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Making Meals Easier: A Few Healthy Eating Ideas

Making Meals Easier: A Few Healthy Eating Ideas

    We all try to live healthy lives. We try to exercise a little more, eat a little better. We try to find a balance between the time we spend at the computer, exercising our minds, and the time we spend moving around, exercising our bodies.

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    Here’s the deal, though: it’s easy to add exercise to your day. You take the steps instead of the elevator. You walk to the corner store instead of driving. It may be hard to motivate yourself. In principle, though, exercise is as simple as moving around a little extra every day.

    Eating right is much harder. Sure, you can opt for the salad — but the calories you get from the salad dressing can pretty much negate any vitamins you get from the vegetables. There’s no equivalent to taking the stairs in meal planning, unless you know a nutritionist or two.

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    So I asked a few nutritionists…

    I know my knowledge of nutrition is spotty at best, so in my efforts to eat better, I asked a bunch of nutritionists for meal ideas. There was a qualification on these meal ideas: they had to be easy to make (the equivalent of taking the stairs instead of the elevator). I also asked for the best ideas for those of us who spend most of our day at the computer — even if we exercise regularly, our ideal diet isn’t going to match with someone who spends all day in motion.

    Beth Aldrich is a Certified Integrative Health and Nutrition Coach. She came up with plenty of ideas that make breakfast just as easy as grabbing a Pop-Tart, but about a million times healthier:

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    • High fiber cereal and a serving of fresh fruit and a handful of almonds or walnuts (Beth recommends soy, nut or rice milk over the traditional cow’s milk in the mornings)
    • A hard-boiled egg, toast (whole grain bread) and a banana
    • Oatmeal with bananas, slivered almonds, cinnamon and a touch of brown sugar

    Beth’s suggestions all include a combination of fiber, healthy fats and protein. She puts a special emphasis on making sure that you have fiber and protein in your morning meal: “It’s important for people to always be thinking “long-term” energy and hunger management. So, think fiber in the forms of whole fruit…cut veggies, whole grain crackers on hummus (even Triscuits are good) or even a whole grain, zuchinni or carrot muffin.Then, also think protein to slow down the burning of the “good” carbs. The quickest way is to include a handful (1-2 ounces) of heart-healthy nuts such as hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, almonds, pistachios or walnuts.”


    Cheryl Forberg
    planned our lunch menu. She’s the nutritionist from NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Cheryl suggested that we focus on protein at lunch time, preferably lean: “High quality protein is a cornerstone of a healthy eating plan. Not only does protein help us to maintain and build muscle, it also contributes to satiety or fullness. And when combined with carbohydrates, such as a piece of fruit, it helps to sustain our blood sugar levels longer.” She also offered up several simple ideas:

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    • 1/2 turkey sandwich (Use whole grain bread and low fat Swiss cheese, along with a piece of Bibb lettuce, a tomato slice and whole grain mustard)
    • Low fat mozzarella cheese stick and one large orange
    • 1/2 cup oatmeal (Make your oatmeal with 1/2 cup fat free milk, a teaspoon of honey and two strawberries)

    Janel Ovrut has some suggestions, based on her work as a registered dietitian as well as a master’s degree in Nutrition Communication. Most are just simple variations on a few favorite meals. Janel says, “With a little planning and creativity, you can come up with easy to make meals that are nutritious too. Think of your old favorites – those standard meals that you have on hand to cook up in a pinch. Maybe it is pasta and sauce, or frozen pizza, mac and cheese, or a sandwich. Using whole grains (like whole wheat pasta or whole wheat bread), vegetables, lean meats or beans, and reduced fat cheese can all make these meals more flavorful and healthful too.”

    • Personal pizza (Spread tomato sauce and reduced fat cheese on a whole wheat pita or English muffin and top with vegetables or chicken. Bake in the oven until the cheese melts.)
    • Pasta and sauce (Use whole wheat spaghetti and add fresh or frozen vegetables — and even some ground turkey or beans — to the sauce).

    For the most part, these meal ideas require almost no cooking — cooking can be one of the biggest hurdles for someone trying to eat better, because it can be difficult to decide where to start. Even those ingredients that seem like they might require some work — like Beth’s hard boiled eggs — can be found ready to eat at the supermarket. Yes, you can buy bags of already hard-boiled eggs at many grocery stores.

    There is one piece of advice that resounded through the advice of all the nutritional experts I interviewed: portion control. Eating a double portion of any of these healthy meals doesn’t double your healthy eating score: instead, it can make it almost as difficult to balance your diet as greasy fast food. It may not be a perfect plan, but practicing portion control can be a good starting point for a lot of us less-than-healthy eaters. Controlling your portions isn’t the same as balancing your fiber and protein, though — Janel, Cheryl and Beth offered pointers for longer term changes.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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