Before I get to the main point of this article, I'd like to clear something up:
I'm aware of the timing. It's the holiday season- the time of the year when lots of us chuck our good eating habits out the window.
I love cutting loose during the holidays to eat, drink, and be merry as much as the next guy. I love all of the ubiquitous sugary, fatty, carb-loaded foods associated with celebrating. Cocktails, desserts, giant hams.
It's. All. So. Good.
Now here's the big but...
According to those who are in the know- we've got to change our eating habits, people.
Like all the time. Not just during the holidays.
The average American diet is still disproportionately heavy with low-quality carbs and saturated fats. This, even though nutritionists, physicians, and scientists have been warning of their adverse effects on our health for years.
Studies by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University show that 42% of the average American diet is still coming from low-quality carbs, and about 12% is coming from saturated fat. Published in JAMA, the study measured 18 years of dietary trends of almost 44,000 American men and women.
So when we talk about low-quality carbs, what do we mean, exactly?
Foods with low-quality carbohydrates are those which are processed, and devoid of the benefits carbs are supposed to supply our bodies with.
Sure, they may provide some short term energy, but it's in the form of sugars that our bodies can't use in the long run.
Examples of foods with "low-quality" carbohydrates include:
○ Most pastas, particularly white pastas
○ Refined, processed flours and rice
○ Sugary foods and drinks
○ White bread, pastries, cookies, cakes
What are “high-quality” carbs?
Foods with high-quality carbohydrates are those containing the fibers, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients our bodies need to perform optimally. We still get the energy, but without the crash associated with processed carbs. High-quality carbs also provide satiety, helping us feel full longer.
Foods with "high-quality" carbohydrates include:
○ Whole grains
○ Whole fruits
○ Nuts and seeds
If you're reading this article, chances are you've been on some kind of weight loss regimen, or you've just decided to get a handle on some unhealthy eating habits.
If this is the case, you probably already know that leafy greens, whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, fish and shellfish, and nuts and seeds should be the majority of our diets.
So why do so many of us opt for a cheeseburger and fries for dinner instead of a slab of grilled salmon and quinoa?
I know, I know, cheeseburgers are delicious. But so is salmon, so what's up with that?
The simple answer is that even if all of our motivations are in line with making a change for the better, eating patterns don't just change overnight. Behavior takes time to reprogram.
The good news is that even though we've still got a long way to go- data points to the fact that we're getting a little better at it.
Bit by bit, Americans are showing small steps of improvement as measured by the 100-point Healthy Eating Index. Over the past decade or so, this data based upon the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that children, adults, and seniors are slowly but surely making changes for the better.
In the spirit of encouraging those changes for the better, I've compiled a few strategies to keep up the good work this holiday season...
Watch what you're putting on the table!
There are so many great resources out there for ideas on how to create healthier holiday meals!
Here are some easy ways to not only upgrade your sugars, oils, fats, and low-quality carbs to healthier options without sacrificing flavor, but also a few dinner-table substitutions to add some veggies and superfoods.
Find new ways to move!
There are plenty of behaviors we can adopt to keep ourselves balanced, active, and away from all those tempting treats sitting around:
Recruit the fam to take a walk with you after big meals instead of crashing in front of a holiday movie or gaming system.
If no one's interested because "walks are boring" (I'm lookin' at you, nephew...), make it fun by turning it into a scavenger hunt or a game of hide and seek. You might be surprised how much laughter you can generate when everyone reverts to an eight-year-old!
Go do something adventurous together!
Indoor rock-climbing, indoor trampoline parks, and indoor obstacle courses are super fun ways to get moving when winter weather limits your options.
TCB (Take care of business)!
Take some time to do some stuff you've been putting off.
Shovel the sidewalk, do some raking (leave the leaf-blower in the garage), clean out some closets to make space for decorations and new gift acquisitions, then donate overflow as appropriate to your preferred charitable program.
I hope your holiday season is full of fun, laughter, and great memories.
Take some time out if you can, to look around you and give thanks for what you have and the people you love.
Practice some random acts of giving and kindness. Make someone's day.
It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.