Everyone wants to be healthier, and most people have a list of “shoulds” they hang over themselves like a spooky Halloween shroud. But making changes doesn’t have to be daunting, or scary! Here’s a list of seven that can have a significant impact on your health and well-being.
1. 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 snack, containing a balance of protein, carbs and healthy fat all in one handy little package. How much should you have? One handful should be enough to stave off hunger and keep your blood sugar stable for a couple of hours, so much better for you than a mid-afternoon cup of coffee.
2. 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. Coconut oil is more stable at high temperatures than olive oil, so use it for cooking. A double blind study showed significant decrease in body fat and cholesterol from using coconut oil at breakfast for 8 weeks. You can also use coconut oil as a moisturizer treatment for hair and skin, as has been done traditionally around the world. For more on the health benefits of coconut oil, go here.
3. Sleep Take advantage of the season’s 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, primarily by reducing circulating stress hormones. If you’re staying up past 10:30PM, you’re likely to get another burst of cortisol, which interferes with sound sleep and increases fat storage.
4. 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 you drink a lot of water, but it goes right through you, it’s not getting into your cells. Try adding some electrolytes (without the sugar, please). Low hydration can also be an indication of insulin resistance and a pre-diabetic state, so it’s an important measure to improve.
5. Berries! Fruit is healthy, and of course any fruit is better than pastry or other processed treats, but if you want to keep a low impact on your blood sugar, eat berries. They have high fiber as well as high nutrient value. Research on them is impressive, from supporting vision to anti-aging to fighting cancer.
6. Carbs You should have no more fear of carbohydrates than you do of fats, but just as with fats, the kind of carbohydrates matters – a lot. Try to replace processed carbs (bread, cake, cookies, crackers, pasta) with “real food” carbs like sweet potato, winter squash, cooked carrots, fruits and – of course – pumpkins. The orange color indicates high carotenoid content, which helps control blood sugar, even in diabetics, especially when combined with healthy fat.
7. 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 more. The list reflects my love affair with chocolate, and why not? Cacao, from which chocolate is made, is rich in fiber and phytonutrients, as well as minerals, including magnesium and iron. However, you won’t find these in a typical candy bar, so look for 70% cacao content or more, or check out the recipes on my website and make your own.
This was published as the Lifestyle column for Hudson Valley Insider.