Do you suffer from daily headaches? Exhaustion? Mood swings and lack of motivation? If your answer to these questions are yes, yes, and yes, I may have a solution. Let’s take a look at your diet.
Did your breakfast consist of a pop tart and coffee? Or perhaps you didn’t eat anything at all? As a high school student, it can be difficult to prepare healthy and balanced meals when it seems as though there are millions of other tasks which are infinitely more important. So, as we come to the age where our parents may not be preparing our every meal, we need to find ways to fend for ourselves. I hereby present to you: the beginner’s guide to eating healthy.
Tips & Tricks
School nights can be extremely busy, and oftentimes making a lunch or even breakfast for the next day can feel like a burden. To avoid this stress, stay ahead of the game by creating your own pre-made meals. On a Sunday, perhaps, try to prepare some larger items to store in the fridge for the week. This way, there will always be something ready for you to grab on the go.
Some of my personal favorites for on-the-go snacking include sweet potato and pita bread. Sweet potatoes are great if you cube them, lightly coat them with some olive oil (not too much!), spread them out on a baking sheet, add salt and pepper to taste, and bake them in the oven at about 425°. They can be kept in the fridge, ready to be heated up when you want them. With pita bread, the options are endless. Use it to make a sandwich, tear a piece off and eat it with hummus or peanut butter (my personal favorite), or use it as the base for some toast.
What to Avoid
Once you begin prepping your own food, it can be easier to avoid unhealthy additives which often come hand in hand with store-bought groceries. For example, take sugar: everyone’s favorite worst nightmare. It makes the foods you consume infinitely more tasty, yet infinitely less healthy. To function for everyday activities, the body needs naturally occurring sugars in the form of glucose. However, not all sugar is created equal. Many foods contain naturally occuring sugars, like fruits. One medium apple contains 19g of sugar, and an entire pineapple contains 89g. What fruits contain that other sugar-packed foods do not, is fiber. This key component slows down the digestion of glucose, preventing the body from digesting it too quickly. What is important to steer clear from are added sugars. In their website tab on healthy living, The Mayo Clinic defines added sugars as “sugars and syrups added to foods during processing.” While the body needs a certain amount of daily glucose intake, added sugars are not what you want to rely on. Added sugars, which are typically in the form of refined white sugar, have already been broken down into their simplest form. The body is able to process these sugars immediately, causing an almost instantaneous spike in blood sugar — a level which, ideally, wants to remain consistent. Too much inconsistency in blood sugar levels can lead to diabetes and other health issues. Luckily, by 2020, the FDA will release a new format of nutrition labels which will include a subcategory to sugars, labeled as added sugars.
As you begin to check out these recipe videos that I have created, you may notice that there is a lot of peanut butter involved. Confession: I eat a lot of it. But it’s not just any old type. When was the last time you took a glance at what’s really in the peanut butter that you’re eating? PB can be delicious and nutritious, containing many healthy fats and lots of protein, but it can also include some ingredients that you don’t want in your body. I spring for Teddie All Natural Peanut Butter — Chunky with Flaxseed. I’m not here to argue for chunky versus smooth — that’s totally personal preference, but I am supporting Teddie All Natural’s list of ingredients. I know what each item is. Try to avoid added sweeteners and hydrogenated oils, which are unhealthy trans fats. If you’re avoiding all natural peanut butters because of how the liquids and solids often separate when stored, here’s a killer tip: store it upside down! You’ll no longer have to worry about the unwelcome layer of oil.
Dieting: to eat or not to eat?
Trying to lose weight or eat healthier? Remember, food restriction is not your answer! Your body needs nutrients, and cutting down on food intake can trigger deficiencies, leaving you more fatigued and feeling worse than when you began. Nick Ricciardi, Culinary teacher and track coach at Oyster River High School, does not believe in the benefits of restrictive dieting. “Diets are inherently going to fail,” he says. “You need to have a healthy diet that consists of complex carbs, lean proteins, and healthy fats. If you stick with that, and you eat that way all the time, and that becomes your diet, you will be in the shape that you want to be in.” Instead of restricting, opt for a healthier diet. Replacing processed foods with home-prepared meals can be a good place to start.
I’ve provided you with several simple yet healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Now it’s up to you to do your part! You’ll feel better, sleep better, perform better in both school and extracurriculars. Being healthy makes you happy!