Looking to adopt healthy lifestyle changes for you and your family? Are you confused with a lot of information out there? Do you want to offer your kids better nutrition but don’t know how? If you answered yes to any of these, let me say that you are not alone. In today’s world, full of fast and processed foods, busy lifestyle and lot of conflicting information out there, it certainly sounds overwhelming to make healthy eating and lifestyle changes. As a mom, a wife and a dietitian I completely understand the struggle that many parents are going through these days. Let me share my 10 step approach to sustainable healthy lifestyle for the entire family.
1. Balanced plate: I am pretty sure you must have heard “You are what you eat”. This is one of the basic principles of eating healthy. A balanced diet providing adequate nutrition from macro nutrients(carbohydrate, protein and fats) and micro nutrients ( Vitamins and minerals) is very important aspect of improving and maintaining your health. when you plan your meals; try to include variety of foods from each food group to provide all necessary nutrients and also be mindful of portions of each food you consume. There are some helpful tools available on my plate to help you plan out balanced meals for your family.
2. Skip the “ADDED” sugars: Sugars come from natural food sources such as fruit (fructose) and milk(lactose) as well as from cakes, cookies, sweetened beverages as an added sugars. Today, added sugars make up for the most of sugars consumed. Researchers have found strong correlation between excessive added sugar intake and chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. American heart association recommends limiting sugar intake to 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men; 6 teaspoon for children between 2-18 years and zero added sugar for kids under age 2. To put that in perspective; 1 can of regular soda can have 8 teaspoons of sugars. Rethink your drinks and replace sugary drinks with water, unsweetened tea and fruit flavored water. Many people eat way too much sugar than recommended amounts and kids on an average eat three times the recommended amount of sugars. The body really doesn’t need added sugars as there is no physiological function for added sugars. Natural sugars from fruit and milk could be included in moderate amounts in one’s diet.
3. Say “YES” to healthy fats: For several decades fat has been named bad for your health especially for the heart; however, recent studies show that healthy fats can be actually beneficial for heart health in addition to improve memory and cognition and enhance mood. Fats are essential for living and performs many important functions in the body including provide energy, make hormones and absorb fat soluble vitamins. Healthy fats from Fatty fish like salmon, sardine, mackerel and herring; Good quality olive oil, Ghee (clarified butter), nuts and avocado can be included in daily diet to provide essential fatty acids.
4. Eat “MORE” fiber: Dietary fiber includes parts of plants that body can’t digest or absorb. Fiber is classified into soluble – which dissolves in water and insoluble-which doesn’t dissolve. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits and psyllium; it can help lower cholesterol and sugar levels. Insoluble fiber is found in whole wheat flour, whole grains, beans and vegetables. Insoluble fiber helps relieve constipation by movement of food through digestive tract. To increase your fiber intake gradually increase intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grain and beans. Starting too much fiber at a time can give intestinal gas. It is also recommended to drink plenty of water while eating a high fiber diet as fiber works best when it absorbs water.
5. PLAN ahead: With our modern day busy lives and convenience of drive-through, it is very easy to fall prey to fast foods. One of the best strategy to work against that and eat healthy meals is to plan ahead. I recommend making a weekly plan, which will allow you time for grocery shopping and meal preparation ahead of time to make week night dinners easier to prepare and avoid stopping by the takeouts or drive-through. Planning meals and even grocery shopping with family creates increased interest in healthy eating behaviors for the entire family.
6. KIDS in the kitchen: Do your kids help you in meal preparation? Cooking? Kids who are allowed to be hands-on with cooking are much better at eating a healthy and balanced diet. This also will encourage them to taste and even eat some of the foods they have never before. Cooking with your kids also provides the best time to teach about healthy eating habits. By instilling an open-minded approach to food can also help them develop similar skills towards life as they grow and be more welcoming to new tastes, cultures and attitudes. Teaching your kids how to cook is one of the best gifts you can give!
7. Family dinners: Growing up in a large family, I don’t recollect even a day when I ate meals alone. It was always with family while talking, sharing and enjoying togetherness. I still continue this practice with my family; my kids also never want to eat alone:). In today’s busy lifestyle with both parents working; evenings full of after-school activities and chores – it can be challenging to always eat together; however, my recommendation would be try to do it most days. Families who eat meals together are closer, happier and healthier. Research suggests that having dinners as families at least four times a week has positive effects on child development. Family dinners have been linked to decreased rate of childhood obesity, substance abuse and eating disorders.
8. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Hydration is very important as our bodies are made up mostly of water. Drinking adequate water is essential for many body functions including waste removal through urine, control body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. Some signs of dehydration are headache, cramping, anxiety, and confusion. Amount of water required for each individual varies based on age and activity level. A general recommendation of 8 – 8 oz glasses is good guide for most adults. Athletes may need more fluids than an average person. A simple recommendation is that for an average person drink enough so you can go to bathroom every 2-3 hours.
9. Family-Fitness-Fun: Living an active lifestyle is very important to maintain a good health and reduce risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Find what interests you and your family and choose 2-3 different activities. Try to incorporate at least 150 minutes per week of active time. You could make it fun by reserving some time to play with your kids outdoors as it has many benefits. In addition to being active; it also allows time for non-tech games; provides good exposure to sun which helps in making Vitamin D and it’s a great bonding time for family as well.
10. Adequate sleep: Getting adequate sleep is essential for a person’s physical and mental health according to National sleep foundation; however, millions of people do not get adequate sleep. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. Most adults need ~7-8 hours of good quality sleep and most school age children need ~10 hours.
Implement these easy steps to achieve healthier lifestyle for the whole family. You can also start by adding one step at a time to allow time for everyone to get on-board with the lifestyle changes. Make a family calendar to ensure they become part of your daily routine. Another fun thing would be- each family member be responsible to take charge of 1-2 of the recommended steps and help everyone follow those steps. Finally, find what works for your family and enjoy getting healthier together!!