Lately I’ve been getting a ton of questions for Dear Cassey and in my DMs about allllll things food. After reading through most of them, I decided that the most helpful thing I can do is put together an all-inclusive post laying out the most important things I’ve learned about healthy eating.
A simple road map to nutrition, if you will! Based on my experience and with the help of Breanna, my registered dietitian 🙂
Obviously, this is a very general overview that won’t apply to every single person and every single situation. Just a “healthy eating 101” to help you get started. But listen, just because these tips are basic doesn’t mean they’re common knowledge. Diet culture has turned nutrition into this super over complicated MESS that left us all believing that obsession, restriction, and discomfort are all signs you’re “doing it right.”
And that’s sooo wrong! Learning the basics of WHY we need a variety of foods lays the foundation for a diet built on nourishment. This was the best and most unexpected thing I learned on my 90 Day Journey. I mean, I thought I knew how to eat healthy before! But eating food to nourish vs. avoiding certain foods to deprive was a game changer.
Hopefully, this guide will help you flip the way you look at food and help you feel confident with healthy eating.
Shall we get started?!
1. Cutting Carbs Won’t Fix Everything
…yeah. We’re starting with a controversial one.
I feel a little like a broken record when it comes to carbs, but when I keep seeing people say they’re avoiding FRUIT I just can’t help it. Fruit?!
Let me give you the TLDR on carbs! If you want more detail, read this post.
Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients in the diet that your body needs to function efficiently.
Now before you come at me about how going low carb or keto worked for you, yes. Your body CAN function without or on very little carbs. But there’s no denying that it’s less efficient. That’s one reason why sustaining a low carb diet is so hard for many people.
“Carbs” include more than just bread and sugar.
You’ll also find carbs in super nutrient-dense foods like beans, fruit, veggies (yes, even the non-starchy ones), quinoa, nuts, and seeds.
Not all carbs are created equal.
There are definitely plenty of high-carb foods that aren’t offering much nutritional value. I’m talking about the processed stuff, made with refined grains and tons of added sugar.
But think about some of the other foods with carbs I mentioned. Fruits and veggies specifically! Not only do they have vitamins and minerals that our bodies need, but they also have antioxidants to keep our cells healthy and disease-free. And don’t forget our BFF, fiber! Did you know fiber is a type of carb?!
Are some carbs better than others? Yes. Is completely cutting some or all of them out of your diet necessary to eat healthily? No.
You have to consider your goals.
Do we all need a high-carb diet? No, just like we don’t all need a low-carb diet. Certain situations will always warrant certain changes (and this is why you should talk to a doctor and/or dietitian!).
For the majority of us, I think the best thing we can do is ADD more whole foods, and stop obsessing over the carb count!
2. Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat
Ahhh, another myth we can squash once and for all. There was a time when everyone feared fat. It’s time that we celebrate it!
Like carbs though, not all fat is created equal.
What is “healthy fat?”
I’m totally guilty of always saying, “eat healthy fats!” But what does that even mean? Let’s break it down.
Monounsaturated fat (MUFA) – One type of “healthy” fat. Found in things like olive and canola oils, avocado, nuts, and seeds.
Polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) – Another “healthy” fat. Found in fatty fish, flax seeds, walnuts, and some oils. You’ve heard of omega-3 fatty acids, right? They fall into this group!
Saturated fat – These aren’t totally “bad,” but eating a lot of them can be harmful for your heart and arteries. The majority of saturated fat comes from animal sources.
Trans fats – This type of fat is the worst on the body – especially your heart. They’re also known as hydrogenated oils, which are created and used for processed foods. Basically, trans fat keeps food shelf-stable longer and they can be reheated multiple times (ideal for fast food restaurants).
So what can you do with this info? Get more whole-food fat sources!
Here are some things those “healthy fats” can do for you:
- Makes your meal more satisfying and keeps you full
- Lowers “bad” cholesterol and raises “good” cholesterol
- Keeps your organs healthy and protected
- Supports a healthy brain
- Helps you absorb nutrients
3. We Love Protein, But You Might Not Need That High Protein Diet
We loooooooove protein around here! But do you need to eat 200 grams per day to gain muscle? For most people… no.
Here’s how to figure out how much protein you need:
The simplest recommendation is to get 10 to 35 percent of your calories from protein. The more active you are, the higher the protein goal in that range.
Or, you can calculate your protein needs with your weight and activity level. I found an amazing guide for how to do that here!
But will eating protein make you bulky?
Another question I see a lot. And nooope it won’t, unless you’re really working for that goal. Bodybuilding is serious work. Eating protein alone won’t just magically add muscle mass. Here’s what protein does:
- Supports muscle recovery/repair after a workout
- Strengthens your bones
- Makes your meal satisfying and keeps you full
- Boosts metabolism
- Serves as your body’s last resort for energy
A lot of people think they need more protein, but most of us are already getting enough! If you have higher protein goals, here are some easy ways to boost your protein intake.
4. You Don’t Need To Count Calories or Macros
Improving your diet and eating healthier doesn’t require calorie tracking. Or counting macros. Or measuring portions.
That being said, there is a time and a place for calorie counting. For example, intentionally losing or gaining weight! It’s helpful in these situations to know what you’re consuming.
But you can eat healthy without the intention of changing your weight.
If you just want to eat healthy for you know, HEALTH, I think counting calories and macros can complicate things and overshadow what’s really important.
5. Find Ways To Add Nutrition To Your Meals
Pile on those whole foods!
One of the best places to start with healthy eating is by seeing what you can ADD. For example:
Add fiber – Add fresh or frozen berries to your oatmeal or on the side at any meal. Mix zoodles into whole wheat spaghetti. Swap fries for roasted sweet potato “fries.” Add legumes to your salad. Add chia seeds and/or avocado to your smoothie.
Add healthy fats – Add avocado or avocado oil to your salad. Top your smoothie bowl with nuts, nut butter, seeds, or coconut. Sauteé or roast veggies in olive oil. Add salmon to your meal rotation.
Add protein – Again, nuts and seeds for the win! One ounce of pumpkin seeds adds 9 grams of protein to a salad, oatmeal, or even soup . Snacking on an ounce of almonds adds 6 grams of protein to your day. If you’re in a pinch at meals, try other quick protein sources like hard boiled eggs or beans.
Add antioxidants – Anything with color! Keep bell pepper slices in the fridge for snacking. Add berries at breakfast. Roast sweet potato and broccoli and use it in salad or as a side dish. Add a variety of leafy greens to your salad or sauteé and add to an omelette. Snack on dark chocolate. Add nuts and seeds to pretty much anything. Top your salad with goji berries or pomegranate seeds. Use spices like clove, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and garlic.
The options are seriously endless for how you can pack your meals and snacks with good stuff. I also think it’s so cool how so many of these foods overlap! For example, nuts and seeds literally add everything – fiber, fat, protein, and antioxidants.
6. Water. Drink It.
I had to throw this one in here becaauuuuuuuuse…
Hydration is part of healthy eating.
A lot of us aren’t hydrating enough.
Being dehydrated directly affects how we eat and how we progress in our goals.
DRINK YOUR WATER.
7. Don’t Follow A Trend. Follow Your Needs.
If one type of eating worked for everyone, we’d know about it by now.
The takeaway here is to tune out any diet trend telling you to completely cut certain foods or restrict yourself until you establish your healthy eating groundwork and determine your needs. Any trend that calls for a one-size-fits-all approach is a red flag to me, and it should be for you too! The basics of healthy eating are just that – basic.
Hopefully these tips help you step out of the diet culture web of confusion. Stop living in fear that things like fruit and rice will make you fat, or that protein will make you bulky. Start living to nourish your body!
Once you get the basics down, you can adapt the way you eat to fit any goal you decide to chase.