Healthy eating can be such a cause of stress and confusion for some people. It can all seem incredibly overwhelming at times, can’t it?

Just the sheer amount of information out there is staggering to comprehend. Then one has to determine if the source of information is trustworthy, if the diet is right for them, if it’s doing more harm than good and the list of questions goes on and on.

Bowl of mulligatawny soup topped with fresh herbs and peanuts.

You might have heard that fruit is bad for you, carbohydrates make you gain weight, eating fat makes you fat or that saturated fats cause heart disease. There is just so much conflicting information, what’s to believe? I wanted to share some simple healthy eating tips for beginners to assure you that eating well can be easy, sustainable and a source of joy in your life.

A quick Google of the best diet in the world brings up countless options including methods like the DASH Diet, the TLC Diet, the Mayo Clinic Diet, the Biggest Loser Diet, the Ornish Diet, the Flat Belly Diet, Nutrisystem and numerous others. Some of them appear to be incredibly complicated and based around unsustainable rules and restrictions. I don’t want you to have to live that way.

Additionally, I want you to know that healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated. There will be a learning curve if you’re new to it but you can get there by taking things step by step and not being too hard on yourself.

First, let me say that the best diet in the world is the one that you can maintain and enjoy for life. No one should have to feel miserable due to stress over food. Luckily, by eating whole foods, cooking meals at home and reducing the number of processed foods in our diet we can eliminate some of that stress.

If you do need to lose weight, that will often happen naturally when you make the switch to focusing on the nutritional density of the foods you consume, rather than the number of calories or fat in them.

If you’re able to break free of bad habits and begin to focus on the nutritional quality of foods you should be able to live free from calorie counting and food guilt and just eat for nourishment, energy and enjoyment.

Chopped tomato, cucumber, olives, onion and chickpeas in a glass mixing bowl.

One thing that I think diets like paleo, grain-free, veganism and other methodologies of eating can agree on, is the importance of minimizing highly-processed foods in the diet. Processed foods are foods that have been modified from their natural state.

The most common processing methods being canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration and aseptic processing. There is nothing wrong with these methods, nor with common processed foods like grains, canned beans and other whole foods that undergone some type of processed. It isn’t the method of processing that’s the issue, it’s typically the ingredients added to along the way.

In addition, overly processed foods are often stripped of much of their nutritional value as they’re prepared, leaving them nutritionally poor. In other words, they become “empty” calories. They have no nutritional value. Some processed foods are worse than others, namely items with large amounts of sodium and sugar, those made with trans fats and those with artificial ingredients in the form of flavouring, colouring or sweeteners.

Highly processed items can also contain numerous preservatives to make them shelf stable, for example, that loaf of bread that lasts much longer than it should without going moldy. If you look at the core of a diet like the Whole 30, paleo, clean eating, raw food or other whole food based diet, you will notice that they all focus on eating whole, natural, nutritionally-dense foods while eliminating overly processed foods.

Eating should be a delight and the foods we eat should make us feel strong, healthy and happy. Any diet that causes stress or leaves you feeling hungry with little energy probably isn’t something you can maintain for life and certainly isn’t something you’ll enjoy.

When we switch to a whole food diet, in recent years referred to as eating “real” food, we can be assured that our body is getting the nutrition it needs, we can stop counting calories once and for all and we can enjoy life’s indulgences on occasion, knowing that for the majority of time we’re eating well.

So what to do if you’re new to eating healthy, currently relying on the convenience of processed foods and unsure of where to start of on your real food journey? Well, although I believe there is no one right way to eat for any particular person, I do believe these general tips and simple first steps can help point you in the right direction.

Simple Healthy Eating Tips

1. There is no right or wrong way to eat healthy.

I think this is so important to understand. You can’t base how you eat someone else’s diet. It may take time and you may need to experiment to see what works best for your body. Some people feel better eating a diet high in fat, others low in fat and high in carbs, others need more calories and others much less, again there is no right or wrong answer here.

There are many factors determining what foods will help you look and feel your best. Your weight, body composition, activity level and metabolism all play a factor. The point is to experiment to see what makes you feel good. We’re all different with different nutritional requirements however we all need to eat whole, nutritious foods. Start there.

2. Always be prepared.

When we’re really hungry, we tend to make poor choices. It can lead to overeating and falling back into old habits. To prevent this from happening always keep some healthy snacks on hand such as nuts, seeds, chopped veggies or fruit. Carry them in your purse if you have to. Keeping water on hand to stay hydrated throughout the day is also important.

Colourful bowl of rice, tofu, edamame, cabbage and grated carrot.

3. Meal plan and grocery shop.

The effectiveness of meal planning really can’t be understated when it comes to healthy eating. I would say it’s a requirement for most of us actually. Fail to plan and well, you know how it goes.

Once you have your meal plan, go grocery shopping for everything you need so your kitchen is stocked with nutritious food.

4. Stock up on real food cookbooks.

I rely on cookbooks for my weeknight meals. I can’t always think of something to make during the week, I just want quick, easy and healthy without thinking too much about it. Cookbooks help you create delicious recipes with nutritious food, prevent boredom, try new foods and learn new techniques.

Check it out: 6 Best Vegan Cookbooks to Add to Your Collection.

5. Make your own salad dressing.

Many store-bought salad dressings have a nasty list of ingredients, in particular, the low fat and fat-free varieties. No problem though because salad dressing is so easy to make at home and way better than any you can get in the store.

My must-haves for homemade dressings are tahini, nut butters, a variety of vinegars, white miso paste, mustard, maple syrup, dried herbs and spices, garlic, onion and a selection of oils such as olive and sesame oil. If you always have those ingredients on hand you can always whip us a delicious way to make your salads tasty and exciting!

5. Don’t believe everything you read.

If you read something nutrition-related that worries you or maybe sounds too good to be true, do a little extra reading before making changes in your diet. Take responsibility for your health and do your research.

This also goes for other people, no one should be dictating to you how you should eat or making you feel bad for your choices. Just do your own thing and ignore any criticism or negativity!

6. Relax.

Please don’t be so hard on yourself. No one is perfect. There is no right answer. Do you best with what you have where you are and don’t beat yourself up if you slip up. It’s what we consistently do in the long run that makes all the difference, not enjoying treats here and there and restricting our favourite foods can often backfire in the long run.

If you fall back into old habits the key is to catch it quickly and carry on with healthy habits at your next meal or the following day.

7. Eat.

Don’t deprive yourself. Eat enough for your body and activity level. If you need to lose weight, aiming for about 1/2-1 lb. per week is a good place to start. In order to achieve this you would need to create a calorie deficit of 250-500 calories per day.

This can be accomplished by through a combination of diet and exercise. Slow and steady will win the race when it comes to weight loss. In order for it to be sustainable, you still want to be able to enjoy your food and lifestyle so you can actually adhere to your plan.

8. Ditch soda once and for all.

Pop is one of those nutritionally poor foods that adds excess calories to our diet without filling us up or providing any nutritional value. Cutting it out of your diet is one of the simplest steps you can take on your healthy eating journey.

9. Homemade as much as possible.

Everything you used to buy pre-made can be made at home healthier with higher quality ingredients and most likely it will taste better too. Try some of the online recipe resources below for recipes.

10. Learn about healthier alternatives.

Refined sugar and artificial sweeteners can be easily be replaced with dates, raw honey, maple syrup, molasses and other naturally sweet foods. Margarine can be replace by butter or coconut oil. High-sugar boxed cereals can be replaced with homemade granola, oatmeal and even breakfast quinoa!

Keep in mind if weight loss is a goal, there is a still a calorie (energy balance) component, so even if you enjoy “healthier” alternatives to your favourite foods, we still need to be conscious of overall intake.

Try it: Sugar-Free Cinnamon Raisin Granola.

11. Always keep perspective.

Life is short. Try not to worry about food so much. It only has power when we give it power.

Stick to whole foods most of the time and don’t worry about the rest! That’s life, and it should be really, really delicious.

12. Swap processed peanut butter for natural nut butters.

This is another easy dietary change you can make for the better. Processed peanut butters are packed with sugar, added oils and trans fat and is one really ugly processed food. Make the switch to natural peanut butter or other nut butter. If you have a good quality food processor or high-powered blender, you can also make your own!

13. Over time, cravings for junk food will fade away.

The healthier you eat, the healthier your body wants to eat and thank goodness for that. If you stick with a whole food, unprocessed diet eventually cravings for junk food just fade away. At first, it can be hard to break bad habits but once you do, healthy eating is a breeze and you won’t even think twice about it. Food freedom is the goal!

14. Drink a lot of water, exercise often and find ways to manage stress.

I don’t have much to say about these points. Just do them. They make everything better.

15. Say no to store-bought convenience meals. 

It may seem tempting to fall into the convenience of store-bought frozen meals but they don’t offer much in the way of nutrition. Fortunately, with just a little effort on your end, you can make your own ready-to-go frozen meals that are both nutritious and affordable.

When you have time, try cooking big batches of dishes like soup, curry, stew, chili or even stir fry, then portioning it into containers and freezing it to enjoy when needed. It’s the perfect healthy grab-n-go and can be customized to your nutritional needs.

Another common store-bought meal that’s very easy to make at home is soup! Homemade soup is healthy, inexpensive, doesn’t require a lot of dishes to make and there are endless, delicious varieties. Try making a big batch and freezing it in portions for quick lunches or dinners on busy weeknights.

Recipes to Try

16. Find a form of fitness you love and want to improve at.

When you have fitness goals you really care about, you’ll begin to really care about what you put in your body. The best food yields the best results, plain and simple, taking out any question of McDonald’s for dinner.

Try it: 17 Tips for CrossFit Beginners

17. Start slow and take it one step at a time.

If you’re new to all this, don’t attempt a diet overhaul overnight. Successful, long-lasting, realistic change takes time. Try starting with one healthy upgrade at a time.

For example, week one try swapping pop for water, during week two you could plan to cook 3 meals at home instead of eating out, week 3 you could detox your kitchen cupboard and during week 4 you could try a new recipe or healthy ingredient you’ve never cooked with before. And most importantly, have fun with it and enjoy the journey.

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