5 nutrition habits worth cul­ti­vat­ing in 2017

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Car­rie Den­nett Cook more Con­sider why you eat Re­duce added sug­ars Eat more plants Let go of rigid rules

Whether you make for­mal New Year’s res­o­lu­tions or not, the chang­ing of the cal­en­dar often leads to con­tem­plat­ing what changes we might like to see in our lives. On the nutrition front, these are my top five picks for habits worth cul­ti­vat­ing in 2017.

Cre­at­ing and serv­ing even the sim­plest of meals is a pro­found way of car­ing for your­self and your loved ones. Home­made meals tend to be more health­ful than ones you pur­chase, be­cause when you cook from scratch, you know ex­actly what you’re eat­ing. That makes it much eas­ier to eat in a way that aligns with your health goals.

Think that cook­ing is dif­fi­cult or time-con­sum­ing? It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Even in­ex­pe­ri­enced home cooks can do won­der­ful things when they learn a few core skills: A few ways to cook veg­eta­bles; the in­gre­di­ents for a sim­ple vinai­grette; how to cook a pot of beans or whole grains; what to do with a piece of meat or fish, or a block of tofu or tem­peh.

Nail down a few ba­sics, as­sem­ble a small col­lec­tion of condi­ments and sea­son­ings that ap­peal to your taste buds and you’re set. For in­spi­ra­tion, look for cook­books and food blogs that em­brace real-world “let’s get din­ner on the ta­ble” cook­ing with short in­gre­di­ent lists that em­pha­size eas­ily avail­able fresh foods and pantry sta­ples.

Sure, you eat when you’re hun­gry, but what are the other rea­sons you eat? Bore­dom? Stress? Lone­li­ness? Anx­i­ety? Many peo­ple use food to meet needs that food sim­ply wasn’t meant to meet. When you find your­self reach­ing for food or mind­lessly brows­ing the con­tents of your re­frig­er­a­tor, get in the habit of ask­ing your­self, “Am I hun­gry?” If the an­swer is “No,” ask your­self what you are ex­pect­ing food to do for you in that mo­ment. Usu­ally, there are bet­ter, more mean­ing­ful ways of en­ter­tain­ing or sooth­ing your­self.

Ac­cord­ing to the 20152020 Di­etary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans, it’s dif­fi­cult to get enough of the nu­tri­ents we need for good health with­out ex­ceed­ing our calo­rie needs if we get more than 10 per­cent of our to­tal daily calo­ries from added sugar. The av­er­age Amer­i­can does get more than that, es­pe­cially chil­dren, teens and young adults.

Added sug­ars are dif­fer­ent from the nat­u­ral sug­ars found in veg­eta­bles, fruits, grains, beans and dairy prod­ucts. Added sug­ars, which in­clude white sugar or other calo­rie-con­tain­ing sweet­en­ers, are highly re­fined from their orig­i­nal source and add calo­ries with­out nu­tri­ents. Bev­er­ages are the big­gest source of added sug­ars, fol­lowed by desserts and snack foods, but sugar is added to many pre­pared foods — in­clud­ing salad dress­ings and frozen meals — an­other rea­son home cook­ing is bet­ter for health.

If you make one change to your eat­ing habits for 2015, a great choice would be to eat more whole plant foods: veg­eta­bles, fruit, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices. Sim­ply put, adopt­ing a plant-based diet is one of the best moves you can make for your health if you want to make your meals more nu­tri­ent-rich and re­duce your risk of heart dis­ease, Type 2 di­a­betes, can­cer and other chronic dis­eases.

The good news is that plant-based di­ets can take many forms, from ve­gan to veg­e­tar­ian to flex­i­tar­ian to om­ni­vore. The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor is that they put plant foods at the cen­ter of your plate. If you also choose to eat an­i­mal-based foods (meat, poul­try, fish, eggs and dairy), they play smaller, sup­port­ing roles. While the ben­e­fits of a plant-based diet come from eat­ing a va­ri­ety of plant foods, you can’t go wrong by mak­ing veg­eta­bles the star. They are packed with vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and phy­tonu­tri­ents — com­pounds that re­duce chronic in­flam­ma­tion and dis­ease risk — while be­ing lower in calo­ries than other foods.

Although it’s hard to go wrong with eat­ing plenty of plants and min­i­miz­ing a reliance on highly pro­cessed foods, the fact is that there’s no sin­gle per­fect eat­ing plan. A nu­tri­tious diet al­lows for flex­i­bil­ity and shifts over time to suit your tastes and nutri­tional needs. Try­ing to find and fol­low a “per­fect” eat­ing plan is not only an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity, but it also often leads to all-or-noth­ing think­ing: You’re ei­ther per­fect or you’re a fail­ure. This can lead to feel­ings of shame, and shame is a lousy mo­ti­va­tor for pos­i­tive change. Per­fec­tion is the en­emy of progress.

Mal­low is a pop­u­lar gar­den plant that can be used for stir-fry, sal­ads and pesto. Den­ver Post file

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