With a full year stretched out before you, January is the perfect time to jump-start healthy eating, the foundation for overall wellness. Like most goals, nutritional upgrades have endless variations; in fact, you could probably come up with one new, improved dietary habit for every day of the year. Instead of letting the possibilities overwhelm you, focus on these top five dietary changes most likely to create a healthy and vibrant body while reducing your risk for serious disease.
In particular, focus on plant, fish, and grass-fed animal fat sources, which contain profoundly anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Mounting research shows that chronic inflammation underlies most, if not all, chronic disease, including dementia, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids down-regulate inflammatory genes, reduce production of inflammatory chemicals (cytokines), and increase inflammation resistance. People who regularly eat omega-3-laden foods also have healthier skin, more comfortable joints, less depression, and sharper minds.
Add flaxseeds, chia, hempseed, and nuts, especially walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts—to your morning cereal or shake. Enjoy sardines or hard-cooked, omega-3-enriched eggs for a snack. Choose fish or grass-fed meat.
Plant foods contain more than 4,000 anti-inflammatory, antioxidant flavonoids, pigmented compounds responsible for beets’ red, kale’s green, squashes’ yellow, and blueberries’ blue. They stimulate immunity, reduce cancer and heart disease risk, and support healthy joints and digestion.
Aim for at least five different colors of fruits and vegetables every day. These nutrient-dense foods should comprise half of your total food intake. Top cereal with berries; snack on celery, carrots, and bell peppers; feature colorful salads, steamed greens, broccoli or green beans, seasoned tomatoes, and puréed sweet potato at lunch and dinner; indulge with dark chocolate–covered cherries or pomegranate seeds.
Organics offer at least one undisputed advantage: significantly fewer harmful pesticides and herbicides, minimizing your exposure to cell-damaging toxic chemicals. Reducing pesticide load can increase immunity and decrease allergies and may support weight loss and fertility. Start by buying organic for the worst pesticide offenders (ewg.org/ foodnews). Also consider swapping out conventional dairy products, in which pesticides concentrate.
Portion control is an obvious way to cut calories; add in nightly fasting and you’ll also change your metabolism to contribute to weight loss. Even a relatively short time period without food can protect you against diabetes by causing stomach and intestinal cells to release the hormone ghrelin, which reduces insulin, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), and insulin resistance. It also combats cancer by inhibiting silent information regulator (SIRT1) gene activity, which in turn slows accelerated cell growth.
By eating your last meal or snack in the early evening and not eating anything until breakfast, at least 12 hours later, you’ll have fasted for half the day—long enough to trigger these metabolic changes. The result: Chronic disease prevention from better cell-growth regulation and tighter control of sugar and insulin levels.
Food is not just a mix of nutrients; food is also pleasure, appreciation, even love. This year when you eat, make it a point to sit down, put away your cell, turn off the TV, and relax. When you’re relaxed, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn innervates your digestive tract so you digest food better. Increased parasympathetic nerve activity also encourages healthy blood pressure and heart function, promotes a balanced immune response, and reduces chronic inflammation.