Writing about healthy eating seems almost pointless since the internet is flooded with people who all have their own research to support what they define as "healthy." Red meat or no red meat? Whole grains or none? What the heck is gluten and why are people avoiding it?
We'll loosely define healthy eating as "eating food that is nourishing and doesn't harm your body." 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 can be traced to the food they eat. I didn't know until my sister introduced me to a 30-day eating program that eliminated common allergens and foods known to cause problems. It was strict, but a week in I felt better than I had in probably my entire life. (I'm not affiliated with them in any way, nor do I get any credit for sharing their site with you.)
That was the beginning of my interest in healthy eating. I've done the program several times since then and also began mostly basing my meals on the Paleo or primal recipes, because they're already made to follow the steps I'll list below.
I won't tell you how you should eat, because every body is different, and if the steps below don't help you, there is probably a deeper reason for your discomfort. You'll need professional insight for that. But there are hundreds of testimonials from people who followed the 30-day program I mentioned who have had all kinds of problems cleared up, from simple ones like acne, fatigue, and being overweight, to eczema, Crohn's Disease, and migraines.
And if it doesn't make a dramatic increase in your well-being, at the absolutely very least, it won't hurt you.
There is no better way to know how your body reacts to food than to pay attention. Some foods that other people can eat with no problem cause other people insufferable pain, inflammation, indigestion, or severe mood swings. Try taking one or two things out of your diet for a month and see how you feel.
Everyone knows that vegetables are good for you, generally speaking. They provide essential vitamins and minerals that help your body digest and function well. However, anyone with an autoimmune disorder can tell you that eating certain vegetables is harmful and causes inflammation. So while most people define healthy eating as "lots of vegetables," refer back to number 1, listen to your body.
If you're eating healthy to lose weight, this step is indispensable. Vegetables fill you up faster, nourish your body, and give it the energy it needs to move around, which is also good for your health.
A good rule of thumb is to eat one vegetable or fruit of each color every day (for example: tomato, carrots, yellow bell pepper, spinach, blueberries, eggplant). This isn't always possible, but it is a good goal to shoot for.
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.
An easy way to make sure you're drinking enough is to check the color of your urine; your body tells you what it needs. 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, 9 8-oz. glasses, or 7-8 taking into account the water you absorb from your food. Other liquids such as coffee and tea can make up some of this, but shouldn't replace your water intake entirely.
I know, I know, the vegans and vegetarians will argue that you can get everything you need from vegetables plus some added protein. 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. It's not optimal, but if you have religious or compassionate reasons for not wanting to eat meat, you could still make things work. However, I believe that the optimal way to fuel your body is with meat, and so does this ex-vegan.
Our bodies are designed to eat meat. Take your fingerpad and run it along your teeth, top and bottom. Just to the right and left of your front four middle teeth you should feel a pointed tooth. That is your incisor, developed specifically for tearing meat. You won't find vegetarian mammals with them; only carnivorous and omnivorous mammals have them. We are omnivorous, and our bodies need the protein, DHA, and EPA we get from meat.
What about red meat?
People argue back and forth over whether or not red meat is good for you or not. Red meat can be one of the most nutritious things you can eat. However, most livestock is raised in terrible circumstances, pumped with hormones and antibiotics and fed unnatural diets to make them fatter, grow faster, etc. That meat is not good for you, and the additives can be really harmful.
If you don't eat meat because of the cruel treatment of animals in the corporate food industry and you can afford better meat, we'll talk about eating free-range meat on another page.