5 unnecessary health choices

veg pizzaThere are a lot of myths about what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle and control your weight.  The media hypes super foods and extreme exercise regimens, while dissing fast food.  Friends and co-workers may tout their lunch-time work outs, or their organic diet food.  None of that is necessary.  Here are 5 health choices you may think you have to make.  Nothing wrong with any of them, but they’re not necessary for a healthy lifestyle:

1. Shop at expensive “natural” or “health” food stores like Whole Foods.

Anymore, most grocery stores are well stocked with similar food choices you find at more expensive stores.  Minus the overpriced organic junk food.  Unless you know a specific food product or ingredient is only available at the Whole Foods-type market, there’s no real reason to shop there, unless you enjoy the experience.

1a: Spend a lot of money on food.  Food prices in general may be increasing, but that doesn’t mean you have to pick more expensive foods in order to eat a healthy, plant-based diet.  For example, that expensive whole grain high fiber cereal may look so healthy, but you can do just as well picking plain shredded wheat or bran cereal.

2. Belong to a gym

Don’t get me wrong.  Gyms and rec centers are great, especially in the dead of winter, or at night when outdoor exercise may not be advisable.  The benefit is a variety of equipment that can challenge different muscle groups and alleviate boredom.  But physical activity can easily be done outdoors, using a simple pair of good walking shoes.  If you can’t get to a gym facility, that’s no excuse for remaining sedentary.

2a: Buy expensive work-out clothes or equipment.  Apparently Jane Fonda believed putting on special work-out clothes strengthened the commitment to exercise.  But simply walking more is easy to do and doesn’t require special clothing.  Work-out clothes may make the process more fun, but it’s not a necessary part of an active lifestyle.

3. Be a vegetarian

Most healthy diet advice emphasizes plant foods, from vegetables to nuts to whole grains to legumes and healthy vegetable fats.  And that’s all true and good.  But it doesn’t mean you have to become a vegetarian and give up meat.  The point of the advice is to include more plant-based foods than slabs of meat at your meals.  Meat should be more of a condiment when you use it.  Besides, cutting back on meat will save you money (see #1).

3a: Be a vegan.  A vegan diet is even more extreme, with no animal-based foods whatsoever.  No eggs, milk, cheese or yogurt.  It can be healthy.  It can also be unhealthy if not planned properly.  A vegan diet based on soy burgers and vegan energy bars is not healthy.

4. Eat organic food

I’m probably going to get flak for saying this, but in fact it’s not necessary to buy all organic products in order to be healthy.  If organic is important to you, great.  If price is important to you, that’s fine too.  It’s more important to focus on a wholesome plant-based diet, than to imagine you’re doing yourself any favors by buying organic soft drinks and organic potato chips and organic bacon.

5. Cook everything from scratch

Recipes are everywhere.  Millions of them on the internet.  Pinterest features lovely photos of delicious-looking healthy recipes.   There are thousands of cookbooks with an alleged health angle: low fat, low sugar, diabetic, low sodium, vegetarian, gluten-free!, Palso, low carb, you name it.  It seems like everyone but you is home cooking up healthy gourmet meals from scratch every night.

FALSE.

Relax.  There are plenty of ways to put together meals that are healthy, with modest portions and decent ingredients without actually cooking anything whatsoever from scratch.  You can use convenience ingredients, prepared meals, take out food, or just go to a restaurant.  The key is plant-based meals and modest portions.  Exhibit A: take-out pizza.  Order a simple cheese pizza.  Add your own vegetable toppings, and plenty of them: peppers, mushrooms, spinach, onions, tomato slices, zucchini, eggplant, arugula or anything else that appeals to you.  The hardest part might be controlling how many slices you eat.

5a: Shun fast food.  Avoiding all fast food is not realistic for many people, due to time, convenience and price considerations.  What to do?  Order small items.  Avoid super sizing anything.  Avoid adding soft drinks or chips to your meal.  Order side items like tossed green salad or fresh fruit when available.  Here’s my favorite desperation fast food meal on a long road trip: a small order of chicken tenders and orange juice.  These days, you can put together a reasonable meal at most fast food restaurants.

5b: Have a fancy high-end kitchen with lots of gadgets and equipment you actually know how to use.  Also FALSE.  There isn’t anything I can think of that can’t be made (from scratch or otherwise) in a very simple low-end kitchen.  Before fame, Julia Child made do with an improvised kitchen and look what she accomplished.

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