Today in the United States, 6 out of every 10 adults is living with one or more chronic illnesses that often times could have been prevented through adequate dietary and lifestyle change. But while as a registered dietitian I do not believe that there is a one-size-fits-all answer to achieving optimal health and wellness, we now have the research to prove that there are a few simple changes that most people could make today and benefit significantly from in the long run.
So to help you support your long-term health, we’re going to dive into the five most impactful changes that you could start making today that could have a significant impact on your physical and mental well-being.
Aim for 7-9 Hours Of Sleep Each Night
In our fast-paced, high-stress society, sleep is often compromised due to longer work hours, rigorous school study schedules, and sleep disorders that are often linked to high-stress and inappropriate technology use. While not getting enough sleep is often brushed off and accepted as a “normal” part of daily life, research has found that the consequences of not getting adequate sleep, especially over a prolonged period of time, can have long-term health consequences.
In fact, not getting adequate sleep has been linked to increased mortality risk and an increased risk for developing a wide array of other chronic diseases such as: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, and mental health disorders.
So what can you do to improve your sleep? Start by focusing on why you aren’t getting enough sleep in the first place and see if there are any behavior changes you can make to start prioritizing sleep.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. When you are trying to improve your sleep, it is best to create a strict routine that you stick to everyday and your body can learn to naturally anticipate.
- Limit screen time and technology use before bedtime and ideally shut off all electronics one hour before bedtime.
- Turn off overhead lights and turn down other lights a few hours before bedtime to make your body aware that it’s time to start winding down.
- Avoid high caffeine drinks and foods after 12pm. You may be more sensitive to caffeine than you think, and having even one cup after 12pm can have a negative impact on your ability to fall asleep and sleep soundly.
- Focus on creating a calming nighttime routine. This could be running a bath, reading a book, doing a sleep meditation, or listening to some calming music.
Eat The Rainbow
We use this phrase to help encourage kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, but most adults still need to be reminded of it too. Eating the rainbow refers to eating a wide variety of foods that fall into the many different colors of the rainbow, and while this naturally results in a much more appetizing and pretty plate of food to enjoy eating, it also represents a deeper nutritional impact.
Every different colored food represents a certain group of phytonutrients, which are essential for supporting overall health and protecting the body from stress. Ideally, every person would consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, which would naturally include all of the different colored phytonutrients, but the reality is that most Americans are falling short in at least one color category (if not more). This is important because each phytonutrient color category is responsible for different protective functions in the body and need to be consumed together for optimal health.
Red: Red foods have cancer-fighting properties and contain phytonutrients like lycopene, which are found in tomatoes and watermelon.
Orange/Yellow: Orange and yellow foods are most known for their vitamin C content and carotenoids, which include beta-carotene. Carotenoids are essential for eye health, while vitamin C helps support skin health and immune function.
Green: Green foods are rich in vitamin K, lutein, folate, iron, and other essential vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for strong bones, healthy blood, and overall energy and detoxification.
Blue/Purple: Blue and purple foods contain important phytonutrients and anthocyanin’s like resveratrol that have been found to support heart health, and can help repair oxidative stress and reduce inflammation on the body.
White: While white foods aren’t the most colorful on the color wheel, they still contain a wide variety of phytonutrients called anthoxanthins that are important to consume, and should be included when choosing your daily fruits and vegetables.
To help inspire you to eat the rainbow, here are a few of our favorite antioxidant-rich, colorful foods to start adding more of to your plate:
- Red: Peppers, Tomatoes, Raspberries, Red Beets, Red Apples, Cranberries, Cherries, Red Grapes, Pomegranate, Strawberries, Watermelon
- Orange/Yellow: Oranges, Orange Pepper, Sweet Potato, Yellow Pepper, Yellow Squash, Papaya, Lychee, Mango, Lemon, Grapefruit, Corn, Pineapple, Peaches, Yellow Beets, Cantaloupe
- Green: Leafy Greens, Green Peppers, Herbs, Zucchini, Avocado, Green Grapes, Green Apples, Green Beans, Peas, Kiwi, Edamame, Broccoli
- Blue/Purple: Red Onion, Eggplant, Purple Potato, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cabbage, Prunes, Figs, Plums
- White: Jackfruit, White Potato, Mushrooms, Cauliflower, Radish, Onion, Banana
Add More Omega-3 Fatty Acid Rich Foods
While your body can make many types of fat that it needs to function, one type of fat that we must get through our diets are omega-3 fatty acids.
These kinds of fats are so important because they play a vital part in supporting the cell membrane and play a role in everything from hormonal production to inflammation. Most notably, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be protective in regards to heart health and generally have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body when compared to the more commonly consumed omega-6 fatty acids.
While our bodies need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for optimal health, the ratio in which most Americans are consuming omega-6 fatty acids when compared to omega-3 fatty acids is far to high. To help balance this, it is recommended to reduce your consumption of highly processed hydrogenated vegetable oils and aim to include more whole-food based omega-3 fatty acids from either plant based or animal sources.
Some example of foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are:
- Fatty fish (salmon)
- Flax seed/Flax Oil
Move Your Body For 30 Minutes Every Day
Our current computer work culture has made it much more difficult for people to make sure that they are getting enough movement everyday. While getting into a consistent workout routine can be difficult when you are trying to keep up with a hectic work/home schedule, setting aside just 30 minutes of movement everyday can do wonders for your cardiovascular health, mental wellness, and overall state of wellbeing.
Here are some ideas for some healthy movement that you can choose from each day to help you meet your daily movement recommendations:
- 60 minutes of yoga
- 30 minute run/walk outside
- 30 minute high-intensity fitness class
- 45 minutes of weight-lifting
- 45 minute hike
- 30 minutes paddle boarding
Consume At Least 20g Of Dietary Fiber Daily
If there is one thing that all registered dietitians and health professionals can agree on it is that most people aren’t consuming enough fiber everyday. While the average recommended daily value for fiber is between 20-30g depending on your height, weight, age, and gender, the average adult in the United States is still consuming well below the recommended values.
This can most likely be attributed to whole grains, fruits, nuts/seeds, and vegetables so often being replaced with refined sugars and other processed foods, which as a result reduces the amount of fiber that both children and adults in the USA are consuming on a regular basis.
While fiber isn’t something that your body can absorb or digest in the way that it does other nutrients, it still is an incredibly important part of maintaining and supporting optimal health. This is because fiber plays an essential role in ensuring that bacteria in the digestive tract maintains balanced, that food moves through the body regularly, and that blood sugar remains even throughout the day.
In fact, according to a series of meta-analyses and systematic reviews published in one of the worlds leading medical journals The Lancet, people who consume a diet high in dietary fiber and whole grains have been found to have lower rates of chronic disease, when compared to other individuals who consume lesser amounts. This research is significant because it shows the clear preventative connection between dietary fiber and reduced risk of chronic illness, which today 6 out of every 10 adults is suffering from.
While 20-30g of fiber may sound like a lot, once you understand just how much fiber you can easily get with a diet rich in plant based foods, you will be surprised as to just how easy it really is to meet your daily fiber requirement.
Here are some of our favorite foods that are high in dietary fiber:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Psyllium Seeds
- Brussel Sprouts
- Leafy Greens
- Berries (and other fruits)
- Whole grains (wheat bran, oats, popcorn)
- Nuts and Seeds
How Jackfruit Can Help Support A Healthy Diet
Getting your recommended daily fiber from real, whole foods will always be the best way to ensure that you are not only getting adequate fiber, but also are consuming all the wonderful vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients that are found in fiber rich foods.
With ~7g of fiber per serving, jackfruit is one of my favorite recommendations for adding both soluble and insoluble fiber into your diet, and can be used in so many creative ways to create delicious meals full with dietary fiber.
To help you reach your fiber goals easily each day we have some delicious jackfruit recipes to inspire you to get cooking with jackfruit. There are so many ways that you can use this fruit to spice up your weekly meals, and before you know it you will be meeting your daily fiber goals everyday, and reaping the health benefits in the process.