The New Year is here! I don’t know about you, but I find the fall to be the craziest time of the year – school starts, the Jewish holidays follow close behind, then there’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the non-stop December celebrating (which for me also includes one of my daughters’ birthdays!). In the midst of the craziness, I always find it hard to stay on top of feeding my family well, and so the New Year is the perfect time to take a deep breath and regroup. For those of you feeling the same way, I wanted to share three tips for simple ways to upgrade your eating and feel your best in 2015.
- Read ingredient lists. If you want to do one thing to improve the quality of the food you eat, start by reading ingredient lists. The only way we can eat better is to know what we’re eating in the first place! I remember being blown away when I started reading ingredient lists – some “foods” have lists a mile long, with very few recognizable ingredients. And the more I learned about these mysterious ingredients, the more I realized that they really had no business being in my diet on a regular basis. Did you know that the FDA does not require independent safety testing for new additives? Food manufacturers are allowed to self-certify that their ingredients are safe, or simply start using them without even notifying the government. And once an ingredient is suspected of being unsafe, it can take years to have it removed from the food supply, if ever. The result is that there are thousands of ingredients out there which we know shockingly little about. Many might be perfectly safe, but we just can’t say for sure. Which is why my preference is to stick to recognizable real food ingredients that have been part of our food supply for generations.
What you DON’T need to read are health claims and nutrition facts labels (with one exception – see #2!) which can both be easily manipulated by food manufacturers. If you are eating real food, the rest will take care of itself. So this year, get in the habit of reading ingredients lists – the more aware you become, the better you will be able to make educated decisions about what to eat.
- Watch the sugar. Sugar is delicious, no doubt about that. Unfortunately, more and more research is suggesting that added sugars are not just empty calories, but actually damaging to our bodies and even addictive (read about my own addiction here!). So while my first tip was to read ingredients and ignore nutrition facts, the sugar content is the exception. Here’s what you need to know: there are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon, and the American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day for men, 6 teaspoons for women, and 3-4 for children. So that means a piece of whole wheat bread with 4g of sugar has a teaspoon – a sandwich with 2 pieces of bread is already 1/3 of women’s daily allotment and more than half for kids! Sugar sneaks into way too many foods (and hides behind over 20 different names), which is why it’s not surprising that despite recommendations, the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day! Given the risks, sugar is something we need to be paying much closer attention to.
- Cook more. Cooking is one of the best things you can do for your health, since when you cook at home you are much more likely to use real ingredients, moderate levels of salt, sugar, and fat, and eat appropriate portion sizes (plus it’s generally cheaper, better for the environment, and tastes better!). So if you currently don’t cook at all, try making just one meal a week from scratch, even if it’s as simple as whole wheat pasta with a good quality jar of sauce and roasted veggies or a salad. If you cook regularly but are dependent on processed ingredients like soup mixes, marinades, and flavoring packets, try converting one of your favorites (like tacos) and build up from there. And if you’re already mostly from scratch, maybe you’re ready to start making homemade snacks, breakfast foods, breads, or even broth. Wherever you are, pick one change to make, and don’t pick another until that one change is mastered!
While these three tips are simple, I know they are not easy! Reading ingredient lists takes time and is virtually impossible when shopping with kids; sugar is hidden in EVERYTHING and is really hard to avoid even with the best of intentions; cooking from scratch takes a level of planning you might not be accustomed to. But it’s worth it to make small changes, one at a time, at a pace that works for you. And if you need help, feel free to get in touch – I’d be happy to help you on your journey towards eating well!