I often get asked the question, “What, exactly, are healthy eating foods?” If you walk around the average grocery store, you may find yourself confused by all the choices. Attractive packages with even more attractive promises try to grab your attention as well as your food dollars. There are many products that I call “faux foods” since they only appear to be food, but they actually do not nourish your body in the way real food would.
You also have the conflict between what you want to buy and eat compared to what you think you should choose. Your appetite is in conflict with what you know about eating healthy. We have trained our palates to appreciate highly sweetened, highly salted, high-fat products and those with a lot of chemical flavor enhancers.
Central to this issue is that food producers spend a lot of time and money trying to get you first to buy their product and then to keep craving it so that you continue to buy it. Food labs work on flavor, and mouth feel, and smell and appearance and even the addictive qualities of the foods they offer on the market. At the same time, in order to make the most profit, they use the least expensive ingredients to achieve their goals.
Of course, the ideal situation is when the foods you crave are also the foods that are good for you. The goal of this website is to bring those two, often opposing forces much closer together.
My two cents about healthy eating foods
I am proof that you can retrain your palate to appreciate real food. If you stop eating junk food, or “faux food” as I call it, and start relying on real food, over time you will lose your taste for overly processed products and begin to crave the “good stuff.”
If you are motivated by good health, that’s even better. There is satisfaction in eating delicious foods that you know are going to make you feel good and stay healthy.
To start, find healthy alternatives to the highly processed foods you crave.
--Eat fruit for dessert and skip the super sweet things for a while.
--Have a small piece of very dark chocolate and skip the milk chocolate, which is mostly sugar, and will make you want more and more.
--Make your own cookies and muffins so you can use quality ingredients, including some whole grain flour and less sugar.
--If you like to snack while watching a movie, make your own popcorn using a good quality brand of seeds, organic coconut oil and some Celtic sea salt and skip the highly processed chips and dips loaded with msg, salt and trans-fats. (Be sure to stay aware of how much you are eating. Mindless munching can cause you to overeat, even when you are choosing healthy foods.)
So what are the healthy eating foods?
Fruits and vegetables – Fresh or frozen are the best.
These are colorful, full of flavor and nutrition and come in so many varieties, that you should be able to find some that you can enjoy.
Try to get 5-6 servings a day and include some green leafy vegetables and more of the lower glycemic fruits, such as apples and berries.
Starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, peas and squash are good for you, but just don’t eat too much and include some less starchy veggies like green beans, summer squash, broccoli or asparagus.
Avocadoes have become popular in recent years, and they are a great source of healthy fat along with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Note – If you give up highly sweetened foods like cookies, cakes and soft drinks for a while, you will find that fruits will become more flavorful and satisfying as you change your palate and make it more sensitive to sweetness.
Whole grains can be healthy eating foods.
Grains have gotten a bad reputation with many choosing a grain-free diet due to concerns about gluten sensitivity.
However, unless you are truly sensitive to the protein found in many grains, they can add a lot of flavor, nutrition and enjoyment to your diet.
There are a lot of wonderful grains to choose from and eating a wider variety will increase your ability to get all the vitamins and minerals you need.
If you are gluten sensitive, there are still some grains you can include, so you don’t miss out on the benefits.
Every meal should include some protein foods. These include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds. Most health experts suggest you choose leaner meats and low-fat dairy, and control your portions size. Also, include some plant-based forms of protein, which are easier to digest and have fiber for good digestive health.
Note - My personal suggestion is that you choose organic versions of animal-based protein foods, since the animal can concentrate the pesticides and other chemicals and so you are getting much more of these potentially harmful additives than from plant-based protein sources.
Unless you are sensitive to dairy, these foods are considered healthy eating foods. Milk and products made from milk, such as cheese and yogurt, are great sources of protein and calcium.
Be aware that much of the yogurt that is available is loaded with added sugar, so try choosing plain yogurt and adding your own fruit.
A word about fats as healthy eating foods
Ever since the low-fat diet craze that started in the 1980’s, fat has been one of the much maligned nutrients. While it is true that fat has more than twice the calories of carbs and protein, you need fat in your diet for satiety, and to provide essential fatty acids that are necessary for good health.
The key is to eat fat sparingly and to choose healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nut butters and seeds. If you do eat saturated fats such as butter or coconut oil, choose the organic variety and don’t overdo.
The use of spices and herbs will not only add flavor to your meals but they also will increase the nutritional value of your meals. Scientists have only begun to understand the role phytochemicals, such as the curcumin in turmeric spice, play in human nutrition.
Author, Michael Pollan in his book, In Defense of Food, was right about healthy
“Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This advice is the most succinct and useful phrase about healthy eating that I have heard in a long time. Choose real foods from all the food groups. Know what a serving is and watch your portions. Regularly include some plant-based proteins. Avoid highly-processed foods and “faux foods” that subtract from your health rather than add to it!