Your eating, exercise habits are equally important

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of helping people reach their fitness goals it’s that no one plans to fail, but too many of us fail to plan.

In no area of wellness is this truer than nutrition. No matter what your age or level of athletic activity, how you eat is as important as how you exercise.

Nutrition science has changed greatly over the past decade. The groundbreaking work of Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, has helped us understand the implications of the type of calories we consume. And while there is a glut of diets, each with different formulas for success, there are certain basic facts to keep in mind about how to eat.

We need a daily supply of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. It is always best to get these nutrients by eating food that is fresh and as close to its natural form as possible. While it is simplistic to label things as good or bad, it can be a helpful way to look at the calories — a measurement of the energy we get from food — in the basic energy nutrients.

Carbohydrates have become the dietary boogeyman that fats used to be a few years back. But they are still our body’s primary source of fuel.

Eating whole grains and plenty of vegetables provides necessary energy without the health risks and weight problems associated with eating refined products, juices, and sweets. Choosing whole grains rich in fiber (look for dark breads) slows down the absorption of sugar. Similarly, brightly colored vegetables and fruits contain more nutrients than their lighter-colored counterparts. Making these choices, along with eating good fats and proteins, helps eliminate food cravings and binging.

Fat plays other roles as well. In addition to providing energy, “good” fat (found in plants and cold-water fish as opposed to the fat in animal products) maintains cell membranes, helps the immune system function, and can lower cholesterol and heart disease risks. But even eating a little saturated fat is not as bad as eating “trans” fats; if you see “partially hydrogenated” on the label, avoid that food. Sources of good fat include extra virgin olive oil, raw nuts, seeds, and avocados.

The emphasis on protein in many diet plans has been a good thing. Our body uses protein to build and repair all of its tissues, and proteins are involved in billions of chemical reactions that occur in our body every second. (Muscle is made of protein and one of the reasons to build muscle is that it burns more calories while your body is at rest.) Protein often comes with too much of the “bad” animal fat associated with heart disease and certain types of cancer. Good sources of lean protein include poultry, fish, soy, low-fat dairy, raw nuts, seeds, and beans.

Many people are confused about what constitutes proper nutrition, and feel too busy or intimidated to prepare simple, healthy meals at home. Too many of us sacrifice health and wellness at the altar of convenience.

Eating healthy and tasty meals at home or away can be accomplished relatively simply with a little planning. I enlisted the aid of wellness and life coach Maureen Nuccitelli to guide us through the process of buying and preparing food that promotes good health. She runs classes for cardiac rehabilitation patients who have been forced to change their dietary habits, and consults with clients.

Nuccitelli says that keeping the proper staples on hand is the key to the easy preparation of healthy and delicious meals. Try these simple tips for shopping and food preparation:

* Spend the majority of your shopping time and grocery budget on the perimeters of the store. Here you can find fresh, whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, fish, poultry, lean meat, and yogurt.

* Keep an adequate supply of the following: onion, garlic, shallots, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, millet, and barley), herbs and spices, natural low-sodium chicken broth, Dijon mustard, canned beans, raw nuts, and seeds.

* Read labels to check sodium content and choose low-sodium options. If you don’t recognize an ingredient on a label, choose another item.

* Prepare some base dishes from which you can build delicious meals by cooking whole grains and oven-roasted vegetables in advance. Grains can be reheated and placed atop mesclun greens or mixed with vegetables as a base rich in nutrients.

* Add lean protein by using previously cooked chicken or turkey breast, canned tuna or salmon, tofu, hard-boiled eggs, or lightly toasted raw nuts and seeds.

* Keep a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil in your refrigerator and pour on a tablespoon to add flavor as well as good fat.

* Use raw nuts and seeds, fruit, cheese, and cultured yogurt as snacks or dessert.[fb_button]

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