How many times have you been told that your favorite beverage is actually great for your health, only to have the next “groundbreaking” study call it the root of heart disease? How often have you seen a so-called “superfood” suddenly villianized by a caprices of public opinion? With all the misinformation out there, picking out healthy foods can seem like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. One day you “have” to eat avocados. The next, they’re killing you. I can only imagine what we’ll be told about them tomorrow…
We all want to eat healthy food. Or at least, we all want to be healthy. That’s why it’s so stressful trying to figure out what is and is not ok to eat. I know this has always been one of my biggest pet peeves when researching nutrition. So you google “healthy foods”, and results like “the 10 superfood” and “3 foods that are killing you” come up. Well, I don’t want to eat just 10 foods. And when “protein powders” and “bananas” qualify as unhealthy, it starts becoming difficult to trust what you’re reading. So what do you do? Well you research a little further, and you end up with a mountain of studies telling you about every nutrient known to man and what happens if you don’t get it. But that’s just confusing.
This article is meant to help cut through the confusion. Eating healthy is not as complicated as people make it. After all, people have managed to be healthy since long before they knew anything about vitamins and macro-nutrients. Really, a healthy diet is like an ecosystem. You may prefer the beach over the swamp, but for the plants and animals that live there, their ecosystem works perfectly. They don’t need white sand and waves to survive, just balance and all the basic necessities.
As you go down this list, you’ll see four points to help you choose healthy food. As always, I’m not here to give you a meal plan. We all get in moods and have our own cravings, so restricting your diet to set meals only makes life harder. My goal here is simple. I want to help you learn how to build a healthy menu. Eat what you want, just know what it’s doing for you. Have lasagna tonight, but know how it affects your health. After reading this article, you should be able to do just that – figure out what foods are healthy for you.
1. Set Goals
Do you want to gain weight? Lose weight? Just maintain your current situation? Do you want to lower your risk for certain diseases? All of these things are dietary goals. There’s no one diet that fits all. My goal is to lose a few more pounds of fat. So to do that, I know I have to eat less food than I normally would. Some of you out there my suffer from heart conditions where you need a lower sodium intake. My diet would not be ideal for you, because that’s not one of my goals. And yours, likewise, would probably not help me lose weight. But by focusing on our goals, we both can create a diet that’s right for us.
There’s no one diet that’s healthy for everyone. We all have different needs, and different goals. So always have those goals in mind when planning your meals.
2. Know What Your Body Needs
As we said above, we all have different needs. However, there are certain base nutrients that everyone needs in their diet. Make sure you’re not lacking any of these necessary things. Now that doesn’t mean delving into scientific studies on nutrition. Actually, most people get enough of these nutrients just from their regular diet. However, you should take a minute to consider anything you might be missing. The FDA provides a great tool for figuring out your nutritional needs. Looking at the chart, use the “where is it found column”. Are there any boxes full of foods you don’t eat, or have infrequently? If so, research further to see if you are getting enough of that nutrient in your diet.
Another important question: Do you have any dietary retrictions? If you’re lactose intolerant, for example, it’s quite obvious that you calcium is a concern for healthy eating. If you’re a vegan, it’s possible that you need a Vitamin B12 supplement to balance your diet. As always, consulting with your doctor can go a long way. A medical professional can help you identify areas of concern, and learn how to address them in your eating.
Unless you are told otherwise, it’s generally advised to take a daily multivitamin. This is not a way of replacing healthy eating, but rather a way to augment it. After all, you may miss your quota on a nutrient or two. Multivitamins help balance that deficit.
4. Avoid Bad Foods
Yes, there are, in fact, bad foods. And like good foods, what they are often varies person to person. The aforementioned avocado obviously has a lot of necessary vitamins in it. However, for someone trying to lose weight, the high-calorie content of an avocado may make it “unhealthy” – in the sense of not helping them reach their goal.
There are also foods that are flat unhealthy for everyone. Most fried and processed foods carry some serious health concerns, and should be kept to a minimum. Just one thing that stands out to me is trans fat. Trans fat(the artificial kind, not the natural one) is more or less a science experiment with your food. Hydrogen atoms are pumped into oils to lengthen shelf-life and improve taste (That’s the “hydrogenated” on the ingredients list). The resulting product is full of trans fats, which up the risk of heart and cardiovascular disease, along with type 2 diabetes. Maybe it’s just me, but oils pumped full of hydrogen sounds completely repulsive.
Now avoiding trans fat can be a little challenging. Companies can claim “0g Trans Fat” on nutrition labels if the serving has less than half a gram of trans fat. So if the serving size is three cookies, and you eat ten, you’re obviously getting more than a gram of trans fat. But because of the technicality, you may not even realize it. That’s why I advise avoiding fried and processed foods. You can’t do so all the time(or, at least, it’s very difficult). But if you prepare most of your meals, exposure to additives and trans fats can be kept to a minimum.
So those are my four tips to eating healthy. Obviously, there are always new things to learn, and (my favorite) new foods to discover. Just remember, eating healthy is just that – eating for your health. When you know what you need, and what you don’t, all that’s left to do is implement. And with all the food choices out there, implementation is as easy as ever!
One thing, though. We all eat unhealthy food at times. I love being healthy, but life without ice cream isn’t living. So how can you eat healthy while still having your favorite foods? Using dieting jargon: have a cheat day! Next week, I’ll delve into the specifics of how to have a cheat day without ruining your healthy lifestyle. There are lots of fun questions to answer about splurging without overdoing it. If you have one, feel free to send it in.
Alright everyone, get out there and eat healthy!
Until Next Time,
The Veggie Novelist