What to Eat, In your 20s
You are building a career and building a life on your own terms…which can be both exhilarating and a bit terrifying. And you may find that you feel as energetic as you did in your teen years, regardless of your wellness habits. If you jump out of bed with a spring in your step after staying up all night drinking and dancing – lucky you – you might be less inclined to start taking your wellness seriously. But this is the time. While you are young and your body is still doing a good job of cleaning up the lifestyle-induced mess.
Or, perhaps you’ve noticed that you can’t ‘get away’ with less healthy behaviours like you used to. You work long days and go out regularly after work. You start hitting the snooze button more often. What started out as the freshman 15 may have become the senior 30 and you have yet to make fitness a priority. Or perhaps, dorm room eating habits are still influencing your work life eating habits – and constant socializing means more restaurant meals and probably too much alcohol.
In our instant gratification world, it can be hard to think ahead but now is the time to make wellness your priority.
Your bones are still in building mode until roughly your 30th birthday…so protecting them now will make you stronger later. What’s amazing about this decade is that your body will respond more favourably to healthy eating and fitness interventions taken now instead of leaving it until later. In addition, figuring out how to feed yourself well without resorting to eating out all of the time will save you money and ensure that you stay energized for the long term.
Building a Healthy Relationship with Food… and Your Body
Get label smart
Now that you are grocery shopping for yourself, it’s time to figure out how to make the right choices. If your local store has dietitian-led nutrition tours, sign up for one with some friends and it will change the way you buy food for the better.
The easiest way to shop smart is to focus on single ingredient, whole foods (Think apples. Millet. Beans.) and try to ignore the misleading nutrition information on packaged goods. It’s is more accurately termed marketing as opposed to education. Instead, read the ingredients and ask yourself, ‘does it read like a recipe or a chemistry experiment?’ – you know which you should choose.
Build a basic home kitchen
No matter how small your living space, you need to stock the basics for home cooking or you will never get yourself out of the take out rut. Keep it simple at first…there is a reason why IKEA sells so many of those ‘start boxes’.
Some of the kitchen tools you can’t live without:
- one good knife and a cutting board
- a frying pan, sauce pan and a baking sheet
- a grater, colander and food storage containers
- a bottle opener, can opener, measuring cups and spoons
- a ladle, whisk, spatula
- a blender and a handheld blender
Treat your body well
Yes, I know that all of your friends are going on the Gisele and Tom diet…but that doesn’t mean you should. In your twenties, it is still easy to convince yourself that life would be better without an extra five pounds. But believe me…you will dream of the body you have now when you are older. And if you’re sure that isn’t the case, work with a professional to determine the best way to get back to health.
Avoid fad diets like the plague and let intuition guide you in your food choices. Eat well as a way of being good to yourself, instead of as penance. Don’t consume 6 protein shakes a day because you think you’re not ripped enough. Move your body because is feels good – not to get skinny for your next vacation. You have bigger fish to fry…and way more fun coming your way…than to waste one minute obsessing over body shape.
Connect with others who share your wellness lifestyle and socialize over wellness – go to yoga together or play touch football on a Sunday. Sleep. Drink water. Eat your veggies. Host cookbook club potlucks and boost your kitchen skills. Nothing’s sexier than someone who can make you a good dinner in.
Get to Know Your Core Nutrient
Roughage might not seem like the sexiest of choices but if you have made it to your twenties without digestive trouble, fibre is what will help keep it that way. You can think of fibre as a kind of personal trainer for your gut: keeping it toned, helping move contents through at an appropriate pace (Detox curious? Fibre is real gut cleansing), improving appetite, keeping blood sugars stable and encouraging the growth of a beneficial, strong community of flora within your gut. Yes, fibre actually does all of that.
If digestive health issues like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are an issue, careful attention to the type of fibre may help bring relief while still nurturing a healthy gut. A focus on soluble fibre from foods like psyllium, oats, oranges and okra will be kinder to sensitive digestion.
A woman in her 20s needs 28 grams of fibre per day and a man needs 35 grams. Get there by switching over to whole and sprouted grains, piling on veggies, snacking on seeds and getting comfortable in the kitchen with plant-based proteins such as beans and organic tofu. Find a more detailed list of high fibre foods here.
Eat These Super (Simple) Food Picks
Tofu is a perfect protein for your 20s as it is inexpensive, easy to cook and contains as much calcium per portion as a glass of milk. You need to put as many deposits in the bone bank this decade as you can. It’s also a great way to pair fibre with your protein – for a healthy gut and natural appetite control. The natural plant compounds in soy even help boost gut health. If you can afford it, choose organic to eliminate soybeans that are genetically modified and processed with hexane. And no, tofu won’t give you man boobs.
Toss cubes of tofu in olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until firm for a quick snack or easy protein addition to meals. Stir-fry with lots of veggies and rice noodles. Slice smoked tofu for a no-cook sandwich filling or scramble it with veggies for an easy breakfast (or breakfast for dinner).
Berries are powerhouses because they have some of the highest fibre content of any of the fruits. They are also a fantastic way to indulge a sweet craving in a healthy way (candy bars are better left to the kiddies). Phyto-chemicals in berries help to fight oxidative and inflammatory damage caused by busy schedules, too many drinks and late nights. Making anti-inflammatory choices now ensures that you aren’t creating a whole bunch of cellular damage that is going to creep up on you in the decades to come (hello, wrinkles!)
Snack on fresh berries, mix into a chia pudding or add frozen berries to smoothies.
Cocktails and your twenties go together like…well, the PB & J of your childhood. The trouble is that it is socially acceptable to overdo it – constantly – and the damage you accumulate from excess alcohol consumption is going to rob you of the energy and vitality you should have access to right now.
So kombucha is my third pick for a couple of reasons. The first, that it contains beneficial bacteria that help to support a healthy gut…and the second? It’s a far more interesting, satisfying and lower sugar drink to sip when you are skipping the booze.
It also makes a good cocktail mixer. But keep it in moderation, folks. (In case you were wondering, moderation means one drink a day for women and two for men. Yup. That’s it.)
Common Nutrition-Related Health Concerns To Seek Help For
If you are starting to become preoccupied with food or how you look, don’t brush it off. Learn more here and go talk to your doc.
If you consistency drink to excess or your drinking is getting in the way of your work or relationships, seek help now before long term damage is done.
If you are worried about weight gain in your 20s and it is leading to concerns with blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol – get it in check now. Medications are just patches and there is no reason why lifestyle issues should be cropping up this young. Work with a registered dietitian to craft a healthy, whole foods eating plan that will keep a lifetime of medications at bay.