What are healthy foods to eat?

As a nutritionist, I have spent the last ten years working with clients of all ages and backgrounds. One of the most common questions new clients ask me is some variation of, “What are healthy foods to eat?”

I want to make a change in the way I eat but am confused about what foods are healthy and what foods are unhealthy.
I know my eating habits could be better, but I’ve tried to diet in the past, and the weight just came right back.
I exercise regularly and eat the “right” foods, but the scale won’t budge!

Does this sound like you?

It sounds like such a simple question but making healthy eating choices is difficult because failure generally comes from habits & execution more than lack of knowledge. Everyone is looking for the next quick fix, but a permanent change to your eating habits should not be extreme or restrictive. Here are some simple tips and tricks to get you started toward healthy eating and long-term success.

  1. Follow a plan that is sustainable, long term.

    Everyone knows quick-fix diets won’t work long term. However, most are unaware of how unhealthy quick-fix diets can be and how they can create lasting adverse effects on maintaining a healthy weight in the future. When you jump into a super restrictive diet while increasing the intensity of your workouts, your body releases stress hormones. Your body is simulating that there is something wrong with your environment, and the hormones released tell your body to save and conserve calories.

    While you may lose a few pounds before you go on vacation, your body has been jolted into survival mode. It will stop burning calories and start storing fat. Now, on your “cheat days,” or the vacation you have been prepping for, when you are indulging in higher calorie food, you will store these excess calories as fat. The more you recreate this cycle, the more trained your body and mind become to storing fat instead of burning it. Worst still, this type of dieting has been linked to increased heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and problems with metabolism.

  2. Keep it simple

    If an idea sounds too extreme, it probably is. But if you eat a balanced diet rich in nutritious foods, and exercise regularly, you can still reach your ideal weight and be healthier long term.

  3. Eat enough protein.

    Although there is research supporting different types of diets such as high fat, low carb, or low protein. There are essential nutrients that only come from protein. Protein contains amino acids, which are the building blocks for muscle. Maintaining muscle mass into old age, will help boost metabolism and your immune system, as well as increase bone strength and aid in maintaining a healthy weight.

  4. Don’t classify all carbohydrates as evil.

    Carbohydrates provide your body with energy.Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes break down into glucose, which is converted to glycogen to be stored for future use. Glucose is also what our brains use as their primary source for fuel. Foods classified as carbohydrates also add fiber to your diet. Having a diet high in fiber will help to promote digestive health, keep you full, and may lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

  5. There is such a thing as healthy fat!

    If you follow the guidelines of the old food pyramid, you are limiting all types of fat. If you have ever followed the ketogenic style of dieting, you eat both “good” and “bad” fat, all of the time. Somewhere in between is a happy spot where you eat enough foods high in omega 3-fatty acids, including avocado, salmon and oysters, and nuts and seeds like walnuts, chia, and flax seeds. Omega 3’s are essential for optimum nerve, brain, and heart function.

    Studies show eating enough healthy fats, helps to reduce cravings, lower your risk for diabetes, and reduce inflammation.

  6. Eat real foods that don’t have a nutrition label.

    Shopping the perimeter of a supermarket is the easiest way to avoid the highly processed items that are being advertised today as “food.” Choosing to eat food that is natural, unrefined, and doesn’t come in a package is a simple way to figure out if you are eating a healthy option. Adding more vegetables to your daily meals will help you increase fiber plus the vitamins and nutrients that make you feel energized and healthy.

So, when you are confused about what choice to make, which foods are healthy and which are not, consider making smaller consistent and maintainable choices. Remember that dieting is highly individualized, what works for you might not work for your best friend and vice versa. If you find yourself struggling, get help from a nutritionist or health coach to develop a plan designed to work best for you. And develop a relationship with your coach so they can hold you accountable to healthy long-term change.