Our Healthy Living Advisor Leader, Laura Stokoe (who is also a Holistic Nutritionist) shares 5 of her healthy habits that will help get your new year off on the right foot!
Sometimes, the world of health and nutrition can seem daunting and at times, even overwhelming. There are so many schools of thought being thrown at us from every which way, it can be tough to navigate the correct path and know what to do next, never mind what long-term direction to take.
There is good news though, and even a little bit of hope (actually, a lot). You see, healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated, scary, confusing, or messy (okay, maybe in my case it gets a little messy here and there, but I mean, who’s judging?). Indeed, healthy eating, as in knowing what is healthy and choosing the right foods accordingly, should be simple. Because you know what? It all goes back to the basics. Really. It’s about choosing the most whole, real food options possible, and doing that at every opportunity. Over time, this really does add up and will lead to a healthier body, one with fewer symptoms and greater energy.
Every time you are about to eat something, ask yourself: will this build health in my body? Or will it build disease? This question makes choosing our foods simple, and puts the power in our hands.
When it comes to which foods to make sure you eat regularly and which ones are better left on the shelf, I’ve outlined five simple steps that will help give you a place to start. These five tips are something you can start today, and the more you do them, the more they will ‘stick’. They will become your healthy habits. And you will feel so much better for it!
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Drink more water.
Water. Such a simple substance, and yet so very important for our health. Not only does water help to deliver nutrients to our cells, but it also helps to carry toxins out of our bodies. Not only that, but it is a nutrient in itself; according to Dr. Batmanghelidj (affectionately known, at least by me, as Dr. Batman) in his book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, “the only remedy for conditions that come about when the body begins to get dehydrated is water and nothing else.” Headaches and constipation can often be a sign, in part, of dehydration.
Aim for 6-8 cups per day, and more as sweating increases (and also if you drink caffeine and/or alcohol, as these are dehydrating and therefore increase our water needs). Keep in mind that herbal tea does count as your water intake, so your peppermint teais doing more than just helping with digestion; it’s hydrating you as well. Awesome!
The most fun healthy habit, wouldn’t you say?
I love fat! (It’s true, I do.) Fat does so much for us… it keeps our blood sugar level steady after meals, ensures healthy cell membranes (and we have trillions of those), provides a wide variety of nutrients, and has numerous health benefits. All that AND it tastes delicious! Talk about a win-win situation.
The right kind of fat reduces inflammation, balances our mood, and supports our brain and nervous system. It protects our heart and blood vessels, leads to healthier skin and hair, and can even help our bodies better absorb minerals.
What is the right kind of fat? It includes any and all of the following: butter, coconut oil, olive oil, flax oil, Udo’s Oil, fish and fish oil, eggs, naturally raised meats, nuts and seeds, and avocados.
We certainly want to steer clear of trans fat, but also the lesser-known evils… the overly processed, omega-6-rich, damaged fats. These include corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and also the blanket term ‘vegetable oil’. They’ve typically been heated to high temperatures, so what nutrients they may once have had have been destroyed or deactivated. Plus, when these oils are heated to these high temps, they become damaged, which in turn damages our cells. Plus, omega-6 can actually promote (as in, cause) inflammation in our bodies, especially when it’s not properly combined with omega-3.
We in North America tend to consume way too much omega-6 in the form of these damaged vegetable oils. Not only do many of us purchase and cook with them ourselves, but they’re also found in most processed and packaged foods. We must avoid these as much as possible while focusing instead on our healthy fats. Make sure you include fat with every meal.
Have breakfast every day.
Too many of us skip this hugely important meal, and in turn, suffer the consequences (often without realizing it). A good breakfast sets us up for the day; not only does it provide nourishment and steady energy, but it also helps motivate us to choose healthy choices throughout the day. Without it, we tend to be more moody, anxious, on edge, irritable, tired, weak, hungry (I know, Captain Obvious)… and, well, unstable throughout the day in various ways.
Skipping breakfast wreaks havoc on our blood sugar level and often leads to binge eating at night. It can make us way more likely to give in to our cravings… and also makes us less likely to care.
So grab that power you own and choose to start your day the right way! Include protein, fat, and fibre to really make it count. Try to avoid sugary cereals and toast, and instead reach for a smoothie, eggs, or steel cut oats (these are just some of many healthy options).
Reduce your sugar intake.
Last year, the World Health Organization recommended that we cut our sugar consumption in half – to about six teaspoons per day. That’s less than one can of pop. And yet, the average Canadian consumes 27.5 teaspoons daily! (Statistics Canada, 2004). If you hadn’t noticed, that was 12 years ago. I’m sure that number has done nothing but increase since then.
Sugar causes a cascade of problems, including lowered immunity, mood swings, skin breakouts, cravings, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, digestive issues, yeast and candida overgrowth, weight gain (especially abdominal), insulin resistance, diabetes... and more.
I am telling you right now, both from studying this in detail and from personal experience, reducing sugar can have such a positive impact! Just look at all the problems it can cause and imagine those beginning to resolve, one by one. It can have that powerful an effect, and you will lose nothing by trying this out for a while (except maybe some weight, digestive issues, recurrent colds… okay, I shall stop).
Exercise doesn’t have to be crazy or over the top. In fact, a walk is excellent exercise, as is a yoga class, or simply going up and down the stairs in your home. Just put on some comfy clothes (and some fun music) and get moving! Dance around the house, use cans or bottles as weights, do some pushups on your knees, maybe some sit-ups and squats, perhaps a plank hold or two, and call it a day. Just don’t forget to warm up beforehand, and always stretch your muscles after you’re done to prevent injury and increase flexibility.
Not only will regular exercise tone your muscles, reduce fat, and strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system, but it can also help to increase or maintain your bone density. Talk about amazing benefits! Remember, you don’t have to turn into an exercise fiend; just 20 minutes a day is an excellent goal.
There you have it. Five easy peasy, seemingly small habits to adopt that will create a healthier you. Even though they may seem so basic and simple (and in fact they are), they are also incredibly powerful in their effect; they truly do help to build a better body. Adding them to your life will absolutely start to change your health for the better, and positive results will follow. Maybe it will be fewer aches and pains, maybe greater energy (wouldn’t that be nice!), deeper sleep, stronger immunity… perhaps clearer, glowing skin.
Whatever your goals may be for eating healthily, I encourage you to start small and make doable, realistic changes that will eventually become your very own healthy habits. Enjoy the amazing difference they will make in your body, and also in your life.
Laura Stokoe is a certified holistic nutritionist with a passion for helping others achieve their best health, and who loves making nutrition simple and fun. She is the Healthy Living Advisor Leader as well as a Lifewatchers instructor at Goodness Me!. Join her on Twitter and Instagram @go2hlth. For more, visit gotohealth.ca.