If you’re looking for nutrition advice that’s both accurate and easy to follow, you’re not alone. It can be tough to find reliable advice, which is why we consulted dietitians, nutrition experts and scientific studies to come up with 12 food rules that anyone can follow for a healthier life.
“The vegetables in season provide the lowest cost, best taste and most nutrition,” said Registered Dietitian and Author Jill Nussinow, who has been teaching plant-based, whole foods cooking for more than 25 years. “If possible grow your own or shop at a farmers’ market or store with high produce turnover. Become familiar with what's in season.”
“The fiber and slow-burning carbs in a breakfast like oatmeal help curb hunger for the day,” said Ashley Conrad, a top fitness and nutrition expert to celebrities and professional athletes and the CEO of Clutch Bodyshop. “Sprinkle cinnamon, a few blueberries and some natural sweetener on top, and you have a sweet and metabolism-boosting power breakfast.” Add almonds or other nuts for a protein boost.
You hear about “balanced” meals all the time, but what exactly does that mean? Certified Personal Trainer, ISSA Performance Nutrition Specialist and NPC Figure Competitor Trinity Perkins explains; “[you should] always pair a lean protein with complex carbs – For example, ‘just oatmeal’ is not a balanced breakfast. When you eat a complex carbohydrate alone, it digests rapidly as fat, spiking your insulin levels and inhibiting fat loss. Complex carbohydrates and protein work best when paired together.”
“My food rule is the quarter rule: one-quarter of what you eat should be fruits, one-quarter veggies, one-quarter protein and one-quarter whole grains (based off USDA recommendations),” said Elana Natker, a nationally recognized food and nutrition communications expert in the Washington, D.C. area. “This could apply for every meal/eating occasion or as a goal for the day. So if your breakfast is mostly grains and dairy, then your next meal should go heavy on fruits and veggies…and so on.”
"This is probably one of the most important rules of healthy eating, [it] means eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed beyond belief,” said Darin Hulslander a certified nutritionist and personal trainer out of Chicago. “This allows your brain signals to kick in and tell your body when it’s full and ready to stop eating. Aim for 15-20 minutes per meal of eating time."
“Cultivating healthy eating habits goes beyond the food on your plate. It’s about transforming what you think about food, health and your body,” said Christine M. Okezie, a natural foods chef, nutrition coach and author. “When we habitually gulp down our meals and eat mindlessly while on our smartphones or on the run, the body doesn’t have time to go through its natural signaling process or proper digestion. Consciously chewing your food and eating more mindfully are ways to slow down your eating, enrich your relationship with food, and powerfully improve your overall health.”
Over the course of your busy day maybe you miss a meal or two, no big deal, right? Actually there’s evidence that skipping meals and making up for it later on can negatively impact sugar and glucose levels in the body and might even cause weight gain. “During the day, going more than four or five hours without eating can contribute to blood-sugar imbalance, resulting in strong feelings of hunger and overeating,” said Okezie. “Your body needs a steady supply of fuel to function properly.” Okezie suggests keeping healthy snacks, like nuts, nearby for when you get hungry.
“When purchasing packaged foods (snacks, condiments, etc.) turn every package around and read the ingredient label. If the item has more than four or five ingredients and if there are any you can't pronounce, put it back on the shelf and look for something else,” said Tarah Chieffi, a health educator with a masters in Health and Nutrition Education, who has also written a book on nutrition and pregnancy. “Many foods have added sweeteners, artificial colors and preservatives, but most grocery stores have natural options that don't contain these possibly harmful ingredients.”
Weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, the list of health issues associated with consuming too much added sugar continues to pile up, while the average American consumes about 100 grams of sugar a day, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) database. That number should ideally be less than half that for both men and women, said the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization. The amount of sugar people ingest has been climbing and experts think that people are opting for sugary beverages and foods over more nutritious options. Check the ingredients before you take a bite and opt for foods high in protein to keep you feeling satisfied. When your sweet tooth kicks in reach for some fruit.
“One of the biggest things that I see derailing people's nutrition goals is an ‘all or nothing’ mentality,” said Todd Nief, the owner and director of training at South Loop Strength & Conditioning in Chicago. He said even people who know how to eat healthy occasionally get thrown off their routine by travel plans, visiting friends or other obligations and stresses. Once things fall apart, he said, “they start to think of themselves as failures and abandon all of their healthy eating habits. They think that, if they can't follow their plan perfectly, that it's not worth doing at all.”
“People who find the best success see failure as a setback and a learning opportunity and they're gentle on themselves when they don't live up to their expectations.”