If you’re a mom who’s wishing your family would eat healthier meals and snacks, you might want to begin with what’s on your own plate. The reason: studies show that when women start eating more nutritious foods, their households follow suit. But with so many packages out there proclaiming that their contents are healthy, it’s often hard to tell what’s nutritious and what’s not.
Choosing fresh, unprocessed foods for the bulk of your diet is a great start. Aim to get most of your groceries from the outer edges of the grocery store and avoid the middle aisles where you’re bound to find the processed stuff. And when you start consuming more fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and dairy, you’ll also feel better and look great.
With that in mind, the handy dandy list below includes some of the best foods out there, and a few to avoid.
The good guys
- Broccoli, kale, and other cruciferous veggies. These superfoods contain sulforaphane, a chemical that’s great for fighting cancer. These veggies are also high in vitamin C, a must for immune response. But because nutrients tend to break down when they’re cooked, eating them raw or after they’ve been lightly steamed is best.
- Almonds. These tasty nuts provide your body with dietary fiber, dietary fibers that help your gut bacteria produce vital nutrients. They also contain a high amount of protein and good fat, as well as vitamin E. See someone with a healthy glow? Chances are she’s got almonds in her gym bag and eats them for a post-workout snack.
- Beans. Beans are loaded with magnesium, iron, and folate—all elements essential for reproductive health. As women age, their iron and magnesium levels often are depleted. Eating foods rich in these nutrients now is a great way to stave off possible deficiencies later.
- Blueberries. Whether you eat them frozen or fresh, in a smoothie or a muffin, try to get more of these little guys on your plate every day. Blueberries contain powerful antioxidants that can help lower your risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
- Fish. These scaly all-stars are a well-known addition to any healthy diet. Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are responsible for glowing health both inside and out. They lower inflammation in everything from the skin, to the brain, to the heart and are a keystone of many of the world’s healthiest diets.
The bad guys
- Non-fat flavored yogurt. Even with fancy names and packaging, this stuff is still full of sugar and doesn’t pack much nutritional value. Greek yogurt with honey or fruit is a better option.
- White bread. Your body processes refined carbohydrates like white breads, rice, and pastas as if they are sugar, causing systemwide inflammation and blood sugar spikes. Instead, opt for a whole grain bread with ingredients you can pronounce. If you’re looking to mix up your pasta routine, try a bean-, lentil- or quinoa-based pasta for an additional nutritional boost.
- Sugary drinks. Consume as few sugar-filled sodas, fruit juices, and alcoholic beverages as possible. Sure, the occasional cola or glass of wine is fine. But when consuming high-sugar beverages becomes a habit, it can lead to rapid weight gain as well as hormonal imbalances and inflammation.
- Margarine and other butter replacements. These are usually made from partially hydrogenated oils, better known as trans fats (the worst kind of fat for your body). Use olive oil or real butter in moderation.
- Refined sugar. Sugar affects your brain’s ability to recognize the signals of being full or hungry, leading to weight gain. It also has a dramatic impact on your body, sleep, and hormone function. It’s best to leave this stuff behind and opt for other sweeteners, such as honey, in moderation.
Although the tips on this list work for anyone, they’re specific to keeping the female body healthy. And when you’re healthier, research shows that your whole family will be healthier, too.