Sometimes I cringe when I think about how many times during my teens and twenties I cruised through Wendy's drive-thru for a cheeseburger, fries, and frosty.
Man, I loved that combo back in the day, but I don't even want to calculate the calories I was taking in during one meal.
Of course back then, I could eat fast food and ice cream and virtually anything I wanted without gaining a pound. Those were the days. Now a Wendy's meal would not only make me balloon up like a pufferfish, but it would also make me feel sick.
Over time and with a bit of enlightenment from friends and books, I've learned many healthy eating habits that help me feel energetic, maintain a healthy weight, and (if all the books and studies are true) will add years to my life.
One of the biggest shifts I've made in the last year has been from a meat-oriented diet to a more plant-based diet. I'm not a vegan or even a certified vegetarian, as I eat fish and will occasionally have poultry and eggs. I'd say 90% of my meals are free of animal protein. I don't eat any red meat.
What I discovered from this shift is that I really don't miss meat. I always thought I was “supposed” to have some kind of meat on my plate, at least for dinner. Now I've learned a variety of new ways to prepare and eat an array of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and grains. I've also realized how good it makes me feel physically and mentally to feed my body with these wholesome, fresh, nutritious foods.
Here are some of my new healthy eating habits that you might like too . . .
The habit of juicing is an easy way to infuse your body with concentrated amounts of vegetables and fruit in an easily digestible form, and to guarantee you reach your daily target for these super foods. Juiced drinks are automatically low in fats, added sugars and salt — all the bad stuff you want to avoid. Plus, raw green vegetable juice is teeming with micronutrients that many people are lacking in their diets.
I use juicing as a supplement to my diet (rather than as a way to lose weight or cleanse), and will often juice after a long run or as a meal replacement for lunch. The bulk of your juice should come from organic, green veggies – spinach, celery, kale, Swiss chard, etc. – not too many fruits, which are too high in sugar. Juicing is also a great way to clean out your fridge and use all those veggies that often go to waste.
One of my favorite juices includes kale, spinach, carrots, cucumber, an apple, a handful of red grapes, and a bit of fresh ginger root. It's delicious, filling, and really fun to make. It is totally satisfying feeding the juicer and watching it instantly shred the veggies and fruit to pulp and extract the juice. Amazing!
I use the Breville BJE200XL Compact Juice Fountain 700-Watt Juice Extractor, which is moderately priced as juicers go and does the job just fine. It's easy to clean and stores in a kitchen cabinet with no problem.
Another delicious and more filling way to consume lots of fruits and veggies is with smoothies. I'll often have a smoothie for breakfast, as it keeps me full for several hours.
Unlike juices, smoothies retain the pulp and add fiber to your diet, as well as provide you the additional vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals included in skins and pith.
If your smoothie includes yogurt or milk, you get some calcium too. Blending does introduce oxygen and sometimes heat, which will knock out a little vitamin C and some B vitamins.
The amount of vitamins you’ll get in your smoothie depends on the fruits and vegetables you choose. However, most fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins A and C. I like to throw in some avocado which provides high amounts of potassium and magnesium. Again, to keep sugar at a minimum, it's best to load your smoothie with green veggies to balance out the fruit.
One of my favorite smoothie recipes is this:
one large banana
6-8 frozen strawberries
1/2 cup peach or mango
2-3 cups of kale or spinach
1/2 cup almond milk
1/4 cup orange juice
1 T chia seeds
I add the liquid a little at a time as I blend, as I prefer a thicker smoothie. The frozen strawberries make it really cold and icy, but you can use fresh strawberries if you prefer.
You can use a blender to make your smoothies, but a blender often has a hard time pulverizing frozen fruits and the tough stems and thick leaves of kale. I use the Ninja QB1005-FS Master Prep Professionalwhich makes the smoothie smooth, without too much texture from the seeds or leaves.
Broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower
I've been eating broccoli for years, but I usually steam it, which is fine — until I discovered my new favorite way to cook it. My favorite restaurant near my house is called Seed, and they make a dish of caramelized Brussels sprouts and cauliflower that is so good I could fill a popcorn box and eat it in the movies.
I have never cared much for Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower is rarely on my radar screen. But this dish has transformed me. Now I make it at home, and I add broccoli florets to it as well. Can I just say, it is the bomb!!
After making this dish, and eating probably five dozen heads of cauliflower in the last few months, I did a little research on both cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Those suckers are packed with nutrients. I've tried to include more of them in my diet, and now it's not hard at all, since I've found a delicious way to prepare them.
Here's how to make this amazing dish even your Brussels sprout-hating kids will like:
(Note: make more than you think you'll eat. The veggies cook down and you'll gobble them up.)
- 1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
- 1 head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
- 12-15 Brussels sprouts, cut in half
- 2-3 T olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 t honey
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
Coat the vegetables in olive oil, mixing well.
Spread the veggies out in a large Pyrex baking dish or baking pan.
Cook for 20-25 minutes until the veggies are crisp/tender. Stir several times throughout cooking.
For the last few minutes of cooking, turn the oven on broil to slightly brown the veggies.
Mix honey and vinegar together, and pour over veggies right away, coating them a little at a time to your taste.
Serve and enjoy!
Light yellow omelette
Eggs are one the best sources of protein in your diet. In fact, the biological value of a food, which measures protein quality, is often evaluated by comparing it to eggs, which have the perfect score of 100. Eggs are one animal protein I include in my “sorta” vegetarian diet.
Egg whites contain the bulk of the egg’s protein, and are a low-calorie, fat-free food with 4 grams of protein and only 17 calories. Egg yolks have the cholesterol, the fat and saturated fat of the egg, and the yolk has about 55 calories. But the yolk has many benefits as well. Egg yolk is an excellent source of vitamins A, B12, D, E, K, folate and pantothenic acid, as well as essential fatty acids.
Newer studies show that eating one egg every day does not heighten your potential for high blood pressure and heart disease. But if you are looking to cut calories, I've found a way to get the health benefits of egg whites and yolks with fewer calories. I make what I call a “light yellow” omelette.
For two people, I used six egg whites and two yolks — which is about the equivalent of a four-egg omelette. One of the best omelettes I make is stuffed with asparagus tips, a few chopped tomatoes, fresh rosemary, and a little feta cheese.
I also make a yummy omelette with onion, red pepper, and broccoli florets (sautéed in oil for a few minutes), cilantro, and a little shredded pepper jack cheese, topped with avocado and fresh salsa.
If you aren't sure how to make an omelette, here's a good video of Martha Stewart showing you exactly what to do: Martha Stewart Omelette Making
Turmeric it is a major ingredient in Indian curries, and it's the ingredient that makes American mustard yellow. It's been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of health conditions, and has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases, and wounds.
Recent studies support the healing power of turmeric related to inflammation and digestive problems, as well as showing it may fight infections and some cancers. Curcumin, which is in turmeric, is also a powerful antioxidant, and it lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation.
I love turmeric and Indian curry and have cooked with them for a long time, before I knew about the health benefits. Now I put turmeric or curry in everything — from soups to tuna salad.
One of my favorite turmeric dishes is a vegetarian curry over brown rice. I stir-fry cubed sweet potato, red and yellow peppers, onion, broccoli, spinach or kale, and garlic.
I liberally sprinkle the veggies with turmeric and Indian curry as I'm cooking (I like a lot). I serve it on rice topped with avocado, a little feta, and some toasted slivered almonds.
I'm always looking for easy sources of healthy protein, and lentils fit the bill. They are hearty and delicious, inexpensive, and really quick to prepare. Lentils also are low in calories, high in fiber, and a great source of iron, and I find them easy to digest without some of the “side effects” of other beans.
I love lentil soup (another great way to use turmeric!) and lentils over rice. And I've recently discovered another delicious use for lentils — spoon them over a baked potato. Baked potatoes are about 150 calories, have no fat when they are plain, and they are a great source of fiber and potassium. A cup of cooked lentils is about 230 calories. Add some steamed broccoli, and you have a filling meal for under 500 calories.
Developing healthy eating habits is a lot easier than you think, especially when there are so many delicious options. If you're trying to improve your eating habits, begin adding just one new healthy item to one meal. Once it feels automatic and natural, then add another healthy recipe or food to your diet.
You'll find the more natural, real, nutritious foods you include in your diet, the better you'll feel physically and the more energy you'll have. You also may be inspired to create other healthy habits as a result.