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How to Eat Healthy
There is so much information out there about how to eat healthy. But oftentimes this information turns out to be wrong. Or only part of a much bigger picture.
First saturated fat and cholesterol are the norm. Then we are told to avoid them like the plague. Then we are told they are ok but should be consumed in moderation. It’s enough to make your head spin!
Every year we hear about the latest and greatest research. And every year, there is a new idea about what it means to eat healthy.
It’s no wonder people are confused. Our health is what allows us to live a long and happy life. So it’s in our best interest to ensure we have optimal nutrition. But what is optimal nutrition?
The aim of this article is to give you a simple but effective approach to eating healthy.
Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Food
What is healthy food?
So what is healthy food? Healthy food is food that comes in a natural state. Or as close to it as possible. Think of an apple growing on a tree (one that hasn’t been sprayed with carcinogenic pesticides and insecticides).
Food in its natural state is unprocessed and free from chemical additives.
You could say that healthy food is simply real food. Not man made food.
By eating real food, you are taking a huge step towards eating healthy.
What is unhealthy food?
Unhealthy food is just the opposite of healthy food. Unhealthy food is anything that isn’t in its natural state. Take a box of cereal for example. Cereal does not grow in the ground, live in the ocean or can be plucked from a tree. Cereal is a great example of a food that is highly processed with many chemical additives.
Fun fact: studies have shown that the cardboard used to make cereal boxes is more nutritious than the cereal itself.
Just so you know, the reason food is processed is to increase the shelf life of the product. A product that can sit on a shelf longer, essentially means that more can be sold. It’s just business. It’s not about sustaining you or your health.
Whole Foods vs Processed Foods
We obviously need food to sustain our bodies. Food is a form of energy that our body can breakdown and use.
But there is a big difference between whole foods and processed foods. I.e. real food versus man made food.
Whole foods come with everything your body needs to assimilate it. This includes macronutrients, micronutrients, phytonutrients, enzymes, fibre, etc.
Unfortunately man made food can lose a lot of these essential components from processing, especially when heated to high temperatures. And so, man made food does not come with everything you body needs to assimilate it.
You might be wondering, so if it doesn’t come with everything, then how does how body break it down and use it? I’m glad you asked!
In order to break down and use man made food, our bodies have to pull on natural stores of different nutrients. This is probably fine from time to time but its not sustainable for long periods.
You can see here why people become nutrient deficient.
It’s important to note that some types of processing are much worse than others. For example, heating foods to very high temperatures to increase the shelf life versus mechanical pressing to extra juice or oil. Both of these are a form of processing but the latter still retains nutritional value. A good example of this is extra virgin olive oil.
So you can see how there is a lot of grey area. Nothing is black and white. But the point I’m trying to make is to try and eat real food in its natural state as much as possible. The more you learn about different processing methods, the better decisions you can make regarding food consumption.
This is probably a boring section but worth scratching the surface.
Feel free to skip to the Healthy Eating Tips section below.
So what is a nutrient? Well, a nutrient is a substance that gives us energy, which supports all our bodily functions. Nutrients are categorized by how much our bodies need them. Hence why we use the terms macro and micro.
What are macronutrients?
The nutrients that our bodies need the most are macronutrients, which consist of fat (lipids), carbohydrates and protein.
For some reason I’ve always remembered how many calories each contains per gram. Even before studying to become a personal trainer.
Fat = 9 calories per gram
Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
Protein = 4 calories per gram
Some people even consider alcohol to be a macronutrient, which has 7 calories per gram.
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals.
The term ‘micro’ is used here because our bodies require less of these nutrient types compared to the 3 macronutrients mentioned above.
As I touched on earlier, wholefoods (like fruits and vegetables) come with the exact amount of vitamins and minerals needed to take in the food being consumed. Something that man made processed foods do not.
What are phytochemicals or phytonutrients?
Phytochemicals aka phytonutrients are nutrients that are found in plants including: fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, herbs and spices.
These nutrients are essential to plants and help them survive but research has also shown them to boost human health.
Fruits and vegetables have thousands of phytonutrients within each. Each of these chemicals do something different but the more we study them the bigger the benefit list gets. They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They can prevent cancer and disease. They can eliminate toxins from the body. And they can support the health of specific parts of our bodies.
For example, carrots contain a small group of phytonutrients called carotenoids. There are two called lutein and zeaxanthin that have been shown to improve eye health and reduce the risk of certain eye conditions like macular degeneration. And that is just 2 out of thousands of phytonutrients in a carrot. Imagine all the other benefits!
I could also talk about enzymes and fibre but I’ll leave that for another post.
The best thing about wholefoods, is that they come with everything mentioned above. You don’t need to worry about counting calories or taking a vitamin C pill every day.
Just eat real food 🙂
Healthy Eating Tips
Below you will find 20 healthy eating tips in no particular order (just off the top of my head).
1. Just eat real food (JERF).
2. Buy a variety of wholefoods.
3. Pick fruits and vegetables of different colors.
4. Think twice before buying packaged food.
5. Focus on foods that are grown, not processed.
6. Buy organic and biodynamic foods if budget allows.
7. If you can’t buy organic, then buy more fruits and vegetables that have a protective and removable layer (e.g. onions, avocados, oranges, etc).
8. Think of wholefoods as an investment in your health, not an expense.
9. Snack on fruit or nuts instead of junk food.
10. Forget about all the low-fat products.
11. If you need more protein, opt for plant-based instead of animal-based protein.
12. Plan and prepare healthy meals in advance.
13. Cook at home as much as possible.
14. Go to farmers markets when possible.
15. If shopping at a supermarket, stick to the perimeter (this is generally where all the real food is).
16. Make your own juice.
17. Eat mindfully (don’t just inhale your food, actually take the time to taste every bite).
18. Eat everything in moderation (i.e. mix it up every day).
19. Always have healthy food options available or within sight.
20. Just eat real food (JERF).
How to eat healthy on a budget
You might be thinking, ‘Max that list is all well and good, but I can’t afford to eat healthy. Everything is so expensive these days!’
And you would be right. It is generally more expensive to eat healthy. Especially when buying organic and biodynamic produce. But there are definitely some tricks and strategies you can implement to eat healthy on a budget.
Just so you know it’s possible, I have a friend who survived on $10 a week while she saved up to go travelling. And she did this while only eating whole foods. I couldn’t believe it when she told me. So I asked what she was eating. She listed off a few whole foods including: rice, potatoes, onions and eggs.
As you can see, it’s definitely possible to eat healthy on a budget, but you will need to get creative and perhaps stop buying more expensive foods. At least while you are eating on a budget or going through hard times.
Here’s a few strategies that I recommend giving a try.
– Buy in bulk.
– Buy cheaper whole foods (rice is my go to).
– Find creative recipes that use less ingredients.
If you’ve got any cool strategies, feel free to leave a comment below.
Just Eat Real Food (JERF)
Eating healthy is easy.
Just eat real food.
Or more precisely, just eat a variety of real food.
There’s no need to over-complicate it.