Sunday afternoon: Your new diet starts tomorrow. You feel uneasy about what’s to come, because you’ve “failed” so many times before. Regardless, you kick it off in the best way you know how: by wandering around the grocery store in no particular pattern stocking up on foods that you heard would help you reach your health goals: tiny low-calorie frozen meals… chalky protein shakes… and wanna-be chocolate bars dressed as protein bars—a true wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The good news is that, regardless of your heath goals, you don’t have to eat this way. Instead, Dr. Richard W. Sams II, a family medicine physician at Augusta University Health, recommends that you eat whole foods, foods that are unprocessed and consumed in their most basic form.
“Most of what goes into our mouth, at least 90 percent, should be the stuff that grows from Mother Earth,” Sams said. “We know that those who eat whole foods live longer.”
That includes fruits and vegetables; beans, nuts and seeds (legumes); and whole-grain products; smaller amounts of dairy products; and even smaller amounts of meat. Sams recommends shooting for a balanced diet of all of these foods, predominantly those that are plant-based—fruit and vegetables, legumes whole grains. They’re beneficial to your health in the following ways:
- Fruit and vegetables contain virtually all the essential vitamins and minerals and are also full of fiber, which makes them filling and, therefore, a great way to stay satisfied while eating nutritiously—contributing to healthy weight management. They are low in calorie density, so you can eat plenty of them.
- Legumes such as black beans, edamame and chick peas are a great source of protein, which gives you steady, longer-lasting energy. “Instead of ‘beef: it’s what’s for dinner,’ it should be ‘plant-based proteins: that is what’s for dinner,'” Sams said. “After all, they fill us up better than animal proteins, leaving you feel satisfied, not stuffed. That’s why plant-based protein should become the centerpiece of your meal.”
- Nuts and seeds are a good source of healthy fat, which are another good source of fuel and help to absorb nutrients. Considering the American culture’s dependence on convenience, especially as it relates to food, Sams said that nuts and seeds make great snacks on the go. Examples include almonds and pistachios and walnuts. Have them with you at all times.
- Whole grains contain carbohydrates, the body’s primary fuel source, as well as fiber, which takes longer to digest and, therefore, helps you feel fuller longer. “The wonderful thing about whole-grain breads is that you can throw nuts and seeds in them,” Sams said. Examples include brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal.
There are a variety of plant-based foods from which to choose, which will keep your food interesting and colorful. This will help you with sticking to a healthy eating pattern and staying on track with your health.
“A wonderful way to incorporate multiple foods in a single serving is through juicing and drinking smoothies,” Sams said.
Speaking of drinking, don’t forget to load up on water. Our bodies are two-thirds salt water, so it’s important to stay hydrated. In doing so, you’ll notice that you feel less hungry, as our brains often confuse thirst for hunger.
Re-envisioning the main course
“If you ask someone what they had for dinner, they’re likely to remember the meat,” Sams said. “We need to re-envision what our main course looks like.”
Why? Research shows that excessive meat consumption leads to poor cardiovascular outcomes. Sams recommends focusing protein consumption on those that are plant-based—to name a few:
- Black beans
- Sweet potatoes
Not feeling enthusiastic?
“The key is learning how to prepare them well,” Sams said.
For example, learning how to mix and match seasonings with your food can help—and Sams said that salt isn’t all bad, as long as you’re avoiding processed foods.
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, avoiding the bakery, of course.
- If you’re looking for an eating pattern to follow, try the Mediterranean pattern, as it’s whole foods-based.
- Surround yourself with people who are eating whole foods, and support your community by going to the farmer’s market, joining a community garden or getting involved in community supported agriculture (CSA). CSAs allow consumers to buy local food directly from farmers, who sell shares, which the consumer exchanges for a box of fruit, vegetables, meat, etc. each week during the season.
Interested in learning more?
A dietitian can give you more tips to curb those cravings and craft an eating plan that works for you. Ask your primary care physician if meeting with a dietitian is the next step for you. Call 706-721-4588 to make an appointment with one of our family medicine physicians.