Tanya’s Kitchen: The Basics

As you may know from my running story I did not grow up with a healthy diet. Three years ago, I decided to create healthier eating habits for me and my family. Fed up with feeling crummy and reeling to make a change, I went to our cupboards and took out anything that had more than three ingredients that I did not recognize. My husband came home, took one look in the cupboard, and commented there was nothing left to eat. I knew then and there that it would take quite a bit of work to find food that my family would actually eat AND that met my new healthy standard. To lessen the risk of starving my family or instigating a full scale revolt, I decided to start with the basics and incorporate this transition a bit more slowly.

The first thing I did was research oils. Just when I would find a study on which oils are best, I would find another article with an opposing argument. What it came down to for me was finding healthy oils that fit our cooking habits. For high temperature cooking we use grapeseed oil because it can be heated to the highest temperature and still remain non-toxic. For baking we use coconut oil in place of butter. It has a delicious, sweet taste and makes baked goods light and fluffy. Although coconut oil is high in saturated fat, there are many arguments that it also has health benefits when used sparingly. We also add a tad bit of  toasted sesame oil to some dishes just for flavoring, not for cooking. For the remainder of our cooking needs we use extra virgin olive oil for its multiple health benefits and delicious robust taste.

Oils are great sources of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids.  These acids have been proven to provide multiple health benefits such as reducing bad cholesterol and improving overall heart heath. There are already many sources of omega-6 in the traditional western diet from the oils used to cook or preserve foods, but most people lack enough omega-3 in their daily intake. Some of the best sources for omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water fish, flax seed, soy, and walnuts. Getting fat from healthy oils is great for your nutrition, but remember you should consider the oil you eat as part of your daily fat intake. One tablespoon of oil often equals 9 to 14 grams of fat.

After I switched out our oils, I decided to tackle processed sugar. Once again, to my poor husband’s chagrin, I took the drastic approach and eliminated all white sugar from our house. I did a lot of research and used my family as guinea pigs to taste test natural sugar alternatives. We did not really care for the aftertaste of stevia or the sweetness of agave. However I found that for the most part I could use honey, pure maple syrup, or even puréed fruit to sweeten our food. When I buy products from the store, I try my best to buy items sweetened similarly. If there is cane sugar in a product I make sure it is far down on the ingredient list and amounts to as little grams of sugar per serving as possible. As a practice I try to limit the amount of sweeteners in any product to 12 grams of “sugar” or less per serving, even if it is non-processed sugar such as honey or maple.

Grains are complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential for providing long lasting energy, however we all know that too many carbs can leave you bloated and heavy. In our family we do our best to watch our grain intake every day. When we do have carbs from grains we make sure they count toward our health, like whole wheat and brown rice. We especially love the light and easy-to-digest quinoa. I tried to incorporate different types of flour into our diet, but found that it was pretty spendy and time consuming. I love all the gluten-free alternatives that are available, but since no one in my family is sensitive to gluten, I'm taking the easy route for now.

Protein and dairy are somewhat of a contention in my household. I personally don't like to eat meat. I am content to get my protein from other sources such as nuts and legumes. However, the rest of my family enjoys meat. I really have no moral objection to eating animal products, but do have concerns regarding the chemicals used in farming practices today. For this reason, whenever possible, I buy organic meat. Because light and lean meats like chicken, turkey, and fish, provide protein with the least amount of fat and cholesterol, I choose to buy them instead of red meat or pork. But once in a while we treat ourselves to a hamburger at a barbecue or a restaurant.

I prefer to drink soy milk but I also keep organic cow’s milk in stock for my boys. I also eat eggs as long as they are organic and/or hormone free. We enjoy cheese and butter but eat them sparingly. One of my family’s breakfast favorites is plain greek yogurt sweetened with homemade granola and berries. It's a healthier alternative to boxed cereals and less time consuming than making steel cut oats so we eat it almost every day.

My family has always been good about eating fruits and vegetables. However, as I stated before, I believe there are far too many chemicals used in farming today and I definitely don’t want  those chemicals going directly into our bodies. I’d love to buy everything organic, but unfortunately that doesn't fit our budget. As an alternative, I adopted the practice of using the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen List. This list identifies the twelve types of produce most likely to have the highest chemical exposure and/or content. I try to always buy the organic option of these items. It is also a good practice to eat many different colors of fruits and vegetables daily to get a good array of vitamins provided by the variety. I've heard this referred to as "eating a rainbow" a day. It is amazing how many green leafy vegetables my two boys will consume when mixed in a delicious fruit and veggie "rainbow" smoothie!

When I want to add flavor or spice to my meals, I use fresh herbs and garlic. Most foods contain added salt, so I try to use it as little as possible. A healthy salt alternative is Braggs Liquid Aminos. I use it to add a salty flavor in all kinds of dishes from Asian cuisine to homemade soups.

It is worthy to note the importance of staying hydrated. The best source for hydration is water. We do not drink soda or juice besides the “green juice” (made from veggies and fruits) we put in our smoothies. I also love to drink coffee or tea every day. Both are fine as long as they not loaded with cream and sugar.

I am way too impatient to count every calorie that I put into my body. Instead I think about eating balanced every day. Through researching nutrition books and websites I have a general idea of about how much (quantity and portion) I should eat from each food group and I make my best effort to stay within those parameters. A great website to check out for nutritional information is the USDA website.

For those of you interested in percentages here are the nutrition guidelines that I keep in the back of my head throughout the day.
  • Carbohydrates = 1000 calories or 250 grams daily
  • Protein = 200 calories or 50 grams daily
  • Fat = 500 calories or 50 grams daily with a  limited amount of saturated fat and zero trans fat
  • Sugar* = less than 100 calories or 32 grams daily
    • *I do not count naturally occurring sugars in foods such as fruit or milk in this category
  • Dairy = 2-3 servings of low fat dairy per day. A serving of milk or yogurt is equal to one cup and a serving of cheese is 1.5 oz.
  • Fruits and Vegetables = 2-3 servings of each per day. I personally do not count the naturally occurring sugar or calories in either of my fruits and veggies. I also tend to eat more than 2-3 servings per day considering that a serving size of undried fruits* and veggies is one cup.
    • *Beware of eating dried fruit, it often contains added sugar. Even if it doesn’t, small quantities contain large amounts of naturally occurring sugar that add up quickly. I find it is best to eat dried fruits as a treat.
  • The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake of fluid for women is 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day, with an added 1.5 to 2.5 cups and beyond when you exercise.
  • Remember your weight gain or loss depends on calories in versus calories out. These numbers are based on a 2000 calorie per day diet, with the assumption of at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day. Also, remember that the way calories are stored and burned depend on the food source the calories came from and your unique metabolism.
Once again I want to reiterate that this information is all based on my own research. I am not a doctor or a nutritionist and I make no promises of their accuracy. However, I can attest to what an amazing improvement it has made on my health, weight, and energy level by adopting these practices along with my daily exercise.  I wish you the best in adopting or maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.

From my kitchen to yours,


  1. Tanya, it is so interesting to look into someone else's kitchen! Thanks for the peek into yours. Our family could use a lot of this advice to eat healthier.

  2. Sure Raina! I have learned much of my healthy eating knowledge not only from books, but also by spending a lot of time in the kitchens of many friends. We have so much we can share and learn from eachother. I am excited to have the opportunity to learn and share more about healthy eating in the future. Take care!

  3. I buy only organic meats that clearly state no antibiotics were used, ever. The FQ antibiotics used in farm animals are absolutely aweful for the human body!