How To Eat Healthier: The Single Ingredient Challenge

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Do you want to eat healthier? If so, do you know where, or how to start?

Maybe you think the solution is a super strict juice cleanse, or a grilled chicken and broccoli diet?

Let’s be clear – I’m not saying there’s something wrong with eating either chicken or broccoli, they’re both great foods, but limiting your diet to these two foods could get boring (not to mention the variety of vitamins and minerals you’ll be missing out on).

I also believe that diets like those aren’t great because they usually don’t lead to lasting changes. Lets use a juice cleanse as an example.

The weight that you might lose on a juice cleanse tends to be water weight, and once you start eating normally again, you’ll gain all of that weight back. It also won’t necessarily make you healthier – juice cleanses are usually short-term (as they should be!), low in fiber (fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut, so it’s an important nutrient), and low in protein and healthy fats (which are essential macro-nutrients).

A juice cleanse won’t necessarily help change your everyday eating habits. If you want to eat healthier and BE healthier, think about making long-term changes rather than doing short-term diets.

So, what should you do instead?

Focus On Whole, Unprocessed Foods

If you want to improve your health, I think the absolute best thing you can do is focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods. Why? Because real food tends to be higher in micronutrients and fiber, lower in calories, and more satiating than packaged and processed foods. Also, real food is lower in (or even devoid of) chemicals and preservatives.

And eating real food usually helps regulate your blood sugar, control your hunger, and improve your weight.

You might be familiar with the Michael Pollan quote, that I think sums it up really well:

“Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

The 30-Day Single Ingredient Challenge

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While not all packaged and processed foods are “unhealthy”, they’re probably not as good for you as eating simple, real food. If you’re looking for a way to improve your health, lose some weight, and have more energy, try my 30-day single ingredient challenge.

This challenge is designed to retrain your taste buds to prefer the taste of unprocessed foods, while helping you establish healthier eating habits.

You might have guessed this already – but the rule of the game is to eat whole, unprocessed foods for 30-days. This is not a paleo or vegan challenge. And you can modify this challenge to suit your dietary preferences and needs – for example, I’m allergic to gluten and dairy, and I don’t eat meat, so these foods won’t be a part of my challenge.

The most basic rule is to eat meals that are comprised of single-ingredient foods. Here’s a sample of what your day could look like:

Breakfast:

Cooked rolled oats with banana, walnuts, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Lunch:

Pan-fried salmon on a bed of lettuce with tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell pepper, drizzled with olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Snack:

An apple with a tablespoon of fresh ground almond butter.

Dinner:

Rice bowl topped with mushrooms, onions, broccoli, and snap peas sautéed in coconut oil. You can add sautéed chicken strips or a couple of pan-fried eggs for protein.

Dessert:

A bowl of fresh berries with a small handful of dry-roasted, unsalted nuts.

Get Ready To Prep

If you’re thinking that eating whole foods will probably require more preparation, you’re completely correct. The single ingredient challenge will most likely also challenge you to make most of your meals at home. This means you’ll have to make time for grocery shopping and meal prep, but the payout in terms of health is huge.

Also, there’s something about prepping and cooking your own meals that connects you even more to what you’re putting in your body. I love cooking because it makes me mindful of the food I’m eating, where it came from, and how it makes me feel. Did my meal satiate my hunger while keeping me light and energetic, or did it weight me down and make me lethargic?

This is a great way to discover what foods work best for you and your body.

Cooking and sharing meals with another person takes it all to another level – it’s a way for me to connect with my friends, family, and partner through food.

Extra Notes About The Single Ingredient Challenge

Here are a few things to keep in mind while completing this challenge:

  • Spice mixes that don’t contain added sugar are fine. These are great to add extra flavor to your meals. Before you use a spice mix, read the ingredients label. You might be surprised to see which spice mixes have added sugar.
  • Limit or avoid sweeteners such as white sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, and calorie-free sweeteners. People tend to eat too much sugar as it is, and part of this challenge is retraining your tastebuds to prefer whole, unprocessed foods. Reduce the amount of sugar and sweeteners you add to your meals and drinks, or eliminate them altogether.
  • What About Eating Out, Drinks, & Alcohol?

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    The purpose of this challenge is not to deprive yourself of social experiences like going out to eat at a restaurant, heading to happy hour with friends or coworkers, or having a couple of drinks at an event. Here’s how I recommend you fit them into your challenge.

    Eating At A Restaurant

    Going out to eat is a fun way to spend time with friends, taste new flavors, and treat yourself. But restaurant meals tend to be higher in salt, fat, and calories than the food you’ll make at home. It’s also harder to stick to single ingredient foods.

    During your 30-day challenge, limit your restaurant excursions to 2 meals per week. The likely added benefit – saving you more money! Eating out can get expensive, and cooking at home tends save you money (and calories).

    Beverages: What Can You Drink?

    Water is an essential nutrient and is the most hydrating beverage you can drink. But you can definitely enjoy other beverages during this challenge too. Unsweetened tea, coffee (with a splash of milk or nondairy milk), and sparkling water are great drink options.

    Avoid drinking juice (even fresh-squeezed juice) during this challenge. Juice is usually high in sugar, and doesn’t help much for satiety.

    On the topic of water, aim to drink 2-3 liters of water per day. You’ll be amazed at how much staying hydrated helps with regulating hunger.

    Can You Drink Alcohol?

    Yes, but limit your intake to 2-3 drinks per week, and stick with wine, beer, or clear liquor. Avoid mixed drinks, which are usually high in sugar and calories.

    Are You Up For The Challenge?

    I’m starting my single-ingredient challenge on Monday. That means that on Sundays, I’ll be grocery shopping and prepping food for the week. If you want to see some of the meals I make for the next 30 days, you can follow me on instagram.

    Want to join in on the challenge? If you do, I’d love to see the meals you cook up! Use the hashtag #singleingredientchallenge when you share your meals.

    Have lingering questions about the Single Ingredient Challenge? Feel free to ask!

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