Even more important than shopping for healthy foods: actually eating them. When you get home from the store or farmer's market, bounty of fruits and veggies in tow, wash and chop them right away and store in a pretty glass container in your fridge. "Studies show that spending more time on food prep is linked to better eating habits," says Dr. Lipman. It's all about convenience—if they're ready for you, you'll grab them in a pinch. If not? It's chips and dip time. You can also do this with other foods, like making a batch of quinoa for the week or roasting a bunch of veggies to throw together for quick lunches.
Opt for recipes with variety. Try to get a variety of vegetables on your plate, such as dark leafy greens, beets, artichokes, onions, carrots, and cucumbers. Add cooked chickpeas, avocado, brown rice, baked sweet potato, hemp seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, and other foods rich in protein, fiber, and fat. Better yet, look for recipes that combine a variety of plant-based ingredients like Sweet Potato and Red Cabbage Slaw.
Ditching the habit and instead focus on good-for-you foods, says Frank Lipman, MD, integrative and functional medicine physician, founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center and author of The New Health Rules. Instead of how many calories, ask yourself where the food came from and if it's nutritious. "Healthy, nutrient-rich foods will keep hunger at bay, help maintain stable blood sugar levels, minimize cravings, and help your brain signal your belly when you're full," he says. In other words, you don't have to go through all the trouble of counting.
In general, healthy eating ingredients are found around the outer edges of most grocery stores, while the center aisles are filled with processed and packaged foods that aren’t good for you. Shop the perimeter of the store for most of your groceries (fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and poultry, whole grain breads and dairy products), add a few things from the freezer section (frozen fruits and vegetables), and visit the aisles for spices, oils, and whole grains (like rolled oats, brown rice, whole wheat pasta).
But the psychological or spiritual effect can't be discounted, says Dillard. "People love the idea of cleansing, of purification rituals, going to the Ganges, to the spa. It has powerful psychological, religious, spiritual meaning. That has its own positive effect on health. But we need to separate that from saying this is science or good medicine."