It’s a new year—the perfect opportunity to have a fresh start with your diet and lifestyle. But in the midst of a pandemic, this year is anything but normal. You might be thinking more closely about what healthy and positive habits can help you reach your health goals this year.
While there are many things out in the market that you can easily purchase to turn your home into a wellness sanctuary, not all health products are absolutely necessary. We spoke to some of Parsley’s health coaches to round up the things you don’t need to be healthy, and what you can do instead. (Spoiler alert: Going back to basics is always a tried and true approach.)
Although adaptogenic lattes and ready-made drinks suped-up with probiotics , CBD, adaptogens , and nootropics are a nice pick-me-up, they may not fit into your budget and could be more harmful than helpful if you don’t necessarily need the extra supplements .
“Certain people need certain adaptogens and that should be decided with the care of a medical professional and health coach,” explains Jessie Lucking , a certified health coach at Parsley Health. “If you take adaptogens you don’t need every day, it can potentially throw your body out of balance and be harmful. And with drinks, it’s hard to know what the exact dosages of the adaptogens are.”
So before you introduce adaptogens or any supplement into your routine, make sure to consult your doctor to ensure you’re using the appropriate herbs to support your body and health.
Instead of purchasing these lattes and drink blends, Bethany Hollie Tait, RDN, LDN , a registered dietitian and health coach at Parsley Health, suggests trying herbal teas with calming ingredients like chamomile or holy basil, which allow you to reap the stress-relieving benefits of adaptogens without breaking the bank. Many store-bought herbal teas will list the exact ingredients and may also share their dosages, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.
When you’re grocery shopping, it’s easy to fall for packaged snacks that claim to be “gluten -free,” “plant-based,” “keto-approved” or “Paleo -friendly,” especially if they’re foods you normally love, like crackers, chips, and protein bars. But these foods aren’t essential for healthy eating, and these marketing claims may just be boosting the overall price of the snack.
You shouldn’t “pay for ‘gluten-free’ packaged products containing foods that do not naturally contain gluten anyway! Unless you have celiac disease, for example, there is no need to buy ‘gluten-free nuts,’” Tait says.
Instead, aim for whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, which are naturally low-carb, gluten-free, and free from added sugars. One way you can make healthier food choices is by shopping the perimeter of the grocery and focusing on the produce and butcher sections, Lucking says.
“Your best bet is to avoid things that come in a box, which tend to contain food dyes, chemicals, and a certain level of hormones that can start to take an effect on your health. It’s always better to stick to whole-food products,” Lucking says.
You can use these simple whole-food ingredients to make DIY snacks that are naturally healthy and low-carb, Tait says.
For example, Erin D’Elia Assenza , a certified health coach at Parsley Health, says you can make your own low-sugar granola with oats, nuts, pure maple syrup, and ground cinnamon, and chickpea snacks with a can of chickpeas with your choice of seasonings.
Speaking of whole foods, you certainly don’t need to buy ALL organic produce to be healthy. While organic and conventional produce doesn’t differ dramatically in terms of fiber , vitamins, and minerals, organic produce is free of pesticide residues that can interfere with the endocrine system and tend to contain more concentrated amounts of antioxidants , which help to reduce oxidative stress.
D’Elia Assenza suggests looking into the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, which ranks conventionally grown foods that have the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residue. “These are great reference points for when you can buy conventional produce and where you need to spend for organic,” she explains.
If you want to eat seasonally and buy affordable organic produce, D’Elia Assenza recommends considering Misfits Market , which is a subscription box that delivers certified organic and non-GMO produce to your door.
Following specific diets, such as keto and intermittent fasting , might be all the craze, but they’re not the only way to improve your health. Diets are highly individualized, D’Elia Assenza explains, so it’s best to work with a clinician to determine a diet that will meet your health goals before diving into anything too restrictive.
“Some people may feel better on keto or Whole30, but eliminating certain food groups from your diet means eliminating certain nutrients your body needs,” Lucking warns.
Eating plenty of vegetables, protein, and healthy fats with every meal should be at the core of your diet, D’Elia Assenza says. “Consider following the 80-20 approach to eating, in which you eat whole foods 80 percent of the time and with the other 20 percent, allow yourself to enjoy things that don’t fall into those boundaries, like wine and chocolate. This allows you to have a more positive relationship with food,” she explains.
Although the nutrients in vegetables and fruits you find in many juice cleanses , like leafy greens and beets, support natural detoxification of the body, juice cleanses can be destabilizing to your blood sugar, Lucking says. Because they lack fiber, juices aren’t as filling as enjoying a whole fruit itself. Not to mention, they can also be expensive.
“Wonderful herbs in teas can be used instead to gently detoxify. Err away from anything that is too intense. Your body is built to heal itself and no intense interventions are needed,” she says.
Tait also advises trying a few other strategies to help your body naturally detoxify : Drink plenty of water, exercise at least twice a week to help you sweat, which helps move toxins out of your body, and eat cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts, at least three days a week.
“Crucifers induce detoxification enzymes, and they also contain chlorophyll—another detox booster,” Tait says.
She also recommends drinking a liver-supportive herbal tea, like dandelion root, in the morning. “Your liver is the detox power plant of the body,” she says.
And a daily self-massage doesn’t hurt, either. After showering, you can apply some lotion or oil to your body and add a lymphatic massage . “Making a C-shape with your thumbs and index fingers, squeeze the fluid from your extremities (hands and feet) toward your heart. This supports the removal of toxins and the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your cells,” Tait says.
With the emergence of vegan-friendly meat alternatives that mimic the taste, texture, and overall look of beef, you might be wondering if they’re actually any good for you. But the reality is that many of these packaged plant-based burgers contain questionable ingredients , D’Elia Assenza says.
“Eating animal meat can be part of a healthy diet. If you want to limit your meat intake, try following Meatless Mondays and make your own plant-based burgers at home with black beans, mushrooms, and beets,” D’Elia Assenza says.
If you want to focus on eating more plant-based proteins, Lucking recommends making legumes, nuts and seeds, and tofu and tempeh a bigger part of your diet.
Wouldn’t it be nice to own a fancy exercise bike or a high-tech home gym equipped with a squat rack and shelves filled with dumbbells and kettlebells? Alas, even if you aren’t able to get your hands on these coveted exercise tools, it doesn’t mean your workout routine has to take a backseat.
You can get your heart pumping and your blood flowing by using your own bodyweight. Squats, push-ups, planks, leg raises, and triceps dips are just some examples of bodyweight exercises that don’t require any fitness equipment.
D’Elia Assenza likes Obe Fitness’ online workouts, which use everyday objects like towels in place of sliders to level up bodyweight exercises. For cardio, consider going for a run or jumping rope.
“If you work in front of a computer, be sure to take mini movement breaks every 30 minutes and do some hip circles, arm circles, neck circles, jumping jacks, and squats,” Tait says.
The most important thing is to ensure you’re getting a good mix of strength training, cardio, and mobility work into your routine throughout the week, Lucking says. You can also get more movement in your day by stepping outside.
“Being in nature can improve your overall wellness, reduce stress, and help you sleep better,” Lucking says. “Get out in the morning and seize the sunlight. Limit your exposure to blue light from screens throughout the day because they prevent your melatonin levels from rising, which regulates sleep.”
You might have seen trainers and fitness influencers use these electronic handheld devices as part of their post-workout routine. The benefit of using a massage gun is that it gets into hard-to-target areas and applies consistent pressure to rigid, knotted muscles, making them more pliable. While they can certainly help loosen up tight muscles, you can also promote healing and recovery with a foam roller.
“Foam rolling, or even using a tennis ball, can help you work out any tension you have and is a much more inexpensive option,” D’Elia Assenza says.
Foam rolling works by promoting self-myofascial release, which helps make your muscles more flexible, according to the American Council on Exercise .
“You want to make sure you’re using a pharmaceutical-grade product and that you talk to your doctor about the right dosage,” Lucking says.
In general, you don’t want to use supplements, like CBD, as a bandage over your health issues. Lucking recommends working with a doctor or health coach to help you identify the root causes of these pain points and problems.
“Just like any other supplement or medication, you don’t want your body to be dependent on it forever. You should work to figure out the lifestyle factors that contribute to your issues,” Lucking says. “The bottom line is that we can use these supplements to help break down barriers between us and healing, but they shouldn’t be something that you’ll need forever.”
New sleep products and wearables are all nice devices to have, especially if you suffer from insomnia or other sleep disturbances, but they may not be useful for everyone.
“You have to know yourself. Some people like the accountability, but for others who become obsessed, it might not be a good option. Learning how to listen to your body instead of relying on an app can be very powerful,” D’Elia Assenza says.
You can get better sleep at night by supporting your circadian rhythm naturally, Tait says. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every night, even on the weekends, and make sure to get morning sunlight to support serotonin production, she suggests. If you must read from your phone or computer before bed, consider using an app that filters out blue light from your devices at night. This ensures blue light doesn’t interfere with your body’s natural melatonin levels that rise in the evening to prepare you for sleep.
If you enjoy any of these things, great! They can all be part of your wellness routine, especially if recommended by your provider or health coach. But know that if you don’t have access to them or don’t feel like they fit with your lifestyle, you don’t need anything fancy to start your health journey. And if you need extra support on getting started, Parsley Health’s clinicians can help you develop a health plan that works for you.
Tiffany Ayuda is a New York City-based editor and writer passionate about fitness, nutrition, health, and wellness. She has held previous editorial roles at Prevention, Eat This, Not That, Daily Burn, and Everyday Health. Tiffany is also a certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise. When she's not writing or breaking up a sweat, Tiffany enjoys cooking up healthy meals in her Brooklyn kitchen.