What is Healthy Eating, Doc?
A friend of mine told me that her doctor's response to this question was, "If it tastes good, spit it out!" This suggests that healthy foods don't taste good! Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a wonderful variety of flavor and texture to be found in real foods, so don't ever believe that eating healthy means giving up gustatory pleasures!
For many people when you talk about what is healthy eating they have visions of things they don't like or haven't even tried, such as kale, broccoli, beets or maybe tofu. While all these foods, are good for you, if you really don't like them, don't eat them. There are lots of alternatives that you can choose that are just as healthy.
In a nutshell, healthy eating involves eating a variety of whole foods in appropriate amounts each day and avoiding or limiting highly processed foods that are loaded with sugar, salt and unhealthy chemicals.
There are some basic principles that you can apply, and beyond that healthy eating for you will depend on what you like to eat and what your body can handle based on heredity, lifestyle and if you have any health problems that affect what you can eat.
What is healthy eating – The Basics
-As often as you can, you should eat a variety of real foods that are minimally processed.
-Unless you have a condition that precludes it, you should eat a balance of foods from all of the food groups—Protein foods, Fruits, Vegetables, Grains and Dairy.
-Your protein foods should include a variety of lean meats, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and poultry. Animal proteins should, whenever possible, be grass-fed, organic and should be limited to an appropriate serving.
-You should eat at least 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables--organically grown, if possible and washed with a product designed for that purpose. A colorful diet is a healthy diet, since those colors that occur naturally in fruits and vegetables represent phytonutrients that enhance your good health.
-Your grains should be whole grains, more often than not, and should include a variety of different grains.
-It is generally recommended that you choose low-fat dairy products, especially if you are not eating organic, since the pesticides and other chemicals are concentrated in the fat. (There is some controversy about this as some health experts say you should eat the whole food with its complement of fat, carbs and protein.)
Here are some links to articles about eating full-fat dairy.
-Include healthy fats in your diet such as olive oil, avocado, nut butters and seeds.
-You need fiber in your diet for proper digestion and general good health. If you are eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the recommend amounts, you will be getting the 25-35 grams of fiber that is recommended each day.
-Use herbs and spices to add flavor and nutrition to your daily menus.
-Drink water as your beverage of choice, and limit or avoid sugary beverages, including juice.
-Watch your portions so that most of the time you only eat the amount of food your body needs each day. This will help you avoid putting on excess weight.
-Limit or avoid junk food with added sugar and excess salt and chemicals, as these foods will add empty calories as well as stress to your body and your budget.
-Enjoy eating with friends and family in a relaxed setting.
-Learn to appreciate healthy foods as you retrain your palate to prefer the natural sweetness and flavor found in real food.
What is healthy eating - Special cases
-If you have gluten sensitivity or full-blown Celiac disease, you will have to limit yourself to whole grains that do not contain this protein. It is faddish right now in the U.S to go gluten-free to lose weight, but keep in mind that many commercially prepared gluten-free foods are not healthy, since they are loaded with sugar and chemicals to mimic the “real thing!”
-Some people are lactose intolerant, and in that case dairy foods will be limited or avoided. You will need to find alternative sources of calcium such as kale, fortified products, chia seed, legumes and supplements.
-In addition, if you have diabetes, you will need to pay attention to how many carbs you are eating. You can still eat a variety from all the food groups, but you will need to take extra care about the amount and types of carbs you are eating. In this case, it is particularly important that you avoid foods with added sugar, and eat whole grains rather than white flour products.
-If you are trying to lose weight, all the basics listed above apply, but you will just need to be more careful about portions and focus on staying within your calorie limits. Be sure to eat enough calories each day to avoid muscle wasting and other health problems. Slow and steady wins the race in weight loss.
-Conversely, if you are an athlete or very physically active, the basics are the same except that you will need to eat more of the healthy foods listed to supply your body with the nutrients you need to enhance your performance and stay healthy.
A final thought about what is healthy eating
While it is true that some foods that taste good are not good for you, you can find healthy foods that will excite your taste buds and at the same time help you to feel good and live a long, healthy life.