Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated

When did eating a healthy diet become so complicated? I still remember when it seemed that everyone ate the Standard American Diet (SAD). A piece of meat or fish served as the centerpiece of the dinner plate. A serving of potatoes or rice and another vegetable as a side dish completed the meal. Today, though, feeding your family or guests might mean you’re looking at paleo, vegan, low carb, low fat, high fat, macrobiotic or some other diet trend. How did planning a meal become such an ordeal?

We’re bombarded with data every day about the latest and greatest diet designed to keep us alive longer and feeling better than we ever thought possible. A quick Google or Amazon search for nutrition books presents us with hundreds of options. What’s a person to do?

Stop the madness! Here are seven tips to reduce anxiety around eating that will move you toward a healthier diet:*

1. Drink up—water that is!
Start your day with a glass of water. If you find you’re hungry between meals, have a glass of water before reaching for a snack. You might find you were actually dehydrated rather than hungry. If you’re a soda drinker, swap water for soda. Need flavor? Add a slice of lemon, lime or strawberry to your glass.

2. Shop the produce section.
You’ll be amazed at the variety of fruits and veggies in stores and farmers’ markets. Shake up your taste buds by adding a new vegetable to your repertoire every week. Increase the amount of nutrient-dense food on your plate by adding one serving of veggies to each meal. Start your dinner with a colorful salad, and substitute sauerkraut for the salad dressing. Before you know it, you’ll have more healthy veggies and fewer processed foods in your life.

3. Reduce your toxic load.
Organic food—fruit, vegetables and animal products—has fewer chemicals than food produced via conventional methods. The Environmental Working Group’s website ( includes a list of the Dirty Dozen—produce items that contain the highest levels of pesticides. If you’d like to step into buying organic, this is a good place to start. Currently, items on the Dirty Dozen list are: strawberries, peaches, celery, spinach, pears, tomatoes, nectarines, cherries, sweet bell peppers, apples, grapes and potatoes.

4. Do some research.
Read food labels. You might think you’ve made a healthy choice until you realize that the serving of food you just ate was actually three servings. Ask a few questions to find out where the meat and fish at your local grocer came from. Wild, farm-raised, cage-free, organic? How does that impact the nutritional value?

5. Use small plates.
With such an emphasis on diet, you’d expect that obesity would be under control. That’s clearly not the case as obesity has become widespread not only here in Maine, but also across the nation. Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H., attributes this trend in part to the abundance of food that’s produced by the food industry. Charged with being profitable, the food industry is pumping out a higher volume of food and creating new food products to satisfy stockholders. To reduce the likelihood of overeating this abundance of food, use smaller plates. This has been shown to be effective in helping us to avoid eating in excess.

6. Consider an elimination diet.
By removing particular foods from your diet temporarily, you can determine whether you have food sensitivities or intolerances. Some of the most common foods to eliminate include gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn and alcohol. After a period of time, reintroduce food items one at a time and observe how your body reacts to each of them.

7. Leave room for treats.
Pam Popper, Ph.D., N.D. and founder of The Wellness Forum follows a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Her company’s eating plan, however, allows for “treats” such as organic animal foods twice a week. Please take note: If you eat chocolate every day, it’s no longer a treat.

Let’s bring joy and health back to eating by making a few adjustments to our food choices that increase the nutritional value of our diet. As you make your way through the grocery store, keep Michael Pollan’s advice in mind: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

*Whenever making changes to your diet and exercise plan, consult with your health care provider.

Deb Nelson is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. You can find her online at


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