Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - We all know that a good diet and exercise is important to optimal health. But good intentions often have adverse consequences when people unknowingly cut out key ingredients resulting in nutritional deficiencies. Filling these can be a tall order, but you can start by increasing fruits and vegetables and by adding high-quality plant-derived supplements.
Here are 10 more ways to make sure your body is getting plenty of what it really needs.
1. Add fiber - especially soluble fiber.
Most of us are deficient in fiber-the essence of fruits, veggies, nuts and beans. Fiber can tame the insulin spike that results from excessive sugar consumption and lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. According to the Institute of Medicine, adult women need 25 grams of fiber a day and men need 38 grams. Two-thirds of that should be from soluble fiber from vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts.
2. Get adequate Vitamin D.
Most of us are deficient in Vitamin D, which can be serious because it compromises our immunity. Vitamin D comes in two forms, D2 and D3. D2 comes from plant foods; D3 comes from animal foods, such as fish, eggs and liver, and your body also produces it when your skin is exposed to a big dose of sunshine. How well we absorb it from food varies a lot depending on our age, lifestyle and health, so there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for getting up to healthy levels. The Vitamin D Council recommends we take 2,000 IU daily if we get little sun, although for deficiency your wellness doctor may recommend 5,000 to 10,000 IU of D3 for a month or so until you get up to par.
Many of us are deceived into thinking that refined junk oils from genetically modified plants like corn and canola qualify as "healthy." Nope. Get healthy omega 3 fats from fish, flax seed or flax oil, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. Eating them daily lowers inflammation, depression and heart-threatening triglycerides, and supports brain health.
4. Boost antioxidants.
These healthy cell protectors and cancer-cell blockers come mostly from plants like brightly colored berries, legumes, dark greens like kale, sweet potatoes, dark grapes like the ones in wine, plus a variety of other fruits and vegetables with deep color. Bonus: All of these are also packed with fiber.
5. Eat lean and plant-based protein.
Most wellness docs and nutritionists say Americans consume too much protein. Remember that extra protein will not help you build more muscle or gain strength - what cannot be used for energy right away is stored as fat. Check the USDA guidelines to see how much protein you need every day. And protein doesn't need to be meat. Some of the best protein sources come from plants, such as legumes of all kinds, seeds, nuts and whole grains. Also consider seafood like small-mouth, wild-caught fish and lean, protein-rich, animal-based proteins, such as eggs and Greek yogurt.
6. Choose whole grains.
Whole grains have not been polished, stripped or ground, so 100% of the original kernel (the bran, germ and endosperm) is present. These are high in fiber and protein but are also nutrient-rich. Whole grains come in a variety of tastes and textures, including quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, oats, barley, cracked wheat, bulgur and wheatberries.
7. Consume magnesium-rich foods.
Magnesium is a chemical element found in more than 300 different enzymes in your body. Turns out it's a key player in removing toxins from your body - and thereby helping you to prevent cell damage from dangerous environmental chemicals and heavy metals. Magnesium also plays a major role in reducing stress and managing weight. You'll find it in dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, avocados, whole grains - and dark chocolate.
8. Eat calcium-rich foods.
We always associate calcium with strong bones and teeth, and it does help prevent osteoporosis. Calcium also helps regulate muscle contractions and prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer. In addition to milk and yogurt, foods rich in calcium include leafy greens like kale and spinach, legumes, some fruits, and seafood like sardines.
9. Consume cruciferous vegetables.
Cruciferous vegetables have it all: fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Eat at least a cup a day of broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage or bok choy. They will enhance your liver's ability to detox your body and help lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke.
10. Drink healthy beverages.
Start with water, water and more water. The Institute of Medicine's general guidelines suggest 125 ounces (about 15 cups) for men and 91 ounces (about 11 cups) for women every day. If you like lemon water, limit it to mealtimes, because it can cause acid erosion of the enamel on your teeth. Drink tea and coffee in moderation, but cut back on fruit juices and milk - and totally cut out real or artificially sweetened beverages. Limit alcohol to one serving per day if you're a woman, two if you're a man.