You don’t have to start a radical new diet to see big changes in your health. You can lose weight, improve your life expectancy, nourish your gut microbiome and boost your overall well-being by making small but powerful changes to what and how you eat.
Here are seven easy food goals to get you started.
1. Focus on microbe-friendly foods
Try the “microbiome enhancer diet.”
– Add oats, beans, lentils, chickpeas, brown rice, quinoa and other whole grains as well as nuts, fruits and vegetables to your meal plan.
– By eating a fibre-rich diet, you are not just feeding yourself, but also your intestinal microbes, which, new research shows, effectively reduces your calorie intake.
The body appears to react differently to calories ingested from high-fiber whole foods vs. ultra-processed junk foods. Cheap processed foods are more quickly absorbed in your upper gastrointestinal tract, which means more calories for your body and fewer for your gut microbiome, which is located near the end of your digestive tract. But when we eat high-fibre foods, they aren’t absorbed as easily, so they make the full journey down your digestive tract to your large intestine, where the trillions of bacteria that make up your gut microbiome are waiting.
2. Cut back on packaged foods
Industrial processing changes the structure of food. Experts say it can affect how much you eat and absorb, your weight and risk for chronic disease.
– Look for foods with just a few ingredients – like a bag of flash-frozen vegetables vs. those with multiple ingredients, additives and chemicals you’ve never heard of.
– Next time you shop, choose foods with descriptors like “minimally processed,” “seasonal,” “grass-fed,” “whole grain” and “pasture-raised.”
– One study found that when people ate an ultra-processed diet, they consumed about 500 more calories a day compared to when they ate a mostly unprocessed diet.
Many of these ultra-processed foods also are engineered to overcome our satiety mechanisms, which drives us to overeat and gain weight, experts say.
3. Eat more healthy carbs
Instead of cutting carbs, focus on quality carbs.
– Start by eating more vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils.
– Add healthy fats and protein, like nuts, seeds, avocado, eggs, poultry, yogurt and seafood.
– Replace white and highly-processed carbs (cereal, pastries, bread and white pasta) with whole grains, whole wheat breads, beans, peas, lentils, legumes, quinoa, fruits, vegetables and other unrefined carbs.
Adding these quality carbs could help you lower your risk of cancer and Type 2 diabetes, reduce your likelihood of dying from heart disease or a stroke and help you shed pounds without counting calories.
4. Eat like a centenarian
Certain foods are especially popular among people who live in ‘Blue Zones,’ which are places in the world where people have exceptionally long life expectancies.
– Eat a cup of beans, peas, lentils and other legumes every day.
– People throughout the Blue Zones tend to eat a variety of beans as well as other plant foods that are rich in fiber.
Soybeans are an important part of the traditional diet in Okinawa, as are fava beans in Sardinia and black beans in the Nicoyan Peninsula in Costa Rica. A study published last year in PLOS Medicine found that most people could add years to their life by switching from a typical Western diet to a healthier diet – and that the foods that produced the biggest gains in life expectancy were beans, chickpeas, lentils and other legumes.
5. Eat smaller dinners
Because of the way our internal clocks operate, our bodies are primed to digest and metabolize food early in the day. As the day progresses, our metabolisms become less efficient. Studies show that a meal consumed at 9 a.m. can have vastly different metabolic effects than the same meal consumed at 9 p.m.
– For optimal health, it’s best to consume most of your calories earlier in the day rather than later.
– Focus on eating a large breakfast, a modest lunch, and a small dinner.
In a recent study, scientists looked at data from nine rigorous clinical trials involving 485 adults. They found that people who were assigned to follow diets where they consumed most of their calories earlier in the day lost more weight than people who did the reverse. They also had greater improvements in their blood sugar, cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity, a marker of diabetes risk.
6. Add more spices, nuts, plants and fermented foods to your diet
Your gut microbes love variety, and eating a variety of fibre-rich plants and nutrient-dense foods seems to be especially beneficial to gut health.
– Try setting a goal to eat around 30 different plant foods a week. It’s not nearly as hard as it sounds. You’re probably already eating a lot of these foods already.
– A fast-way to increase variety is to start using more herbs and spices.
– Use a variety of leafy greens rather than one type of lettuce for your salads.
– Add a variety of fruits to your breakfast or add several different vegetables to your stir fry.
– Try eating more fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir.
– Eat more nuts, seeds, beans and grains.
7. Eat your bread last
A strategy called ‘meal sequencing’ runs counter to the way many people often eat. It’s relatively simple to follow and doesn’t require radically changing the foods that you eat, but it can improve blood sugar control and leave you feeling full for longer.
– Eat your vegetables first.
– Recent studies have found that starting meals with protein, fat or fibre-rich vegetables tends to slow down the digestive process.
– Save the basket of bread or chips for the end of a meal.
Eating this way can make you feel full longer because it reduces the speed at which food leaves your stomach. Researchers have found that starting each meal with vegetables or protein can be particularly helpful for improving blood sugar control in people with Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, a precursor condition that increases a person’s risk of developing the disease.
According to a large and growing body of research, this one swap could help you lower your risk of cancer and Type 2 diabetes, reduce your likelihood of dying from heart disease or a stroke and help you shed pounds without counting calories.
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