I’ll be honest: my days of counting calories were pretty much over before they even began. I don’t think it’s an effective way to eat well and I believe food is worth more than the macronutrient sum of its parts.
Although I will occasionally calculate daily or macronutrient intakes for clients if they specifically request them, I prefer to teach clients simple principles to help guide their healthy eating choices when shopping at the store or choosing meals at restaurants.
I find this is FAR more effective in helping them achieve lasting and long-term success with their health goals, whether that is having more energy, losing weight, balancing hormones, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, increasing libido, or anything else we are working on together.
Here are some of my simple recommendations for helping you make better food choices–none of which include counting calories.
1. First, shop the grocery store wisely.
Although a 2014 Bon Appetit article that I read on the psychology of buying food at the supermarket clued me into just how many tricks and tactics stores are using to manipulate us into buying more and buying more unhealthy options, I still believe that shopping the perimeter of grocery stores is a wise move.
- Spending most of your time in the produce section.
- Exploring the organic or natural foods section (if your store has one) to discover options that may replace some of your unhealthy favourites.
- Avoiding the centre aisles where junk foods usually live.
- Declining all food samples (none of which are very healthy – in the average supermarket). In fact, in one of my local stores, sample tables are usually set up in the ice cream or frozen dinner aisles.
2. Choose foods that don’t come with a label or in a package.
Fruits and vegetables don’t often include labels or nutrition panels and for good reason: they are whole foods jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other synergistic nutrients that combine forces in nature and are difficult or impossible to genuinely quantify in a food lab. It’s no surprise that unlabelled food is at the top of my list for a healthy diet.
Even Canada’s Food Guide and I agree on this: fruits and vegetables should form the core of a healthy diet.
3. Read the ingredient labels on packaged foods.
If you choose foods that are processed, ready-made or manufactured, it’s important not to blindly trust the manufacturer’s claims about their product, such as “low sugar” or “all natural”. Don’t rely on food product claims to make decisions about whether a food is a healthy choice or not.
Never forget that the manufacturer is driven to sell as much of their product as possible—sometimes at any cost. The more ignorant you are about what you’re eating, the better it may be for them.
I’m a fan of clear, short ingredient labels. In addition to giving you an overall idea of how healthy or unhealthy a particular product may be, you can also determine whether the food contains any possible allergens that may affect you or your family.
What you can do: be diligent about reading the labels on all processed foods. If there is an ingredient you don’t recognize or don’t understand, research it. This will go a long way toward helping you decide whether it’s the healthiest and best choice you can make for yourself and your family.
4. Pay attention to serving size.
A packaged food’s nutrition panel, by itself, does not tell its whole story. If you read the nutrition panel on a particular food product, the grams of sugar, protein, fat, etc. might look OK at first glance.
However, if the serving size is 1 (for a third of the bag) but you normally eat half of or the entire bag as a single serving, the total grams of sugar might not actually be good after all!
It’s well known that some companies list the serving sizes on their product below what a person might reasonably consume.
Sometimes this is the result of really outdated nutrition panels. This can also cause unhealthy packaged food to appear healthier than it actually is.
In the spring of 2016, the U.S. FDA made numerous changes to the nutrition facts panels on US-manufactured packaged foods. One of the most important changes (in my opinion) was to compel companies to more truthfully represent actual serving sizes. In addition, companies had to increase the size of the font used to display serving sizes per container or package.
What you can do: think about how much of a food you might eat at one sitting and decide whether the displayed serving size accurately reflects this. If not, calculate the “new” serving size values for yourself.
5. Prioritize buying from your local farm.
Although farmer’s markets allow food products like homemade (although usually high-sugar) condiments and desserts, many focus on selling locally grown (often organic) fruits and vegetables, free-range eggs, nuts and seeds, fish and lean meats—all of which are healthier than the products produced by large food manufacturers in large volumes with low-quality ingredients at low cost.
When buying local and organic food from a fresh market or direct from a farm at its gate or via its community-supported agriculture model, you’re also buying food that is seasonal and more likely to be at its nutritional and flavour peak.
What you can do: visit your local farmer’s market this week and fill up on fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy goodies!
I hope you’ve enjoyed these 5 simple recommendations to instantly improve the health of your diet—for now and for the long term—without resorting to counting calories.
Life is a plate… Eat up,