10 Healthy Eating Resolutions Your Family Should Make Right Now

Health & Wellness on 01.02.12
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Everyone wants happiness for their family, but a major barrier to a good mood is subpar health. Ratchet up the happiness quotient for your mate and kids by making some new food choices this year.

While some of these suggestions cost more money upfront, consider them long-term investments. I've witnessed people forced into early retirement based on poor health caused by dietary choices. Don't underestimate the benefit of more healthy and active working years, and the resulting monetary wealth added to your life and the lives of your family members.

1. Eliminate Processed Foods

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Read almost any ingredient label on a "food-like product" found in the center aisles of your grocery store, and you will be confronted with an ingredient list that contains chemicals, dyes and artificial additives that have been blamed for causing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, amongst other health horrors.

Researchers tell us that a diet high in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables offers some protection against cancer. Michael Pollan reports in the New York Times:

Yet as soon as you remove these useful molecules from the context of the whole foods they're found in, as we've done in creating antioxidant supplements, they don't work at all. Indeed, in the case of beta carotene ingested as a supplement, scientists have discovered that it actually increases the risk of certain cancers. Big oops.

This year, don't let the vitamins listed on fortified food packaging convince you that a manufactured product is part of a healthy meal plan.

2. Eat More Nutrient-Dense Foods

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Choose a variety of whole foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes and seafood to get many of the essential nutrients needed for optimal health. The World's Healthiest Foods site contains a list of the most nutrient-dense foods, those which have high levels of nutrients in relation to the number of calories the food contains.

The World's Healthiest Foods web site also offers a great inspiration for meal planning and recipes that use widely available and affordable nutrient-dense foods.

3. Be Wary of Carbs

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Two dozen studies suggest that it's refined carbs, not fat, that are the cause of weight gain and serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers and scientists are now finding that there is, "...no association between the amount of saturated fat consumed and the risk of heart disease."

Scientific American reports:

Processed carbohydrates, which many Americans eat today in place of fat, may increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease more than fat does.

Ditch the refined carbs you find in crackers, pasta, "wheat" bread and dough. The reason I said "wheat" bread is that most grocery store bread is molasses-colored white bread in a package that says "wheat". Follow these four steps to make sure you're buying the real deal so you never get ripped off again.

This year, incorporate a variety of vegetables and whole grains into your meal planning. Stick with a half cup portion of whole grains for a health boost.

4. Drink Water Instead of Juice or Soda

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The reports of arsenic in apple juice are unresolved as of yet, as the FDA has set no safe levels for manufacturers to abide by. And did you know your name brand 100% orange juice isn't what you think? In her article "What Is the Secret Ingredient in Orange Juice?" Chemist Mom writes:

Orange juice without the aroma chemicals is simply sugar water. Food chemists refer to the "organoleptic" properties of these chemicals, which they formulate creatively into mixtures providing exactly the flavor each brand targets.

Aside from the chemicals in processed juices, ditch juice and soda for the same health reasons to be wary of carbs. Juicing diminishes or eliminates the pulp and fiber of a whole piece of fruit so your body absorbs juice much faster. This leads to the weight gain and insulin surges that cause diabetes and heart disease. If you like fruit juice, then eat a whole piece of fruit instead. Once you ditch flavored beverages, you will begin to love the fresh, clean, healthy taste of pure water.

5. Stop Eating Before You're Full

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It's the rare American who chews food slowly, savors each bite, and pays attention to when their belly is comfortable, not full. To get back in touch with your hunger and fullness signals, measure your portions, and then eat with awareness. If you eat slowly and concentrate on your meal, you will feel satisfied as your portion dwindles on your plate.

According to the New York Times:

The food scientists Barbara J. Rolls of Penn State and Brian Wansink of Cornell, among others, have demonstrated that people eat less when served smaller portions on smaller plates.

If you don't feel like using a scale and measuring cups to keep your portions tidy, then consider buying portion plates, like Yum Yum Dishes.

6. Eat Seafood Twice per Week

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Per ounce, seafood is a lower calorie protein source than meat or chicken. Studies show that eating fish regularly is associated with better heart health. There are some findings that indicate the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish could enhance the immune system, thwart high blood pressure, and fight depression. Omega-3s, especially DHA, also boost brain health.

Monteray Bay Aquarium's seafood guides help you find wild and farmed seafood that's healthy, abundant, and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.

7. Eat Grass-Fed Beef

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You know how carbs make you fat? Well, cattle ranchers know this, too, which is why cows are commonly fed cheap, pesticide-laden, government-subsidized corn and soybeans. Grass-fed beef is slightly higher in omega-3s, the same stuff found in fish that may prevent heart disease and strengthen the immune system.

Time Magazine reports:

Ground beef and milk from grass-finished cattle also have more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which recent data suggest may help prevent breast cancer, diabetes and other ailments. Moreover, grass-finished meat is higher than grain-finished meat in vitamin A and vitamin E, two antioxidants thought to boost resistance to disease.

Unfortunately, grass-fed beef sells for a premium these days. As more people catch on to the health benefits of grass-fed beef and the industry continues to grow, prices will eventually come down.

8. Eliminate Artificial and Natural Sweeteners

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Studies show that most artificial sweetners and natural sugar substitutes, like agave syrup and honey, cause increased insulin release, which supports fat storage and increases in cravings. All the health concerns of consuming refined carbohydrates apply here.

According to the book The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferris writes, "A 2008 study at Duke University found that giving Splenda to rats significantly decreased the amount of helpful bacteria in the gut." There's a connection between the types of bacteria found in the gut and whether a person is obese or lean. That's a ratio you don't want a little packet of sweetness to influence.

10. Go Organic for the Dirty Dozen

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Pesticides are known to cause health problems. Some affect the nervous system, others cause cancer, and some disrupt the hormone or endocrine system in the body. While you may have reasons why you don't want to pay more for organic, at least consider going pesticide-free when it comes to the "dirty dozen."

The dirty dozen are the foods that test for the highest levels of pesticide residue on the edible skin or absorbed into the flesh, like potatoes. The list changes each year based on the previous year's results. Here is the list for 2011, which includes 13 foods due to a tie: apples, sweet bell peppers, blueberries, celery, collard greens, grapes, kale, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach and strawberries.

Also consider buying organic milk. According to The Daily Green, "Twelve different pesticides have been identified in milk, and milk is of special concern because it is a staple of a child's diet."

While some of these changes might put pressure on your wallet, an investment in the health of your family is priceless. Plus, you could see benefits right away in the form of fewer trips to the doctors' office. In the meantime, pay the premium now to invest in your family's health and happiness, and to reduce future healthcare costs.

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