Health, with a Grain of Salt

Explaining the science and debunking the myths of nutrition, metabolism, and health.


Becoming a More Thoughtful Consumer

The new year is a great time to reflect on the past year, considering what has worked and what hasn’t and to plan ahead for what you want out of the future. 2016 will be a big year for me with a likely job change and potentially moving to a new city. With all of that commotion and change, I’ve decided that the theme of the year is simplify. This is really a three-pronged approach, as I would like to simplify my finances (read: spend less), reduce my impact on the environment, and improve my health. As this is a health blog, I won’t be going into my approach for improving my financial situation, but I’m planning on doing a Spending Diet, which you can read about more on “And Then We Saved,” which has lots of great tips!

The beauty of this approach is that these three goals often go hand-in-hand. That is, when you choose to do something to improve your health, you are often going to reduce your impact on the environment and spend less money. Example: riding your bike for transportation.

Many people have a weight loss goal as their New Year’s Resolution, which can be good, but it can often be shortsighted and easy to throw in the towel. I prefer to consider lifestyle approaches that bring about other types of change that you can be proud of and may result in weight loss as a byproduct.

The two main approaches I’ll be using to address my three goals are 1) mindfulness and 2) reducing food waste.

Eating Mindfully

The whole idea of mindfulness is rooted in being intentional with your thoughts and actions. Instead of moving through life on autopilot, take a moment to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and if it aligns with who you are/want to be. In short, it is about being present. A couple years ago, I embarked on a self-inflicted nutrition experiment wherein I tried a different popular diet each month and blogged about the experience. On one such month, I practiced eating mindfully and loved it. I’ve lost many of those habits, so I’m going to work on bringing them back. Here are some of my favorite tips for eating mindfully.

  • Focus on Food Production. One of the best ways to be environmentally conscious and potentially benefit your health is to think about where your food comes from. The best thing you can do is buy locally grown food, perhaps organic, in an effort to support small farms and your community economy, as well as minimize the environmental strain of your food consumption. Depending on where you live, this may mean that food is more expensive than buying from the supermarket, but if you know where it’s coming from and if you’re spending a little bit more on it, you’re less likely to waste it. Step up: grow your own food, even if it just means having an herb garden or container garden. You’re bound to appreciate that food more and waste less.
  • Slooooow it Down. Most people eat too fast. It’s usually because we overbook our lives with events and eating becomes something that we rush through. Instead, take your time to eat because it’s the most important thing that you do everyday. Drink a glass of water before each meal in order to tell your gastrointestinal system that food is on its way, which will allow it to start producing the enzymes for digestion. It takes about 20 minutes after you start eating for your brain to send out satiety cues. Most people eat a meal in less than 20 minutes, so they don’t realize how full they are until after they’ve finished eating. Chew each bite to completion before taking the next. Set your utensil down between bites. This will give your body and brain time to tell you when it feels full and to stop eating, which may result in eating fewer calories. But by and large, it will teach you how to truly enjoy and savor food.
  • Distraction Free Diet. Oh boy, this one is hard. The idea here is to eat your food without being distracted by your phone, your computer, or your TV. These items take us out of the present moment and often prevent us from enjoying our food. Have you ever eaten a meal while watching Netflix and then thought back a few minutes later and realized that you don’t even remember how your food tasted? This is common and often leads to overeating. Instead, sit down at the table by yourself or with friends and family (eating is a social experience and often keeps us present in the moment, so don’t get rid of that) and actually pay attention to your food. Notice flavors, textures, and colors. Thank yourself or whoever prepared the food for you, whether audibly or just as a thought, and enjoy that big bad beautiful meal.

Waste Not
In America, we waste roughly 1/3 of the food that we produce. A lot of that is wasted commercially, but much of it is in the home. Here are some tips for doing your part to waste less, which will also help you eat healthier and save money.

  • Share. Nearly all portions served at restaurants are at least twice as large as they should be. If you eat out, share your entree with a friend. If that doesn’t work, save half of it for your lunch or dinner the next day. Thus, you will be reducing waste and saving money. Two birds, meet one stone.
  • Plan. Before you go to the grocery store every week, plan what you want to buy. Look in your refrigerator and pantry and see what you have. Plan your meals based on that so that you buy and throw out less food.
    • For example (actual example of what often happens to me), let’s say you have some cilantro, two green onions, half a bell pepper, some tofu or chicken, and a can of black beans. You have the makings for both Asian and Mexican type dishes. Round those ingredients out with some tortillas, rice/noodles, more veggies, spices (if needed), and sauce (or make your own) to make tacos one night and a veggie and tofu stir fry the next.
    • Next, make a list of a few meals (consider what your week looks like and how many meals you will realistically cook at home) and their corresponding ingredients. Plan your shopping list based on the store layout so you don’t forget anything. Buy most things in bulk (particularly grains, produce, nuts/seeds, etc.) so you can buy only what you need, which will help to reduce waste.
    • Buy produce that is in season. This will save you money because in-season produce is cheaper than out-of-season and tastes way better when it’s fresh. It’s also better for the environment because strawberries bought in January had to travel from very far away, which costs a lot in fossil fuels. Save those summertime dishes or snacks you love for the summer and learn how to cook winter veggies in the winter. You know, the way you’re supposed to.
  • Prepare. This next step takes a little bit of time, but your week will be oh-so-much smoother if you do it. Meal prep. If this intimidates you, start small by just chopping up veggies and fruits so that they are ready for snacks or for cooking. Consider what the hardest part of cooking is for you when you’re tired and don’t want to do it and try to make that step easier by doing it ahead of time. Before I started doing meal prep, it seemed pretty impossible and daunting. Here are some of my tips to take away some of the question marks.
    • Veggies. These should be the foundation of your diet and can take some time. I either stir fry or roast A LOT of veggies for the week. Then, I can mix them with pasta/rice, some kind of protein or put them over greens to make a salad.
    • Protein. I usually eat tofu, beans, or chicken for my protein for the week. I typically do a combination of two so that I have options to combine with my veggies.
    • Grains. I’ll either make rice, quinoa, or pasta. It just depends on what other foods I’m cooking for the week.
    • Quiche/Casserole. Mix something together quickly that may have to bake for awhile. This means that there’s a lot of hands off time so that you can do other stuff while it is baking. I usually do quiche filled with veggies and cheese because that’s what I like best, but you could do a number of other casseroles or lasagna.
    • Soup. This is where the crockpot comes into play. Just search for recipes online if you don’t have any ideas. Throw it all in the crockpot and let it cook for a few hours.
    • How it works: I usually chop up the veggies and start roasting them first (~30-40 min, depending on what you’re roasting). If I’m cooking chicken, I’ll usually roast that at the same time. I’ll also chop up everything for a soup and throw that in the crockpot. Then, I’ll put quinoa/rice in the rice cooker to start cooking or I’ll boil pasta. While the veggies are roasting, I’ll put together the casserole/quiche and then put that in once the veggies are done. While the quiche is cooking, I put everything away in tupperware and clean up the kitchen. From start to cleanup, this usually takes me 1.5 hours.
    • Add-ons: In addition to what I buy for prep, I usually have greens and usually some cans of beans for salads, fruit for snacks, and avocados and salsa for garnishes. I just mix and match what I’ve made in order to make hearty meals, so you have to do some planning so that themes overlap…unless you want to eat Italian with Caribbean. You do you. Recognize that you may not get this right the first time. Be patient and try new things.
  • The beauty of doing all of this is that you will definitely waste less food since most of it is already cooked. You’ll also have the time to do other things you want to do instead of cooking (i.e. working out, spending time with your family, doing your favorite hobby). It will also help you to stick with your nutrition goals and eat less junk since it’s already ready for you to enjoy.

What are your goals for 2016? Do you have any questions or comments regarding living (and eating) more simply? And for those of you who already do meal prep, how does your process compare to mine? I’d love to know!


Image by Pawel Kadysz on

food wastemeal preparationmindfulplansimplify

caitlindowphd • January 2, 2016

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