Nutrition in a Nutshell

Trying to understand nutrition can seem like a daunting task. Everyone (experts and lay people alike) has their opinion, and studies often appear to contradict one another. I've recently been very interested in reading up about nutrition, specifically looking into what it means to pursue it as part of a healthy life, and trying to not make it so complicated. I thought I'd share with you some of what I've learned and found helpful. We need a variety of foods because they have a wider range of nutrients that our body uses to regulate all of its complex systems. If we place all the blame on one component of food (like fat, for instance), we compensate with more of other things, often filling the gap with other unhealthy options instead of striving for a balance of healthy ingredients. When we overload it with too much of anything, especially sugar and fat (often via processed foods), things start to go awry.

But that doesn't mean these things are inherently bad and needing to be avoided at all costs. It means we need to seek better balance. Surely, some of us are better at reaching and maintaining balance than others. I, for one, know what it theoretically looks like, but tend to ride the pendulum swinging back and forth from restricting too much and robbing myself of the joy of food on the one end and indulging too much and not feeling good on the other. Middle ground is much harder to find.

Instead of focusing in on one harmful ingredient, labeling foods as either "good" or "bad," blaming all of our health problems on fats, carbohydrates, or cholesterol, let's embrace a more wholistic approach to our nutrition.

We need to maintain a balanced diet throughout the day and throughout the week, not focus too much on specific ratios at each meal or which vitamins and minerals different foods contain. By eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, we will likely get all the nutrients we need without having to worry about those details.

Chow Down on Quality Foods Forget counting calories. People who stay slim simply choose high-quality foods over junky ones, according to the Cornell research. “Think about 100 calories of potato chips versus 100 calories of almonds. Although it looks like you’re getting more food from the chips, you are more likely to feel hungry sooner after eating 100 calories of chips than 100 calories of almonds,” Starin says. “This is because the almonds are more nutrient-dense.” The almonds contain more fiber, protein and other health-boosting compounds. Meanwhile, the chips will just make you feel crappy, bloated and, in 30 minutes, hungry again.

Granted, it might take some thought to choose whole or minimally processed foods over less savory options — especially at first. But as you realize how much better you feel by eating this way, it will become automatic. You’ll eat those foods because just the idea of plowing through a sleeve of cookies makes you feel sick — not because you’re trying to “watch what you eat.” - K. Aleisha Fetters, dailyburn.com

If you don't think you should eat something too often because of the lack of nutrient content or how it makes you feel afterward, save it for special occasions. If you really love something you know isn't very good for you, by all means feel free to eat it occasionally, because experiencing the joy of food and cooking is important. But make sure you get yourself a full helping of more nutritious foods before you indulge, and serve an appropriate-sized portion (read: smaller portion than you think!) of your treat.

If you deny yourself your favorite foods completely, not only will you lose the joy of food and eating, you will be far more likely to binge on unhealthy food when you feel especially stressed or deprived. Deprivation is not the answer. Understanding what your body needs and what proper portion size looks like is far more important. Learn from your own body. Begin to recognize signs of fullness, and teach yourself to stop eating when you reach that point.

Know that embracing a healthier lifestyle is a process. Give yourself grace when you feel like you've made a poor decision, and choose to continue moving forward despite setbacks.