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6 Healthy Eating Trends That Have Nothing to Do With Weight Loss
Forget about calorie counting—the latest thinking in nutrition puts the focus squarely on taking care of your body.
Every year, millions of people embark on fad diets or restrictive eating regimens in an attempt to lose weight. The reality, though, is that these extreme approaches are more likely to result in yo-yo dieting and poor body image than they are in helping people to develop a long-term healthy relationship with food.
In 2021, there is a better way. It’s not about hitting a number on the scale, it’s about committing to regular cardio and strength workouts that make your body strong and exploring new approaches to nutrition that focus on healthy, not skinny. The most popular eating strategies right now emphasize quality over quantity and diversity over a single-food focus, says New Orleans-based Maria Sylvester Terry, a registered dietitian at Eat Fit NOLA, a nonprofit initiative to improve community health. These are some of her picks for the latest healthy eating trends that have nothing to do with weight loss.
1. Mindful Eating
Most people take down a large serving of social media and email along with their coffee first thing in the morning. Terry says these habits can be exhausting rather than energizing. Instead, focus exclusively on a nourishing breakfast—no smartphone, no Insta—to start your day. The practice, known as “mindful eating,” is taking off as many studies correlate it to improved physical and mental health. “Detaching from screens at meals creates an opportunity to connect with yourself and your hunger and fullness cues,” Terry says. “Notice the way food tastes, the texture as you eat it and the comfort it brings you.” Not only will you enjoy your food more, you’re also more likely to eat slowly when you focus on the experience and not your Twitter feed.
2. Meal Kits
Despite the uptick in meal delivery services, people have been cooking more at home since COVID uprooted the restaurant industry. Catering to those who want to make their own meals but aren’t sure where to begin, meal kit companies provide all the ingredients, sometimes even pre-cut or sliced, for you to assemble yourself.
“Meal kits are delivered to your door, providing you with ingredients and directions to whip up an exciting, nutrient-dense meal,” says Terry. Learning new recipes (while avoiding the grocery store line) expands your nutrition toolbox and instills confidence in your cooking skills. Besides, good health is more than what you eat; it’s also how you eat. “Having fun in the kitchen makes food enjoyable rather than stressful,” says Terry. “And any way we can decrease stress this year is a good move for our health.”
3. Gut-Friendly Foods
Gut health is the latest craze in healthy eating, prompted by multiple studies that suggest your gut “microbiome” is related to everything from a stronger immune system, greater muscle strength and better athletic performance. “A healthy gut is one that supports your gastrointestinal health, your physical health and your mental health,” says Terry.
Fermented foods deliver healthy bacteria, known as probiotics, to your gut, which leads to systemic health benefits for your body. Yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh and sauerkraut are all good choices for fermented foods. But while probiotics may get all the praise, don’t forget about prebiotics. “Prebiotic fibers in foods like oats, apple, seaweed, wheat bran, barley and bananas feed this healthy bacteria and help populate it,” she says.
4. Farm Boxes
Similar to meal kits, farm boxes are growing in popularity thanks to their garden-to-table appeal and nutrient-rich produce. These are often packaged by your local CSA (find a CSA near you here). “I recently ordered one and received produce and food items grown less than a few hours from my house,” says Terry. Bonus: You’re supporting your community as well as your health.
Customizable farm boxes allow you to select what you want and skip what you don’t, helping reduce food waste and increasing sustainability for the farms, too. “Ensuring your home is filled with nutritious local fruits and veggies is an incredible way to support your health,” Terry says, “and has absolutely nothing to do with counting calories or losing weight.”
5. Focusing on Frozen
Conventional wisdom tells us frozen produce is inferior to fresh. Not so. “Frozen produce is picked at peak ripeness, then frozen,” Terry explains. For perspective, most fresh produce at the store is harvested long before ripeness, then artificially ripened to time it for sale at the super-market. This can negatively impact nutritional value. “That’s why incorporating frozen fruits and veggies into your daily intake is a convenient and affordable way to benefit your nutrition,” Terry says. Plus, buying frozen fruits and veggies can also help you minimize trips to the grocery store, reducing your risk of COVID and saving you time so you can go on a run instead.
6. Zero-Proof Cocktails
Finally, the sober-curious movement booming, popularized in part by the Sober 30 Challenge. “Many people have worn out their personal coping tools during the pandemic, resorting to habits such as drinking,” Terry says. Luckily, some effects of excessive alcohol can be reversed. “De-creasing your alcohol intake can have health benefits within the first week, including improved sleep, more efficient exercise recovery and muscle growth, decreased bloating, and improved mental well-being,” she says. Inflammation markers, liver enzymes, and blood fats may also show improvement at your next doctor’s visit.
Eliminating alcohol doesn’t have to be boring. Zero-proof cocktails are an increasingly popular way to achieve the benefits of going alcohol-free. Terry suggests mixing seltzer water, non-alcoholic bitters and garnishes like fruits and herbs the next time you’re craving an adult beverage.
The best thing about these six smart strategies is that you don’t have to choose one over the others, and you don’t have to commit to some 7-day plan of extremism. Work each of these options into your rotation throughout the year and you’ll be on your way to a healthier 2021.