Eating healthy is more straight-forward than you think.

It seems like every week there’s a new diet craze taking everyone by storm, guaranteeing to replace belly fat with abs of steel “in just seven days!” We all know these claims are outlandish, but fad diets are extremely tempting due to their simplicity (“just puree everything”) and the promise of quick, jaw-droppingly gorgeous results. On their surface these diets seem harmless. If you’re not careful, though, dieting can be quite dangerous to your health.

That’s not to say there aren’t any safe or reliable diets, but what’s important is being able to distinguish between those that are legitimate and those that are hoaxes. Below is a list of things to look out for when choosing a diet, or if you’re just trying to eat healthier in general.

  • Understand each ingredient. Up until recently the prevailing advice was that you shouldn’t eat anything that contains ingredients you can’t pronounce. It was based on the logic that complicated-sounding ingredients like thiamine mononitrate are probably unnatural chemicals, so it’s best to avoid eating them altogether. However thiamine mononitrate is actually Vitamin B1, which is essential for your nervous system to function properly. So instead of ruling foods out based on how many letters of the alphabet they contain, try to understand what each ingredient actually is.
  • Get to the roots. Foods in their original form are almost always better for you than foods that have been processed, refined, and enriched. You might have to do a little extra in terms of food prep, but the health benefits will be worth it. For example, crushing raw tomatoes into your own homemade tomato sauce allows you to enjoy a delicious pasta without having to consume the additives, preservatives, and artificial flavors and coloring that would’ve come in canned tomato sauce.
  • Keep it simple. Avoiding pre-made, processed foods might mean spending a bit more time in the kitchen. To mitigate this focus on easy, simple meals that only require a few ingredients. Fried rice, stew, omelets, and stir fry dishes are all quick to make and very forgiving if you want to throw in whatever vegetables you happen to have.
  • Eliminate with caution. It’s one thing to stop drinking alcohol or eating meat, but some diets call for cutting out basic nutritional components like carbohydrates and sugars. This is absurd. Remember, your body requires these basic building blocks to survive. If you become vegetarian you can still get protein from nuts and vegetables, but there isn’t really a substitute for carbs or sugar. Instead of eliminating these essential nutrients from your diet entirely, seek them in healthier, more natural sources like grains and fruit.
  • Make gradual changes. Your body is in a delicate balance that can be easily thrown off by abrupt changes. Any alterations you make to your diet should be small and gradual so your body has time to adjust. If a diet calls for going cold turkey, beware. It could end up causing you serious adverse side effects.
  • Listen to your body. No matter what you decide to eat (or not), always pay attention to how your body feels. We’re all built differently, which means you might not get the same results as other people on that diet. It’s completely normal to be concerned about how your body looks, but the truest test of whether your diet is working is if it makes you feel better. Healthy eating habits don’t leave you feeling skinny; they leave you feeling energized, alert, and strong.

Your plan to start eating healthier

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Also published on Medium.