According to new research, we eat the most visible and convenient foods—even if they aren’t the healthiest choices. But by using smart strategies, we can make healthy eating easy by ensuring the right foods are at our fingertips.
Look at your kitchen counter—it may reveal how much extra weight you’re carrying. Research shows that whatever food is most visible on our countertops or most convenient at the grocery store has a significant impact on our weight and health.
These simple strategies ensure healthy foods are visible and accessible in our day-to-day lives.
Spring clean your kitchen counter
Recent research shows a connection between what’s on your counter and what’s on your hips. A Cornell University study that involved photographing women’s kitchens found a correlation between what was on the counters and the women’s weight.
If there was a box of cookies or bag of potato chips on a subject’s kitchen counter, the subject weighed about 8 lb (3.5 kg) more than the norm. If cereal was visible, the participant weighed 20 lb (9 kg) more. The biggest offender? Soft drinks. Even one can of diet soda was associated with an increase of about 25 lb (11.5 kg) per person.
In contrast, if the participant had a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter, they weighed approximately 13 lb (6 kg) less.
The takeaway? Take a close look at what’s visible when you’re standing in your kitchen. If you see cookies, potato chips, or boxes of cereal, put them away. Out of sight, out of mind. Make those unhealthy foods inconvenient and even difficult to eat; this may help to keep you from eating mindlessly.
Store healthy snack foods in clear glass containers
“I use small glass containers with lids to store all my cooked vegetables and ready-to-eat produce in the fridge,” says Stacey Isaacs, a chef with a master’s degree in oriental medicine. “If you see stacks of clear containers filled with colourful veggies, you will eat them first. The same goes for berries.”
Use inexpensive Mason jars to store raw (not roasted or salted) organic nuts, which are unprocessed and have no additives. Remember, however, that nuts are high in fat. Be careful not to munch mindlessly, even on healthy foods.
Dried fruit—without sugar added—is a better alternative than sugary treats, but even dried fruit was associated with extra pounds in the Cornell countertop study. It should be consumed in moderation.
Fresh fruit is usually the better choice. Isaacs says a decorative tray for fresh fruit on your kitchen counter is more effective than a bowl because the fruits are easier to see.
When healthy foods are displayed prominently and attractively, you aren’t as likely to search through your kitchen cupboards, looking for junk food.
Tip: Stay fresh
Keep your tray of fruit fresh by putting it in the fridge before you go to bed.
Pay attention to music and lighting
Recently, researchers gave fast food restaurants a makeover to test the notion that relaxed environments with soft lighting and mellow music encourage diners to eat more. Surprisingly, quiet music and soft lighting led diners to eat 175 fewer calories and to enjoy their meals more. The music and lighting didn’t change what people ordered, but it did lead them to eat less of their order and to report increased satisfaction with the food.
Soft lighting is one thing; hardly being able to see our food is another, and it appears to have the opposite effect. When participants in a recent study ate in the dark, those who unknowingly received “super-size” meals ate 36 percent more food than those who received more modest portions—and yet there was no difference in how full they felt.
Examine your food radius
We tend to make most of our food choices within about 5 km (3 mi) of where we live—our “food radius.” Living in areas with more fast food outlets, convenience stores, and liquor stores and with fewer supermarkets and grocers has been correlated with increased rates of obesity.
It’s easy to operate on autopilot when frequenting our usual grocery store or go-to restaurant, mindlessly selecting whatever is featured most prominently, conveniently, and attractively.
Men may be especially susceptible to staying within their food radius. New research conducted in Canada’s five largest cities found that men will eat more fruits and veggies if there are more healthy food outlets near their home. There was no such correlation for women, who appeared willing to go farther afield for food.
Simply becoming aware of how powerful the concept of convenience is can help us make choices that energize and nourish our bodies. Whether we’re at our favourite restaurant or in our own kitchen, we can ensure that the healthiest, most life-giving foods are at our fingertips.
Tip: The right kind of convenient
Buy pre-cut veggies to save time and to ensure healthy options are ready when a snack attack hits.
Apps for healthy food choices
If you want to take a closer look at your food radius or make wholesome foods more convenient, use your smartphone.
Healthy eating apps can help you
- find local food by listing nearby farmers’ markets and organic farms (e.g. Farmstand)
- track what’s in season in your area and select the freshest produce (e.g. Seasons)
- find alternatives to foods you wish to avoid, such as genetically modified foods (e.g. True Food)
- scan barcodes to uncover the total calories, fat, sodium, and artificial additives in a given food, and decide whether to buy or avoid it (e.g. Edibly)
- remember to take your supplements to ensure your nutritional needs are being met—especially on days when eating well is a challenge (VitaMinder)
- select sustainable seafood options by showing you the ratings of different types of fish and shellfish (Seafood Watch)