No matter how old you are, healthy eating is essential for maintaining good health. Unfortunately, in the United States, the food and beverage industry has made healthy eating a challenge, and with grocery prices continuing to rise, it’s become an even bigger challenge.
With high-fat foods, sugar-laden products, tempting sodas, and little exercise, the United States has become the most overweight and obese country among the OECD countries.
How did we get this way?
Convenience – Even before the pandemic, fast food deliveries had risen significantly over the past five years, and with the pandemic, the deliveries of unhealthy food options increased exponentially. Then, during the pandemic, to help the businesses that sold liquor, many states opened to the idea of alcohol deliveries. Need some groceries? Hop on Amazon or your local store’s website and have your order ready for pickup or delivery within hours. Convenience has become the norm, and it’s here to stay.
Too many calories – According to a study conducted in 2017, the average American eats 3,600 calories a day. That’s 1,600 calories over the recommended amount for women and 1,100 for men. A lot of this is mainly due to portion sizes.
Portion sizes – In 1980, 7-Eleven introduced the Big Gulp® to the American public. It was 32-ounces, and if you chose Coke, you added 350 calories to your daily diet. Then, in 1983, they created the Super Big Gulp®, which is 44 ounces. Then in 1988, Double Gulp® was available at a whopping 64-ounces. Fast food items kept getting bigger, and restaurant portions also increased with the demand for more food for the dollar. You get the picture!
Misinformation & Confusing Labels – Reading labels can be tricky if you are unsure what you are looking for. There are over 50 hidden sugars found in many processed foods. In addition, many of them have trans fats added, way too much sodium, natural substances that aren’t natural, and other additives.
Inactivity – Once upon a time, you had to get up to change the TV channel or answer the phone. Then the average American’s workday changed. Jobs that once demanded more activity are no longer the norm, as more people are sitting for their workday.
Also, as we age, the demand for calories consumed declines. But unfortunately, while the demand for calories goes down, the need for vitamins and minerals doesn’t; it increases, making it even more critical to maintain healthy eating habits.
With less movement, there are fewer calories burned. In addition, with less activity, muscle mass goes down, which slows down the metabolism and allows for more body fat. According to the CDC, 80% of Americans are getting less exercise. That huge!
Diets vs. Nutrition – Many fad diets and misinformation have set the stage for poor eating habits. Nutrition is about feeding the body what it needs, while diets are about calorie restriction and eliminating many foods that our bodies do need. I will say this, though, there are some excellent reasons for elimination diets. They can help restore gut health, decrease the risk for disease, decrease inflammation in the body, and more.
You can’t stop eating, so what can you do?
Healthy Eating Tips
Meal Planning – While making a meal plan is ideal, understanding your activity level, ideal weight, and nutritional needs is essential before creating a meal plan.
Balance calories – Also, the idea of calories in and calories out seems simple; it’s not. Sure, you consume calories, and then you could burn them all, but what’s the nutritional value of what you’re eating. That’s important!
So, be mindful of the calories you consume each day and what you do to burn them off through physical activity and work-related movement.
Limit Unhealthy Fats – Consuming healthy fats such as avocados, fatty fish, chia seeds, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil is ideal. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats; they are not suitable for anyone.
Protein – Healthy protein options are poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts, and lean meats. Avoid processed meats as they are filled with sodium nitrates and sugar, with some containing milk proteins, sodium phosphate, etc. Simply put, there are a lot of additives to processed meats.
Vegetables and fruits – Increasing the number of vegetables on your plate will go a long way towards optimal health. Although fruit has gotten a bad rap in many diet plans, don’t forget to include some fruit in your diet. A variety of colors will help fill in the nutritional gaps.
Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates contain fiber, starch, and sugar. They often get a bad rap for being unhealthy, with many diets eliminating carbs. Here’s the deal, simple carbs break down quickly and are used as energy. They are found in milk, milk products, fruits and vegetables, sugar, syrups, soft drinks, catchup, some vegetables, and many prepackaged foods.
Complex carbs are rich in fiber, offer nutritional value, are excellent for the digestive system, and maintain a healthy metabolism. You can find them in whole grains, oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, legumes, fiber-rich vegetables, and fruits.
The takeaway, go easy on those simple carbs and stick with the complex variety and you’ll maintain an ideal weight and reap the rewards of a healthier lifestyle.
Portion Control – Avoiding weight gain is more straightforward when we are eating only what we need. When eating high-calorie foods, do your best to control portion sizes.
Add Seasonings – Eating a well-balanced whole food enriched diet will offer little salt, whereas most prepackaged and processed foods will offer way too much. Dietary Guidelines recommend 2,300 milligrams. However, that number is lower for seniors 65 and older, with a 1,500 mg per day recommendation.
Avoid Sugar – We already know this one! Americans consume way too much sugar at an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar daily. That’s 352 extra calories a day. Yikes!
Include Fiber – Eat those complex carbs, and you’ll fulfill this requirement.
Water – It’s best to aim for no less than six eight-ounce glasses per day, which is a mere 48 ounces of water. That’s not enough for most of us. Let’s say you weigh 180 lbs. You’ll need ½ of your body weight in ounces of water per day, not including water required if you’re exerting a lot of energy. I know that 90 ounces seem like a lot; however, it’s not.
The best way to gauge your water intake is…
- Urine color
- Craving salty foods
- Dry eyes, mouth, and skin
- Weight gain
- Muscle cramps
- Joint pain
- Lack of energy
- Stomach pain
- Feeling a little disoriented
- Lack of sweat
I know I’ve thrown a lot at you in this post, so here’s a final takeaway. When you follow the 80/20 rule for nutrition, you’ll maintain healthy eating habits 80% of the time and allow for some indulgence 20% of the time, which will go a long way in maintaining good health.