Food: Know your body, part 4
The final part of this series has to do with one of my all-time favorite subjects: food. Diet is one of the most important components to a healthy lifestyle, but it is also the source of seemingly endless confusion. Is low carb really the best way to eat? What about vegan? Should you go gluten-free? Should you avoid soy? With all the diet information floating around out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused. But, figuring out which foods do and do not work for your body doesn’t have to be an exercise in frustration. Here are some general guidelines to help customize your diet to fit your needs.
- Add more vegetables
Most people could use more vegetables in their diets. If you’re feeling like your diet is causing problems for you, try adding more fruits and vegetables to your meals and snacks before you start eliminating whole categories of foods. Want some easy ways to incorporate more veggies into your life? Try making a smoothie with greens and have that with your breakfast. Turn your sandwich into a salad or bake a sweet potato and pile your favorite burger fillings on top. Mix cauliflower with rice to add extra nutrients to your meal.
- Subtract added sugar wherever possible
Sugar is hiding in just about every processed food on the shelves. Figure out where the sugar is worthwhile and where you want to remove it. An easy way to get rid of sugar is to make your own salad dressing with some vinegar, olive oil, and your favorite Greek seasoning. Another place where sugar hides is stewed tomatoes. Simply switching from using canned stewed tomatoes to using canned whole, diced, or crushed tomatoes will remove hidden sugar from those dishes. Don’t get me wrong — I love sugar, but I’d rather know I’m eating it and enjoy it in the form of dessert than unknowingly consume extra sugar in my dinner.
- Make whole foods the center of your diet
By eating whole, minimally processed foods on a daily basis and using more processed foods as condiments rather than centerpieces, you’ll drive the nutrient density of your diet up dramatically. When you do eat processed foods, look for options that have a short list of ingredients.
- Remove foods you think are problematic completely
Chances are, if you’ve gone through the first three steps, you’re feeling better. If you’re still feeling off, it may be time to take more drastic action. This is where you get to be a bit of a scientist and experiment on yourself. Do some research to find out what the symptoms are of different food intolerances. Once you think you’ve found the problem food, remove it from your diet for three months and see how you feel. If you’ve found the problem food, you’ll likely feel better by the end of the first month, but three months gives your body a chance to fully recover from the constant exposure it’s had to this food up until the point you removed it, and you’ll be able to see a more dramatic difference once you add that food back in. After the three months is up, add that food back in and see how you feel. Feeling good? Maybe that food isn’t as much of a problem as you thought. Feeling run down all of a sudden? That’s a pretty good sign that the food you’ve just added back into your diet is problematic for you.
This experimentation can be tricky because multiple foods could be causing problems, or the problem could be something else entirely. It’s important to discuss any major dietary changes with your doctor, and to discuss any symptoms you’re feeling that are leading to your desire to make those changes. There could be an underlying medical issue that isn’t related to a particular food that could be causing you to feel less than fantastic, so don’t overlook that possibility.
Food is, perhaps, the most complicated subject when it comes to health and wellness. Each person is unique, and while being entirely plant-based might work for your best friend, it might not work for you. Then again, it might. Take the time to notice how different foods make you feel and find a way of eating that is sustainable and effective for you.