4 Simple Healthy Eating Tips for Your Health and Happiness

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When you identify the style of clothing that best suits you, it is easy to know what pieces to buy to add to your wardrobe. Is your style classic, romantic, or boho chic? It's like following a set of rules. By following your style rules, you won't waste money on purchases that don't fit your style, and you will ‌effortlessly create outfits and look and feel great every day.

You can apply this concept to how you eat and maintain “rules” for healthy eating habits that will allow you to enjoy your food more and maintain good health and weight to feel and look your best.  

Although everyone has their unique style of dressing, there are healthy eating habits that can apply to everyone. Based on my life in France and observing the French culture for the past 32 years, I believe the French are the best models for healthy eating habits. Maybe you have heard of the French Paradox, which is an age-old question. How do the French routinely eat croissants, bread, cheese, and dessert without a guilty thought and still maintain good weight and health? Here are 4 of their top secrets.

Secret 1- Avoid processed food 

You've probably heard this before and know to avoid foods with additives and preservatives. But did you know over 10,000 are allowed to be added to our food in the U.S.? They are almost everywhere; even in foods marketed as all-natural and organic. The most common is citric acid, which is not natural lemon juice but ‌a manufactured form of citric acid made from a type of mold.

While this manufactured citric acid is allowed by the FDA, it does not mean it should be in our food because our bodies are designed to digest food, not chemicals. As Jonathan Wright and Linda Larsen explain in their book, Eating Clean for Dummies, 2nd Edition:[1] 

"Your body isn't designed to process and incorporate preservatives, additives, stabilizers, and other artificial ingredients. Because many of these ingredients are fat-soluble, your body stores them in its fat instead of using them for energy or cell repair. Unfortunately, they don't just sit benignly in your body's fat. They can change cell structure and metabolize. Some even become carcinogens, which can, over time, cause cancer."

To avoid these preservatives and additives, practice the French motto, "Fresh is best." French food has a reputation in America for being full of butter and incorporating rich cream sauces. And yes, that exists, but everyday food is mostly simple, focusing on fresh and quality ingredients, including a lot of vegetables and what is in season. The flavor of the food and meals comes from the quality of fresh ingredients rather than jarred sauces, marinades, and spice mixes.  


Fresh summer melon with prosciutto or figs, tomato bruschetta, or ripe tomato with capers, onion shavings, basil, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil are all simple yet exquisite, full of flavor, satisfying- and healthy. Fresh food fills the French kitchen instead of stocking non-perishable and frozen foods. 


The healthy eating tip is to avoid as many processed and prepared foods as possible and focus on the simple preparation of fresh in-season foods.

Secret 2- Sit and Eat Slowly

We all have busy lives, and it is easy to believe that it's okay to eat on the go as long as we are eating healthy and nutritious food. However, when we eat in the car, while walking, or standing at the kitchen counter, it activates the sympathetic nervous system–also known as the "fight or flight" response. When our bodies are in this state, it inhibits digestion, increases the chances of weight gain, and blocks the absorption of nutrients. Therefor the nutrients in the wholesome food are not absorbed in the body.

The sympathetic response is also activated when there is a moment of stress, which can be as simple as feeling guilty while eating dessert. This also interferes with digestion, increasing the risk of calories being stored as fat.

Eating meals at the table shows respect for food and creates a more enjoyable experience. It also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the opposite of the sympathetic and is known as the "rest and digest" response. In this relaxed state, the digestive system works more optimally, and nutrients are better absorbed.

The healthy eating tip is to sit to eat, take a deep breath, admire your food before eating, and eat slowly.


Secret 3-No Snacking

Snacking is very common in the U.S. but out of the ordinary and uncommon in France- even frowned upon. The French eat three meals a day and don't snack in between as a general rule. It is rare to see someone walking down the street with a drink or food. If you visit someone outside of mealtimes, food is not offered. A coffee, yes, but something to nibble on, no.

The French don't eat all day, but they eat what they want at mealtime, including dessert. They skip the snack and save their calories for the meal. For example, a caramel macchiato can contain 320 calories and a health bar 200 calories. A 12-ounce green juice can have 130 calories, and a 20-ounce smoothie can have 350.

Compare those to a small slice of fruit clafoutis with about 160 calories or a two-inch slice of French chocolate tarte using the traditional French recipe of egg, cream, and chocolate has about 200 calories. So skipping the snack makes room for dessert and saves calories!

The healthy eating tip is to eat, digest, and repeat. Maintain regular mealtimes and let your body digest the last meal before eating again.


Secret 4- Eat in Courses

When you think of eating your meals in courses—appetizer first, soup or salad next, the main dish, and then a little dessert—what may come to mind is going out for a fancy dinner. However, eating in courses should not be reserved only for special nights out. It is a key healthy eating tip and encourages eating slowly, which aids digestion and portion control. 

  1. It helps with weight management because the brain has time to register when you are full so that you will eat less.
  2. It helps prevent overeating. You will be more likely to be cautious about how much you eat because you save room for the next course. 
  3. It increases the enjoyment of food because of the variety and helps you become more emotionally and physically satiated and less likely to snack later. 
  4. It can reduce stress because it is relaxing, which activates your sympathetic nervous system, allowing you to rest and digest. 

Serving in courses does not have to be complicated; it may be as simple as serving your salad first, then the main dish instead of plating the entire meal at once. Then if you like, finish the meal with a simple dessert such as a small piece of dark chocolate or fresh strawberries with a splash of orange water or red wine. Strawberries with a splash of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sugar is also divine.

You might already eat in courses without realizing it. The next time you are hungry and have a snack an hour before dinner and then pop into the kitchen for something else just before bed, you might be able to turn this habit into a multi-course meal by bringing it all together into one sitting. Snacking before and after dinner can upset your digestive system, and both can lead to unwanted calories. Instead of snacking, come to the table hungry and eat one satisfying meal. Then, the only thing you'll crave is sitting down to your next great meal. 

The healthy eating tip is to eat at least two courses, eat slowly, and savor every bite.

Conclusion

My husband Pierre, who grew up in France, says how we eat can solve all of our problems. While I don't agree it solves everything, how we eat certainly affects every aspect of our lives and has the power to improve our‌ physical and mental well-being.  

The French have been a role model for me for over 30 years, and I view the French perspective around eating habits this way. It is like they don't diet, yet they diet every day. Instead of choosing a fad diet or eliminating a category of foods, they practice a style of eating that supports the enjoyment of delicious food and maintains good health and weight. And the bonus is that it's more than just the food that is valued. 

The connection is just as valued. The French always meet at the table and take time to sit and eat together. Over the past 30 years, I have discussed the French expectations around mealtimes with many people in France, and the answer is always the same. Like Sophie, a working mom with two children who told me, "We have to make dinner and sit down every night. I cannot imagine life without it. Even if it is just a bowl of soup and fried eggs, we have to sit and eat together. It is when we talk." 

The food can be simple, but what you serve matters because it is more enjoyable to talk while eating something fresh and home-cooked rather than warmed from a box. 



When you look good, feel good, and connect with those you love, you can live a happier life, and I believe sharing delicious wholesome food with those you love is the secret recipe. 

For more healthy eating tips and simple French and Italian dishes, follow me on Instagram @caterina.defalco and YouTube

You can also contact me at caterina@returntothetable.com if you have questions, and let me know what you would like to learn more about.

Ciao for now!

Written by guest writer, Caterina Defalco

Return to the Table with Caterina- Healthy Eating Habits

Learn how to eat, cook and shop for food. Feel better & have a healthy and delicious experience without a restrictive or complicated diet.

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