3 Nutrition Fundamentals You Need in Flu Season and Beyond
If you’re like most Americans, healthier eating and general wellness habits like exercise and adequate sleep are things you commit (and recommit!) to periodically or around the New Year. Sometimes it’s difficult to stick with healthy habits, but it’s often hard simply to get started because diet fads and advice are everywhere and often offer conflicting or confusing information.
The nutrition and health experts at LeBauer HealthCare are here to help. Nutrition fundamentals don’t need to be mysterious and we have three basics for you today that anyone can adopt. Especially in the upcoming flu season and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we should all be doing our best to boost our immune systems. Nutrition is such a crucial building block to our health and long-term wellness. Read our nutrition fundamentals and let us know if you have questions or want to connect with one of our professional dieticians.
Nutrition Fundamental #1: Pass on the Fads (and Stick to the Basics)
Paleo diet. Juice cleanses. Superfoods. Good fats, bad fats, 42 kinds of fats (which ones are “good” again?). Ask 100 people what’s most important about diet and nutrition and you’ll probably get close to 100 different answers. And, on the one hand, that’s a good thing! That’s because nutrition and what’s best for each of us really is highly variable, and varies somewhat for each individual.
On the other hand, though, fads and fringy eating regimens that claim to work wonders or be what “everyone needs to know” never, ever live up to that promise. They sure do sell a lot of supplements, blenders, exercise equipment, and other gadgets, however.
Our bodies and how they process food are far too complex and subject to environmental, hereditary, and stage-of-life factors for one-size-fits-all nutrition solutions. Does that mean we can’t prescribe and follow some basics for what to eat? Not at all! And, we’ll get to that in our next fundamental.
For now, though, let us encourage you to bookmark an extremely helpful article written by Mark Bittman and Dr. David L. Katz called “The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right.” Their title is obviously an exaggeration, but they do offer sound, accessible nutrition advice in response to many of the biggest nutrition fads and trends in recent years. Bittman and Katz are funny, down to earth, and recognized experts in food and dining trends, and nutritional medicine, respectively.
Nutrition Fundamental #2: Eat More of These Things (and Less of These Things)
For many of us, the things that generally provide the most nutrition versus the things that we know aren’t good for us (without moderation) aren’t really surprising. What is often surprising is how difficult it is to learn to enjoy the more nutritious foods while truly only enjoying the less nutritious ones every once in a while. We’ve got some ideas that might help, but first, the basics:
- Lots of organic, leafy (and tasty!) greens
- Beans and lentils
- Other fresh vegetables and fruits
- Whole grains
- Fresh (or flash-frozen), sustainably harvested fish
Eat Less Often:
- Highly (or ultra) processed foods
- Saturated fats
- Sodas and sugary drinks
- Processed and cured meats
See? No real surprises here. What is surprising is how difficult it can be to let go of some of our favorites on the “eat less often” list and genuinely start enjoying healthier, more nutritious food. Here are few tips and ideas that might help:
- One of the reasons you might not love more nutritious foods — especially those leafy greens and other fresh vegetables — could be due to the fact that you need more sauce in your life. Master even a handful of savory, healthy sauces, and you will be amazed at how much they can transform a meal or even the most humble of ingredients.
- If your ideal picture of a salad is some iceberg lettuce, a couple of cherry tomatoes, and some bottled ranch dressing — there’s nothing wrong with that — but there is a whole other world of delightful salads to explore. Don’t forget the homemade, nutrient-packed dressing, either!
- Start with nutritious foods you already like, and explore new recipes with those foods — then branch out to new culinary territory. Maybe splurge on a new cookbook, or use this as an excuse to learn how to cook foods from another culture or corner of the world.
- Commit to some new exercise plans when you make a change in your diet. The two efforts will reinforce one another and make it easier to enjoy the good foods (and less enjoyable to over-consume the ones that are low in nutrition).
- Make more time to prepare and enjoy your meals. At least once or twice a week, make a meal that takes a while to cook. Make several small, simple courses, but spend an hour or two at the table. We tend to eat a lot of junk and fast food because of a lack of a meal plan or enough space to enjoy our food. Just making this time a higher priority can encourage a more nutritious diet.
Nutrition Fundamental #3: Start Listening (and Remembering) to How Your Food Makes You Feel
The path to better nutrition, a stronger immune system, and a healthier life involves paying attention to not only what we are eating and drinking, but also how our body seems to be responding to our diet.
Unless you have some acute symptoms or health complications, the odds are good that you’ve never had to track these things. Even though this is a critical part of the foundation for developing your ideal nutritional intake, it’s most often a skill we need help to learn! Here are two ideas that can help each of us be more attentive and intentional about nutrition:
1. Try Food Journaling
One of the best ways to start paying attention is to keep a short food journal. It doesn’t need to be exhaustive or take a huge amount of time, but keeping a consistent record of what you ate and how you feel will almost always produce surprising insights. Do carbs really make you feel tired? Which ones, and how much did you eat before having a sluggish afternoon? Is alcohol intake really affecting how your body feels or your morning routines? Be specific and consistent.
Especially if you’re also keeping track of sleep and exercise, you can quickly begin to get a more detailed picture of your overall health trends when you commit to food journaling. In addition to getting greater clarity that will empower you to make informed decisions or changes in your nutrition, you will probably cultivate a deeper sense of your emotional relationship with meal prep and eating. Once again, you will probably be surprised to find out just how important and far-reaching these things are in your life. Nutrition and our health are much more complex than simply counting calories, vitamins, and protein-to-carb ratios.
2. Let an Expert Help You Understand What You’re Finding
Applying the fundamentals we’ve talked about so far can land you right back in the research and confusion loop we talked about earlier. The more you look into nutrition on your own or how your body is responding, the more you will quickly find online or in highly specialized books and programs. It can easily become overwhelming, so one of the best things you can do is to connect with an expert who can help you understand what’s going on with your body and metabolism.
Do you know that there are medical professionals dedicated solely to studying nutrition? Nutritionists help patients understand how they can improve nutrition, their immune system, and build a healthier life. They can be an invaluable help to all of us who are not experts at listening to our bodies or interpreting how they respond to our diet choices. They know what to look out for, which questions are the most important to ask, and how to understand our biological and emotional responses to what we eat and drink. Even if it’s just to confirm or fine-tune our ideas about what we’ve discovered on our own, nutritionists are great resources and support on the road to better health.
Check-in With a Dietitian Today
As flu season approaches and you’re working hard to keep yourself or your family as healthy as possible through the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a very good time to connect with a dietitian. The team at LeBauer HealthCare and quickly help you evaluate your nutritional choices and offer some personalized ideas for boosting your immune system. Connect with Samantha Worley, PA, RD, at our Horse Pen Creek location to get started. Call 336-663-4600 or request an appointment online today.