Your nutrition can be a complicated subject, if you let it. Vitamins, minerals, nutrient timing, complex versus simple carbs—it seems like there is always another thing to remember when you’re determining your dinner. You can furrow your brow over your stove, or you can succumb to the temptation of Papa John's yet again.
Or you can bring it back to basics and realize that understanding food is only as hard as you make it. These healthy diet tips will make it pretty easy.
We’re not claiming these are definitive rules that will make your abs pop, add five inches to your vertical or shave time off your 40. We can say, however, that these tips and suggestions are simple enough for every befuddled hungry man (or woman) to use and apply immediately. From the grocery aisles to the kitchen counter, these five simple suggestions will help demystify every step of your culinary process. Your body will thank your for it.
In the Grocery Store
Keep It Simple
Remember the telephone game? The one where you whisper something in a friend's ear, and by the time it reaches the end of the line it only vaguely resembles what you said? Think about a super processed food like that.
“The word 'processed' can be defined as a series of operations to change or preserve,” explains Angela Ginn, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Frequent intake of processed food items can [lead to] excessive consumption of unwanted additives. Salt, sugar and fat are often added to food items in cans, packages and bags.”
You don’t know how many hands a processed food has been through by the time it reaches your plate. What you get might only vaguely resemble the original product. An organic potato or chicken breast is exactly what you think it is—no extras involved.
You get all your strawberry-flavored, food-like products in the center aisles. But you get all your actual strawberries on the outside aisles.
“Follow the perimeter of the grocery store as a guide,” says Ximena Jimenez, R.D. “[Look for] colorful produce, lean protein, nutrient rich dairy and whole grains. Proceed with caution through the inner aisles and look closely before placing high sodium, high fat or excessively sweetened items in your cart.”
Go into the middle aisles only when you need something specific instead of mindlessly browsing. That’s how you wind up with a cart full of cookies.
In Your Kitchen
Sprinkle Flavor, Don’t Spread It
Flavorful condiments that you add to your dinner enhance the taste, but they also add calories. If you want to keep your waistline in check, go with the flavor that sprinkles.
“Spices can add a rainbow of flavors to your meals without the extra calories, sugar, sodium or fat,” adds Jimenez. “Some, like chili pepper, contain a potent ingredient, capsaicin, which may boost your metabolism.”
A killer option is a blend of salt, pepper, oregano and basil. Play with the ratios until you find a flavor profile that works for you. Add it to your potatoes, rice, chicken, steaks or whatever else you can think of.
Embrace the Oven
If you’re not inclined to cook, that cube holding your winter clothes can become your best friend (provided you remove your old clothes, of course). Why? Because you can essentially set it and forget it. Get your food prepped, preheat the oven, throw it in and wait.
“The oven is the most versatile cooking device that is overlooked every day,” says Chef Lee Lucier, who has appeared on Restaurant Impossible, Good Morning America, and Fox & Friends. “Think baking, broiling, braising and slow cooking methods. All of those can change and enhance the meal you are creating with ease.”
Obvious options are baked chicken, salmon or potatoes, but with just as little prep you can dress up fruits like pineapples and apples, or you can stuff some peppers. While your dinner is cooking you can park on the couch for a few games of Call of Duty.
Use the Microwave Correctly
It should never be your go-to culinary tool (although you can use it in a pinch). Instead, use it for leftovers. If you’re eating for one, try cooking for three on Monday and then two on Tuesday. You’ll have five days of meals you can easily re-heat, and you won’t be stuck eating the same thing every single day, because, y’know, that’ll drive you nuts.
"Pre-cooking in batches once a week offers the best opportunity for healthier food,” Lucier says. “Use the microwave to re-heat simple dishes when you're ready to eat."