Steps Towards Making Dietary Improvements
You have decided to make some changes to your diet. Now what? Taking the first step to change deeply ingrained habits can be daunting and difficult. This is especially the case when a new medical diagnosis prompts the need for making the decision. To make lasting improvements the best thing you can do is educate yourself. Do you understand what food components the body needs for optimal health? Is your new diagnosis clear to you? Be sure to ask your physician questions so you understand what is going on in your body and what nutrition requirements you’ll have. In all cases, it is important to know about the macronutrients that you’ll need, what they are and why they’re important.
“Macronutrients” is the all-encompassing term for carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The reason they’re called macronutrients is because the body needs large amounts of these nutrients daily. Vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients, which are found within macronutrients. Carbohydrates, protein and fats provide the body with energy for cells, but micronutrients do not. The body uses carbohydrates as its primary energy source for cells. Foods that fall under this category are fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes and dairy. Proteins are what the body uses for various functions that need the nitrogen it contains. It is responsible for cell maintenance and repair, which includes building collagen, cartilage and bone tissue. Let’s not forget its role in making antibodies, hormones and maintaining proper fluid balance in the body. Foods such as animal proteins (chicken, beef, pork fish), tofu, dairy products (cottage cheese and yogurt), legumes (peas, soybeans, lentils, peanuts and beans) and tree nuts (walnuts, cashews and almonds) contain protein. Lastly, fats are important for their role in maintaining cell membranes, producing certain hormones, insulating the body, regulating blood pressure and inflammation and cushioning against bodily harm. A few healthy sources of fat are olive oil, fish, eggs, chicken, and nut butters.
Once you understand sources of each macronutrient, you can look at your current eating trends to analyze what components you may be missing or eating too much of. The USDA’s MyPlate healthy eating recommendations according to age groups can be found on their website: choosemyplate.gov. Use this as your guide to assess your eating habits, identify your needs and prioritize the changes you’d like to make. Reduce the stress of having to make changes by choosing and prioritizing the top three things you’re willing to improve upon. Small and continual changes will lead to newly formed habits. For example, you may choose to switch from sugary cereals to plain corn flakes or oatmeal for breakfast, bring leftovers from home to work instead of dash out for fast food and add a vegetable to your plate at dinner time.
Continue with the top three habits you chose for several weeks or even a couple months before reassessing your habits. Once your list of changes to make have become habits that you don’t think about, add new things to work on. Before you know it, you may notice the number on the scale drop, your A1c and cholesterol may improve and you’re feeling more energetic.