Healthy eating guidelines can be confusing when you are starting out to improve your eating.
I am always asked "What should I change first?"
My answer to this question is always the same: get rid of processed sugars and high fructose corn syrup. They are both highly inflammatory. Inflammation is a contributing factor to all disease! These sugars can also pack on the pounds causing significant weight gain. If you are a soda drinker, check the labels. Many sodas have up to 40 grams of sugar per 12 ounce glass which is equivalent to 8 teaspoons of sugar. Our bodies cannot handle this large amount of sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup, and turns the excess into fat.
Are you aware that sugar has lots of names other than sugar? Become a savvy shopper and read nutritional labels. Some sugar names to watch for are cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, malt, confectioner's sugar, invert sugar, brown sugar, malt syrup and lactose.
Healthier choices are more natural but are still considered sugar. Do any of these names sound familiar? Agave, molasses, honey, maple syrup, rice syrup, yacon syrup, and date sugar. There has been some controversy lately about agave, so look for a reputable company that will back up their low glycemic claims with studies. Low glycemic foods break down and release glucose into the bloodstream slowly and gradually. Palm sugar and coconut palm sugar are relatively new to the market, but they are delicious, easy to work with in most baking recipes and are considered low glycemic. As with most new products, you may have to look a little harder, but generally you can find palm sugar in health food stores and some specialty markets as well as online.
There are a few superstars when it comes to truly natural sweeteners. They are reported not to raise insulin levels and are known to have health benefits. Look for pure zero calorie stevia. Make sure it is stevia leaf. It comes in both liquid and powder form. Some brands may leave a bitter after taste. Don't give up. Try different brands until you find one you like. Luo han guo, from China, is another natural sweetener that is used both as a sugar substitute and a medicinal herb. Stevia and luo han guo are perfect for hot and cold beverages and some recipes.
My second recommendation when asked what foods to eliminate is always refined wheat, especially if it is bleached. If you just can't get through a day without bread, why not try a loaf of spelt bread? It is still wheat but more digestible. If spelt isn't in your budget or is hard to find look for whole grain breads that do not have refined sugar and artificial ingredients.
Growing up eating commercial wheat in fast foods and processed foods has caused gluten intolerance, with all its digestive distress, to reach almost epidemic proportions. What is gluten? Gluten is a protein substance that remains when starch is removed from grains. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye grains, as well as in oats that have been cross contaminated in the fields and in processing. You can get adventurous and substitute naturally gluten free brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, or buckwheat in place of wheat.
Check out the growing number of gluten free products on the market. Organic products would generally be best. Read labels. Very often refined sugar is one of the first ingredients in gluten free products. You might have to try a few mixes or products to find one that you like. The texture can be very different, but once you adjust to the difference, you can still enjoy your baked goods.
Eating foods that satisfy your palate often prevents you from overeating. Keep in mind that proteins and healthy oils and fats tend to satisfy, while refined carbohydrates eaten alone tend to raise insulin levels and cause you to eat more. Protein with every meal and snack tends to keep blood sugar levels more stable.
Following these guidelines, even some of the time, can make a difference in how you feel. It gets easier as you learn more and discover just how many healthy and delicious products you can find or make which address these very challenges.