By Alex Cromartie, CPT
Want to make healthy changes in you and your family’s life, but don’t know where to start? Often when people try to make a positive lifestyle change, they make the mistake of making to many changes at once, and wind up biting off more than they can chew. Instead, implement changes one by one, replacing negative habits with positive ones. Here are 15 EASY (and even kid approved) changes you can make to your diet that will get you started in the right direction. The idea here is that most of these foods taste almost identical to their less-healthy counterparts. This list is by no means complete, and I don’t mean to favor any brand. It is simply a sampling of some easy changes we have made (and also what was in the pantry).
Annie Chun’s Brown Rice Pad Thai Noodles and Meuller’s 100% Whole Grain Spaghetti
Whether the European or the Asian variety, everyone loves pasta. But if you understand how little nutrition is in enriched (white) pasta, and that it turns to sugar as soon as you eat it, you’ll realize just how important it is to seek out the 100% whole grain variety whenever possible. Although I’ve pictured Mueller’s brand spaghetti here, there are actually a few different brands and varieties appearing in conventional supermarkets. I had to go to Whole Foods to get the Pad Thai noodles. Nice being able to feel good about eating pasta though!
Grass Fed Ground Beef
Too few people understand that grass fed cows are nutritionally superior to their corn fed cousins. When cows eat their natural diet of grass, their fat becomes rich in omega-3 fatty acids (the same that is present in salmon). For this reason, ground beef can become a nutrient rich source of both healthy fats and protein, instead of an artery clogger. What’s even better is that most conventional grocery stores are carrying grass fed ground beef these days. If not, ask your grocer to carry it. Hallelujah! There IS such a thing as a healthy hamburger!
Kerrygold Grass Fed Butter And Cheese
So if your excited to learn that beef can be healthy, what follows is even more life changing. The fat in the milk that comes from grass fed cows has a high omega-3 to omega-6 ratio just like the grass fed beef itself. This means that foods like butter, cream and cheese that were once off limits are now known to actually be very healthy in moderate amounts. Why you would think that stores would carry everything from grass fed cheese blocks to grass fed, stevia sweetened ice cream, grass fed products are still fairly uncommon, even at organic stores like Whole Foods. One exception to this is the Irish dairy brand Kerrygold. All of their products are made from 100% grass fed cows, and their butter and cheese can be found in conventional supermarkets, organic supermarkets, and even at BJs Wholesale. Think of the possibilities here people!
Organic Valley 100% Grass Fed Milk and Half and Half
Following the grass fed dairy theme brings us to our next easy food switch, grass fed milk and grass fed half and half. While conventional skim milk still has many health benefits, it tastes terrible and is lacking the omega-3 benefits of its grass fed cousin. You will probably have to go to an organic grocer to find the 100% grass fed variety, but any organic milk is grass fed at least a third of the cow’s life. So this is one time that organic is definitely worth the extra cost.
Store Brand Organic Old Fashioned Oatmeal
Oatmeal is without a doubt my favorite morning carbohydrate. I’m almost afraid to train without it. I get the old fashioned kind because you can add water, nuke it for two minutes, add some milk, stevia and raisins or berries, and I have breakfast ready in no time. Yes, the steel cut variety is a bit healthier, but is so time consuming that it is impractical for our family. Also the steel cut oats are a bit heavy for my tastes in early morning hours!
Stevia (Truvia brand)
Stevia is a zero calorie sweetener that is unique in that it is the only zero calorie sweetener that has truly natural origins. Stevia itself is a plant. They usually carry it in the Home Depot plant section, if you’re interested in tasting a leaf. It’s great to have around the house to sweeten tea, and has been used for this purpose for thousands of years in South America. While it is very sweet, there is also a slight bitter taste to the plant in its natural form. For better or for worse, scientists have learned to process the plant and isolate just the sweet molecule, Reb A. Commercial stevia products such as Truvia (Coca-cola) use only that part of the plant in their products. While the research on Reb A is promising, it’s important to understand that it is highly processed and may still alter taste preferences, so like everything, it can be overdone. It is a giant leap forward from using insulin spiking sugar though, so give it a try!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Safflower Oil, and Hain Safflower Mayonnaise
Hopefully you know by now that you should be using extra virgin olive oil as much as possible. If you’re not, you seriously need to make it a part of your everyday routine, as the benefits are too many to mention. Sometimes though, you don’t want the olive oil taste in a particular food (Chinese stir-fry come to mind). This is where safflower oil comes in handy. It fries and tastes just like vegetable oil, but has the benefit of being loaded with CLA, a much needed healthy fat. Unfortunately, safflower oil’s omega 3 to omega 6 ratio isn’t nearly as impressive, so stick to olive oil as much as possible. Also, give Hain’s Safflower mayonnaise a try for a truly old school mayonnaise taste, and a lot less guilt!
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is an often misunderstood food. If you turn over a jar of it and take a look at the nutrition facts, it is shockingly high in saturated fat. Since they are usually a big nutrition no-no, many people mistakenly steer clear of this tasty super food. The fact is though that the saturated fat in coconut oil is made up of heart healthy medium chain triglycerides and have been shown to reduce cholesterol, improve thyroid function, and aid the body in burning abdominal fat. Studies show that two tablespoons of coconut oil a day will do the trick. I love frying up chicken in it for a wonderful Polynesian flavor, and have even been known to eat it with a spoon right out of the jar on occasion 🙂 If you like coconut oil, then you have to try Earth Balance Peanut Butter with Coconut Oil. It makes the best PBJ sandwich I’ve ever had!
Lacroix Sparkling Water
It’s no secret that both sugar sweetened and artaficially sweetened sodas are terrible for you. Several years ago, after I seriously reduced my soda drinking habits, I realized that it wasn’t the sugar I missed, but the refreshing burn of the carbonation in my throat! This may sound silly to some of you, but I know there are some of you that know exactly what I’m talking about! So when I found LaCroix Sparkling Water I thought I had hit the jackpot. Convenient, zero chemicals, in a can, and often a BOGO at my local supermarket. What else can you ask for? Unfortunately, when I was doing the research for this article I ran across the fact that there is BPA in the lining of the cans! It just goes to show how much effort is needed to stay knowledgeable about what you are putting in your body. Guess it is time to look into that Soda Stream thing. At least I won’t have to buy the flavor mixes…
Nature’s Own 100% Whole Grain Bread
Whether you love bread or hate it, there’s no question that whole grains are a heck of a lot better for you than enriched grains. It’s more fibrous, more nutritious, and slows down the process of bread turning to sugar when you eat it. Nature’s Own 100% Whole Grain Bread is available at conventional grocery stores, and tastes the same as regular bread. It is also sugar free, so there’s another reason to never eat enriched bread again!
Almonds. They’re good for you. Raw almonds are even better. Eat them. Almonds are the healthiest nut, and make an excellent between-meal snack. Give almond milk a try too. It doesn’t taste much like milk, but has a great taste in it’s own right. My kids love it in the vanilla flavor. Sure it’s added sugar, but you’ve got to start somewhere…
No Nitrates Added Deli Meat
Sodium Nitrate is a preservative that is added to most deli meats, sausages and bacon to preserve product shelf life. There is a lot of debate about whether or not it is bad for you, and food companies have responded with “no nitrates added” products. Instead these companies add celery juice, which is naturally loaded with sodium nitrate, to preserve their product. So in reality it isn’t “nitrate free” at all, just a more natural source of sodium nitrate, which I do prefer. However, it should be known that sodium nitrate is abundant in vegetables, so it can’t be that bad! However, I think there is great benefit in keeping foods as whole as possible, so give no nitrates added meats (Hormel brand pictured here) a try if you’re a big sandwich eater.
That’s it for now. Remember, all of these changes are so easy you won’t even notice a change in taste or convenience. Make several of these easy changes for a synergistic effect that your body will thank you for!