The internet is flooded with people who all have their own agendas to support what they define as "healthy eating." Red meat or no red meat? Whole grains or none? What the heck is gluten and why are people avoiding it?
We define healthy eating as eating food that is not harmful to your body, but nourishing instead. That's a narrower category than you might suppose.
Most people I've met who are interested in eating healthy are looking to feel better, often because they have a chronic illness, or are trying to lose weight. Food can be harmful and it can also be a medicine. I've experienced both.
Perhaps the worst part is that most people aren't aware that many of their health problems, from minor to major, can be traced to the food they eat. Taking in a large amount of processed foods, snacks loaded with chemical flavorings, or drinks full of artificial sweeteners, will overload your body with things it cannot process. All of that stacking up inside you over time, will produce numerous health problem from indigestion and acne to heart disease and terminal illness.
Don't fool yourself, a skinny body or big muscles, does not necessarily mean you are healthy. Many gym fanatics actually lead a very unhealthy lifestyle because of all of the protein supplements, meal replacers, and bizarre artificial energy boosters they take in. That's why you hear about so many "lunks" dying of heart attacks at a young age.
However, the human body can be amazingly resilient, and when provided with the necessary tools, the process to recovery can be easier than one would think. Eating healthy, nutrient dense foods containing the antioxidants and the vitamins your body needs, are the building blocks to the foundation of living a long time with a high quality of life.
Nothing will give you a higher quality of long term life, than a body that works really well for as long as you are alive. That is the difference between having a healthy mind and spry body in your old age, or having to survive on medication and feeling too ill to do anything other than stay home.
Eating healthy thing will give your body the tools to prevent a large amount illness and injury, potentially saving you thousands and thousands of dollars in medical bills and higher insurance rates. Feeding your body the nutrients it needs, can also help your cells to regenerate and undo a lot of damage done over the years. That's why I always say it's never too late to start being healthy.
Not only will healthy eating lead to a healthy looking body on the outside, but also a healthy feeling body on the inside.
These are 10 steps that can lead you to strong, healthy eating habits.
There is no better way to know how your body reacts to food than to pay attention. Some foods cause aches and pains, inflammation, indigestion, or severe mood swings, while other foods give you more energy, leave you feeling positive toward life, and thinking more clearly.
Try to pay attention to the way you feel after you eat something. If you find yourself feeling "icky" or lethargic afterward, you probably ate something unhealthy. If you find yourself feeling good about being full, you probably ate something your body liked.
Feeling like you are going into a "food coma" is not a healthy feeling. It usually means your body is overloaded with things it's struggling to push through the digestive system, and your kidneys are working overtime to clean out all the toxins.
When something makes you feel bloated or causes stomach pain, it usually means your body is struggling to process it. When you start to notice certain things making your skin breakout with acne more than usual, its often because your body is trying to quickly get rid of an overload of toxins, and you should try to avoid those foods too.
Your body recognizes healthy eating. Over time, as you start to pay attention, you will get in sync with your body and begin to recognize the little signs it gives you when it likes something or doesn't. If you treat your body well, it will return the favor. You'll never stop thanking yourself for staying healthy forever.
Vegetables are the key to lasting healthy eating and long life. There is nothing more important to eat than your vegetables. In fact, regardless of your diet style, you should be eating more vegetables than anything else. Making plants the base of your diet, and everything else the filler is the healthiest way to eat.
Vegetables are packed with nutrients, which will make your brain produce Leptin (the hormone telling the body it's full) more quickly, which helps prevent over eating. I always recommend eating vegetables first, so you don't overfill yourself with calories before giving your body the correct amount of nutrients.
The right vegetables will fill you up faster and keep you full longer, because your body can absorb a lot of the nutrients it needs to keep your systems running for a longer period of time, before it needs to be refilled. Eating a lot of calories without much nutrient value, will force your body to ask to be nourished more frequently, leading to overeating.
Eating a variety of vegetables will give you a variety of different nutrients. I recommend trying to eat one of each color every day, or just try to introduce a number colors into your weekly diet.
You should be eating vegetables with every meal, and try to mix up the veggies you eat throughout the day.
For example: I generally try to eat something leafy with breakfast; like kale, spinach, colored greens, arugula, etc.. In the middle of the day, I like to introduce a hardier mouthful like broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, or radishes. By the end of the day I'm ready to eat vegetables that are rich in flavor like bell peppers, carrots, onions, garlic, and sweet potatoes (which I actually count as a carb serving rather than a vegetable serving, because of it's high volume of starch).
I actually try to eat onions and garlic with every meal, I mix and match that lunch and dinner list quite often as well. Squashes, tomatoes, and avocados are not technically vegetables, but are also nutrient dense plants I try to incorporate in my daily healthy eating habits.
The most important thing is that you are eating a high volume of veggies, or rather plants, every single day. Your body will thank you, and reward you with good health in turn.
Our bodies are about 60% water. We need it to do anything. Humans can only last 3 days without water. We do absorb some water from our food, about 20% of what we need for the day, but not enough to survive. Every system in our body relies on water to run. Without it, we shut down.
Your brain releases the same hormone for hunger and thirst, so a lot of the time when you feel hungry, you are actually thirsty. Getting the proper hydration will help you lose weight, simply preventing over eating.
An easy way to make sure you're drinking enough is to check the color of your urine. Your urine should be very light yellow or almost clear. Another good way to make sure you're drinking enough is to calculate your weight in pounds, and drink half that number in ounces. For example: if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces of liquid, which is nine 8-oz. glasses of water.
Remember, just because it is liquid, does not mean it is hydrating. For example, things like coffee and some teas, although they are liquid, dehydrate you. They help you to urinate and expel, but do not help your body retain hydration.
In fact, if you are drinking coffee, I would recommend adding an equal amount of water to your daily intake to make up for the coffee drying you out. If I drink 8 ounces of coffee, I try to rehydrate with at least 8 ounces of water in addition to what I am taking in already.
There are other liquids that can help you stay hydrated, but nothing should replace water. If you are working out a lot, you should drink more water. If you need electrolytes, you should get them from healthy sources like vegetables, or coconut water.
Things like Gatorade and Power Aid are loaded with chemicals and are not worth drinking ever.
Some foods can help you stay hydrated better throughout the day. Most fruits like apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, and all citruses are very hydrating. You can get away with eating a lot of these and using to make up for some of your hydration intake for the day.
However, nothing should replace water. You can actually make your water even more hydrating by infusing it with any of the fruits from the list above. When I say "infuse" I just mean cutting up the fruits and putting them directly into your water. It makes a yummy treat, and helps your body absorb the hydration even better. Melons are also a great source of hydration and make yummy infusers.
Technically, you can get all of the vitamins and minerals you need from vegetables except for B vitamins, and you could take a supplement for those. However, supplements aren't optimal for healthy eating, it's always best to get nutrients from their natural sources. Although meat should not be the focal point of your meal, it does have a place in a healthy diet.
Our bodies are designed to eat moderate amounts of meat. If you examine your dental structure, you'll find just to the right and left of your front four teeth there is a pointed tooth. That is your incisor, developed specifically for tearing meat. You won't find vegetarian mammals with incisors; only carnivorous and omnivorous mammals have them. We are omnivorous, and our bodies need protein and fats, which are easily found in meat.
However, only four out of our twenty-six teeth are designed specifically for meat. That should tell you something about the way your diet should be proportioned. Also, not all meats contain healthy fats and some have more protein than we really need to be taking in all at once.
Meats that are raised in a bad environment have less nutritional value. An animal that is stressed out for it's entire life releases a flood of cortisol (stress hormone) into it's blood stream, increasing inflammation and mobilizing blood sugar. By the time the animal is put to death its body has become a very low quality meat. Animals raised in these condition tend to be given a lot of antibiotics and fed low quality food as well, which decreases the nutritional value of the meat.
Some meats are better for you than others. I exclusively use fish as my regular meat source, occasionally I'll treat myself to something like poultry or a very small amount of beef.
Fish are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which are some of the healthiest fats you can consume. A lot of people take supplements for omega 3s, but I always recommend getting nutrients straight from the source instead of taking a supplement.
Poultry tends to be lean meats, high in protein. However, not everyone really needs to be consuming high amounts of protein on a daily basis. Most Americans consume far more protein than their bodies need.
What about red meat?
Red meat is high in saturated fats, those are bad fats, so I'd recommend eating it infrequently.
I personally never eat pork, even pork that is raised well, so I won't recommend it to anyone else. Pork is extremely difficult for your body to process, and has very little nutritional value aside from being very high in protein, which is easy to find in healthier sources. Aside from that, pigs tend to consume nasty things, and what your meat eats matters.
Free-range grass-fed beef without any antibiotics, can be nutritious if you eat very small amount or eat it infrequently. The fat in beef is still saturated fat, so I'd recommend choosing a lean beef. Beef is extremely rich in protein, but most people do not need that amount of protein all at one time.
If you eat more protein than your body can process, it will just become fat. Beef is best used as a garnish, flavor element to an otherwise nutritious dish, or eaten in high volume once or twice a year.
This may seem counterproductive to healthy eating, especially if you're trying to lose weight. Why would you eat more fat if you're trying to lose fat?
The answer is, some fats are good for you and some are bad for you.
The difference between good and bad fats are easier to recognize than you'd think. Unsaturated fats, good fats, do not stack on themselves in your blood stream. They lubricate your system, and help your body process food more quickly. Unsaturated fats, such as olive oil and coconut oil, will actually help lower your blood pressure when they replace saturated fats in your diet.
Trans fats and saturated fats, bad fats, stick to themselves like magnets and stack up in your blood stream, clogging your arteries and causing heart disease among other things. Examples of these fats would be vegetable oil, canola oil, margarine, lard, snack cakes and cookies. Most fried foods are fried in one of these bad fats. Even if it started as a good food, once it was submerged in that hot saturated fat, it instantly became heart disease on a plate.
Healthy fats however, such as avocados, avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil are helpful for your body. Not only do they help make you feel full more quickly and for longer, but eating healthy fats help your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients found in other foods.
Simply replacing bad fat with good fat in your every day diet will lower your blood pressure, lower your chances of heart disease, and give you more energy. Making that simple switch will change the way you feel in your every day life very quickly, and will help your body shed excess weight.
Giving your blood the ability to pass through your arteries unobstructed, will increase your quality of life tremendously.
Like fats, there are good and bad sugars. Sugars are simple carbohydrates. Your body breaks down simple carbohydrates quickly, and tries to burn them off right away.
Unprocessed sugars from plants (fruits, vegetables, and berries) nourish your body and give you extra energy during the day. These simple carbs are easy for your body to process and have nutritional value, because your body has to work to get the sugar out of the plant. It comes with cellulose (fiber from plants), which also helps your digestive system work better, which increases the function of your metabolism.
When your body has to do the work of separating all of the components of the plant to get to the carbohydrate, it is taking in a small amount of sugar and using it as fuel to get to the other nutrients. You burn those carbs off almost as quickly as you consume them.
Processed simple carbohydrates (straight sugar like table sugar and syrups) have already been processed, as the name would imply. The process that your body does to derive the sugar from the plant has already been done, so you are dumping a bunch of straight simple carbs into your system with nothing nutritional to accompany it. Your body can't burn off the large amount of sugar fast enough, so it has no choice but to store it for later in the form of fat cells. These aren't the cells we want stacking up in our bodies.
Not only does an artificial high and crash come with ingesting processed simple carbohydrates (which contain no nutritional value, digestive enzymes, or useful properties), but it wildly increases your chances of obesity and stresses out your liver, which has to process all of the excess. At that point, it stops being fuel and becomes a toxin to your body.
Processed simple carbohydrates thicken your blood and restricts its flow to smaller capillaries like the ones in your gums, which causes gum disease and rotting teeth. It causes insulin resistance, potentially leading to diabetes. It causes hypoglycemia, gallstones, and it is an addictive substance, so when you try to quit it, your body craves it and makes you think about and even dream about it.
In short, processed sugar has no place in a healthy diet. I'd recommend trying to exclusively incorporate simple carbohydrates from plants into your daily diet, and only eat processed sugar (like in dessert) once or twice a year.
The grain argument is at an all time high due to the increasing amount of people with gluten allergies. Some people react very strongly to gluten, so grains like rice and quinoa don't affect them, and some people actually react to all grains and can't stomach them whatsoever.
Wheat is a commercially grown commodity that the majority of the population relies on for their diets. Commercial farmers can't allow their crops to be destroyed with such a high demand for it, so they use pesticides and other toxins that the human body simply can't tolerate. Furthermore, it's been hybridized and genetically modified to make it bigger. It's no longer the grain we used to eat, and our bodies don't recognize it as an actual food. Our body simply doesn't produce an enzyme to break down that type of gluten. This is true of everyone, but some people are less sensitive to it than others. They may notice some mild discomfort or indigestion instead of the severe pain, bloating, fevers, or other symptoms that celiacs (people who are hypersensitive to gluten) have.
However, like sugars, unprocessed grains can a good source of nutrients for some people. It's more expensive, but you can get whole grains that are NON-GMO and they can be helpful. Eating whole food, unprocessed in any way, is the healthiest thing for your body.
Some grains are better for you than others. Wheat is something that should be greatly reduced in most American's diets. Things like rice (rices that have not been processed and stripped of their nutrients) and quinoa are good sources of fiber and protein. White rice has no nutritional value.
Quinoa and good rices are naturally hardier grains that make your body work to break them down. Your digestive system is made for processing food, so when you eat foods that are pre-processed (like white rice), your body doesn't have to do anything with them and it makes your digestive system lazy and slow. A lethargic digestive system is good at building and storing fat cells.
All of the nutrients available in grains can be gained through other food sources. Even though they are delicious, they aren't a necessary source of nutrition, and they can be easily replaced if you have an allergy or prefer not to take them in.
If you're a vegan, it can be hard to get protein in your diet sometimes, so certain grains can be beneficial. However, a lot of nuts are a good source of protein, so you could easily replace protein heavy grains with nuts.
Dairy, like grains, are a common allergen that is only increasing. Many people react to casein, a protein found in dairy. According to some studies, it has a strong link to cancer and diabetes. Pasteurized milk also creates an acidic environment in your body, which leeches calcium from your bones to neutralize the acid.
This doesn't make immediate sense, considering that milk is supposed to be high in calcium. This causes joint pain and disrupts muscle recovery. Raw, unpasteurized milk is high in calcium and has many enzymes and nutrients that are good for infants and children, but it still contains the proteins people reacting to more and more.
Cow milk is not something humans were naturally meant to drink. Cow milk is made to sustain a cow through it's infancy. Since most lactose from all mammals, including humans, contains a lot of similar properties, raw milk can be beneficial for infants and young children. However, once processed the milk is stripped of a great deal of it's nutrients and the good properties change. Again, once you process something, it takes away from the process your body is meant to do.
Older children and adults do not need to be taking in any dairy at all. Our bodies have already matured past the point that milk is beneficial. Dairy makes older kids and adults gassy. This is a form of lactose intolerance. For some people, their lactose intolerance is greater and taking it in causes headaches, severe stomach pains, bloating, and diarrhea. Those people would be diagnosed with lactose intolerance, however in a small way all older children and adults do not tolerate lactose well, that's why cheese makes everyone gassy.
Furthermore, when cows are fed hormone and pesticide-laced grains, those hormones and toxins end up in the milk as well. This has been known to cause severe mood swings and hormonal imbalance.
The best way to take in dairy is from a local farmer, where you can get the milk unprocessed and know what the cow has been fed. As for adults, there is no actual need for dairy in your diet.
However, the human body is pretty tough, and a small amount of cheese as a garnish on a salad, or small glass of raw milk every few months can be a quick source of extra protein that is not harmful.
I hate to say "use portion control" because the image that brings to mind is counting calories and weighing every meal. However, I am not suggesting you eat less, just eat differently. Be honest with yourself about how much you move around in your daily life, and eat accordingly.
If you exercise a lot, you'll need more fats and proteins, but do not skimp on your plant intake. Regardless of your body type, you should always be taking in a higher quantity of fruits and vegetables than anything else. Again, you have 26 teeth, only 4 of those teeth are for meat and the other 22 are plants. That should be a constant reminder about how to portion your daily diet.
If you don't live a highly active lifestyle, you do not need to be taking in a ton of protein and fat from meat. It's probably better to be getting your fat and protein from nuts, avocados, oil, and other plants.
Most importantly, pay attention to what your body is telling you it needs.
If you're actually hungry, not just bored or thirsty, you should eat. And when you're full, you should stop. This seems like common sense, but actually because a lot of foods are so altered from their natural state and pumped full of processed simple carbohydrated, our bodies sometimes have a hard time recognizing if we are full or not.
The brain continues to release Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) because it hasn't received the adequate nutrition it needs. If you consume empty calories, which give only temporary energy, it will leave the body still hungry and tired because it is malnourished, in spite of being fed all day long.
Also, referring back to hydration, a lot of the time when you feel hungry, you're actually thirsty. Your brain releases ghrelin for both hunger and thirst. That's why a lot of the time when you start to feel hungry or peckish in your belly, you're actually just thirsty. By the time you feel thirst in your mouth and your tongue starts to get dry, you a dehydrated and your body is begging for water. Increasing your water in-take to an adequate amount, will help you feel hungry only when you are actually hungry. Very few Americans hydrate properly, which is a big part of the reason America over eats.
Many people over eat simply because their bodies are starving for water and real nutrition, and they just don't know. Even though the number of calories taken in is far more than necessary to fuel daily actions, they are not useful to the body, so it stores those calories away for later in the form of fat cells, and continues to release ghrelin, so they continue to eat. This cycle is making us fat, sick and tired with all kinds of weird symptoms we can't seem to attribute to anything.
The good thin about this is that when you change the type of food you are ingesting, your body begins to recognize that it's actually real food and it regulates your portions for you. Your digestive system knows what to do with real food; what to store for later, what to burn off now, and what to discard.
Your brains tells you you'r full by releasing Leptin (satisfied hormone), but only when it's received enough nutrients. You will find you just can't overeat because you will feel properly nourished. Being full of good food, makes you feel good. It doesn't produce the same type of full feeling as being filled with bad things. You'll find yourself feeling less bloated, more positive toward life, and thinking more clearly.
This page is about healthy eating, but eating is only one facet of healthy living. It's the most important part, but it's still only one part. Once you've begun eating healthy, you'll find you have more energy, your mood and outlook will improve, and you'll find yourself wanting to get out and start moving.
A big part of the reason people do not enjoy exercise is because their bodies are not properly nourished enough to give them the adequate energy supply. It's not fun to start exercising when your blood is thick and can't move around properly due to clogged arteries and lack of healthy energy supply.
When you start eating the right way and hydrating the right way, your body starts to regenerate and will give you the supplies you need to move around more and feel positive about it.
Once you've mastered one healthy habit, it's impossible not to notice the other ones you could incorporate into your life.
For me, eliminating the toxins in my food made me recognize the toxins in my body products. Then I started noticing the toxins in my house-cleaning products, and the emotional toxins in bad relationships. It's a huge change, but if you take it one step at a time, living healthy and strong is a very doable and worthwhile lifestyle.
Everything healthy starts with your fuel, and your fuel is your food.