You may think you’re doing everything right, but these mistakes are sabotaging your success.
This article was originally written by Emily Laurence for Well+Good.
Your morning workouts are a reality, meal prep has become a weekend ritual, and you’ve officially become known as the person who has smoothie dates instead of happy hour meet-ups. In other words, you’re all about those healthy living #goals.
Chances are, you feel great—and you should. But NAO Nutrition founder and holistic nutritionist Nikki Ostrower has found that even her most committed clients often do things to undermine their diets—without knowing it.
Whether it’s the juice you grab in the a.m. or the fact that you’re skipping breakfast entirely in the morning, the expert runs through the eating habits big and small that might be dimming your healthy glow.
The good news? Everything is easy to change.
Keep reading for 8 food mistakes even healthy people make.
1. Using boxed nut milks
Making the switch from dairy milk to nut milk is a good one, but in Ostrower’s opinion, not all alt-milks are created equal. “A lot of boxed almond milk is just as processed as dairy milk,” she says. “Many brands use preservatives and add in synthetic vitamins or minerals as well as sweeteners.” Instead, she suggests making your own almond milk, soaking one-third cup of almonds per one cup of nut milk overnight. (And if you’re into cashew milk, it’s crazy easy to make.) “If you’re using it for smoothies, you don’t even need to strain it,” she says. “The nut percentage will be higher, so you’ll be getting even more fiber and vitamin E.”
Another sippable faux pas Ostrower sees over and over? Reaching for grab-and-go juices and smoothies. “[Ones] made with different fruits can be very high in sugar,” she says. “Some have up to 22 to 30 grams, which is over 6 teaspoons!” (To put things in perspective, you should only be having 25 grams of sugareach day.)
To make sure you’re going for something nutrient-dense, her tip is to look for options that are made with one fruit only, leaving the rest of the ingredient list to veggies. And if you can find a fruit that’s low in sugar? Even better.
3. Not eating before a workout
It’s hard enough to make that a.m. spin class, but carving out time to eat something beforehand? Ostrower says it’s without a doubt worth setting your alarm clock back that extra 15 minutes. “Your body wants fuel; it doesn’t want to be working out on caffeine or nothing at all,” she claims. “If you don’t give your body fuel to burn, you end up leeching minerals and nutrients from your own body.”
It’s bad news for your metabolism, too. “Not eating before a workout puts the body in a fight-or-flight state, which lowers it,” our expert adds. Her easy fix: Eat a hard boiled egg, a little leftover chicken or sweet potato, or a nutrition bar before you start sweating.
No matter the time of day, going for long stretches without eating can put your body into that same fight-or-flight state, Ostrower argues. “The body craves routine,” she says, adding that it’s best to eat around the same time each day.
She also points out that smaller meals are easier to digest than overloading the body with a lot all at once—score one for the snack break.
You’ve officially deleted Seamless from your phone and have committed to cooking at home on the reg—but if you want to reap as many health benefits as you can, Ostrower says to think about what you’re cooking your (highly Instagrammable, surely delicious) meals in.
That’s because a lot of sprays are loaded with chemicals. Her advice is to swap them out—and while you’re at it, replace them with coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, or even animal fat. “These oils are full of nutrients and are also anti-inflammatory,” she notes. Hey, might as well get an extra dose of healthy fats from the get-go.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you already know it can be a little tricky to get your protein fill—and doubly hard on those nights when you’re stuck at the office late or getting in a post-work fitness class. “A lot of people rely on veggie burgers, but so many of them contain processed protein like seitan or genetically modified soy,” Ostrower says. The key is to be a mindful label reader and go for brands that are organic, non-GMO, and only use whole food ingredients, she says.
But meat eaters, you aren’t off the hook either. “Look for meat labeled organic, grass-fed or even wildto ensure what you’re eating wasn’t given hormones or fed GMO seeds,” she adds. Oh, and a word on fish: Either buy fresh, frozen, or in a pouch—not canned. “The aluminum can leak into the food,” Ostrower notes.
In our expert’s opinion, there’s a time and place to do a juice or soup cleanse—and that time is not immediately after downing fried food and cocktails on vacay. “I only recommend that people who are already being healthy do them, because otherwise your body will detox too quickly,” she says. “In those cases, I suggest doing a whole-foods cleanse.”
But if you’re already in a healthy mindset and just want to do some spring cleaning, gut-wise, Ostrower recommends limiting your regimen to three to five days. Also key: Go with a program that’s been vetted thoroughly, with more veggie-based sips and very little sugary fruit.
Salads are the OG healthy meal, and most people already know topping your salad with a thick, creamy dressing is a pitfall. But asking for a low-fat version isn’t the solution. “Many have added sugar and processed stabilizers,” Ostrower explains.
Her hack? When you’re eating out, ask for olive oil and lemon. And if you’re at home, make your own creamy all-natural dressing by mixing avocado, olive oil, and a little dijon mustard. Yes, you can be thatgirl who makes her own kickass salad dressing—you’re already halfway there.