weight without being on one?

The origin of the word diet from the 13th Century is actually "way of life" or "manner of living." In its verb tense, it has evolved into "to eat sparingly or according to prescribed rules." Furthermore, it has been commercialized into various sets of rules and restrictions, from the Zone Diet to the South Beach Diet to the Atkins Diet to the Popcorn Diet and hundreds more.

So which one is the right one? Why are there so many contradicting and confusing diets? Does it really have to be that complicated?

Don't get me wrong. I am not against diets or dieting and do acknowledge that there are benefits. For people with various health conditions who either need to supplement with specific nutrients (i.e. B12 or Omega fatty acids) or need to eliminate others (i.e. gluten or dairy), specific diets can be very beneficial, if not critical to good health "“ as can working together with your physician(s) and a nutritionist so that you can measure baselines and improvements through various clinical tests to know what's working and what is not.

After you've addressed any specific nutritional needs with you care team, you can follow some simple guidelines to eat healthy without needing a PhD in dietetics. Here are a few basics:

Water: Choose filtered water as your drink of choice. Limit caffeinated drinks and avoid sugary drinks. If you drink dairy, try to choose milk free of added hormones and buy local and organic when possible. Try replacing some dairy with substitutes such as almond or rice milk.

Whole Grains: Whole grains provide many nutrients and both soluble and insoluble fiber. Avoid refined grains like white bread, white rice, and white flour products. Try some not-so-common grains such as quinoa, which is a complete protein and has tons of fiber and other nutrients.

Protein: Choose healthy varieties such as beans, nuts, eggs, fish, and poultry. If you eat meat, choose grass-fed, organic for best quality. Avoid processed meats like bacon and cold cuts. Remember, you'll be getting protein from the healthy veggies and grains on your plate so try limiting meat to less than a quarter of your plate.

Fruits: Eat seasonal, local, and organic fruits when possible, and eat a variety of colors. Enjoy fruit when craving sweets and snacks.

Vegetables: Vegetables are so important and should fill more than 25 percent of your plate. They provide both soluble and insoluble fibers, protein, and tons of antioxidants. Go for many colors, choosing dark leafy greens as much as possible. Go for local and organic when possible.

Fats and Oils: Use plant-based oils like olive oil or grape seed oil for cooking and as dressing on salad. Choose wild fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Avoid trans fats and balance saturated fats like butter, cream, and cheese.

Instead of focusing on eliminating or restricting the "bad" foods, focus more on adding in the good ones. Ultimately the good will begin to crowd out the bad, and you'll really start to enjoy the taste of fresh, healthy foods without missing the ones that you've given up.

Remember: Keep it simple and it's more likely to lead to lasting change.

Shelley Myers is a Certified Health Coach and founder of HealthKik.com. She works with individuals to provide the knowledge, tools, and inspiration to lead the healthiest life possible through exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle improvements. Her background is in exercise science, nursing, medical informatics and integrative nutrition. She uses her background and experience to develop tools and programs for achieving optimal health. She loves discovering new ways to help her clients to gain more control of their health, better navigate the healthcare system, and have the tools and motivation to stay healthy, prevent disease, or better manage current conditions they may be facing.

Originally published Nov 13, 2012 10:00:07 AM.