This article was originally published as my Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record.
Everyone wants to be healthier, but how to do it? Do you have a list of “shoulds” that makes you feel bad about your choices, rather than encouraging change? Changes don’t have to be daunting! Here are seven that are simple and fun, yet can have a significant impact on your health and well-being.
- Nuts and Seeds I am surprised how many people avoid these because they are “fattening”, when study after study shows that eating them regularly helps you lose weight and keep it off. They are a perfect balance of protein, carbs and healthy fat all in one handy little package.
- Coconut milk Dairy products can cause congestion, and in cold and flu season, you may be better off without. You won’t feel deprived if you use coconut milk in your coffee or tea. Coconut contains Medium Chain Fatty Acids, healthy cholesterol-free fats that nourish the brain and nervous system and help retain lean muscle. Coconut’s lauric acid supports the immune system and fights microbes, helping you face cold and flu season with aplomb.
- Sleep Take advantage of the longer hours of darkness and catch up on your zzzzz’s. Unless you’re already sleeping 8 hours and awaken feeling rested and refreshed, sleep is probably the single most important change you can make for your health. It also helps you lose weight by reducing circulating stress hormones. In addition, recent studies show that sleep loss causes more impulse eating of junk foods. Read more about that here.
- Water We’re supposed to be at least 50% water, yet when I test people in my office, most are way below optimal. It’s not just about how much you drink. If what you drink goes right through you, it’s not getting into your cells. Try adding some electrolytes (without sugar, please). Low hydration can indicate insulin resistance and a pre-diabetic state, so it’s an important measure to improve.
- Berries Fruit is healthy, and any fruit is better than pastry or other processed treats, but to keep a low impact on blood sugar, eat berries. They have high fiber and high nutrient value. Research on them is impressive, from supporting vision to anti-aging to fighting cancer.
- Carbs You should have no more fear of carbohydrates than of fats, but just as with fats, the kind of carbohydrates matters – a lot. Replace processed carbs (bread, cake, cookies, pasta) with “real food” carbs like sweet potatoes, winter squash, cooked carrots, fruits and – of course – pumpkins. The orange color indicates high carotenoid content, which helps control blood sugar, especially when combined with healthy fat.
- Indulge! Everyone needs a little sweetness in life. That’s why my blog is full of recipes that are simple, healthy and delicious, like chocolate truffles, chia pudding, “virtuous” brownies, and my new, very simple chocolate raspberry recipe. The list reflects my love affair with chocolate, and why not? Cacao, from which chocolate is made, is rich in fiber, phytonutrients, and minerals, including magnesium and iron. You won’t find these in a typical candy bar, so look for 70% cacao content or more, or check out my recipes and make your own.
Nuts and Seeds: How many should you have for a snack? One handful should be enough to stave off hunger and keep blood sugar stable for a couple of hours, so much better for you than a mid-afternoon cup of coffee. Using the palm of your hand sizes it appropriately for your body.
Peanuts are not a true nut, but a legume. Peanuts are a common allergen, often a source of mold and yeasts, and do not have the same beneficial fats as true nuts. True nuts, like almonds, macadamias, and walnuts, grow on trees. Have you tried almond butter? It’s delicious!
Coconut oil is more stable at high temperatures than olive oil or butter, so is excellent for cooking and baking. A double blind study showed significant decrease in body fat and cholesterol from using coconut oil at breakfast for 8 weeks. Traditionally, it’s also been used as moisturizer for hair and skin.