What is healthy food and how do you identify it when you go shopping? This simple guide to healthy food choices will teach how to always choose the best and healthiest options. I’ll show you my own tips and trick that I use every day, plus a long list of things that you can do right now to change (read “improve”) your eating habits.
Dive into all the information and start transforming your health right now!
What is “Healthy Food” anyway?
Healthy food is food that’s nourishing your body. Healthy food will give you more energy, support your body to become stronger, and help you build a stronger immune system.
I will not dive here into specific types of foods to eat. Instead, I want to concentrate on the general principles you can use anytime and anywhere. I believe the health-food relationship is far more complex than just a few magical foods one should eat or avoid. I believe that the foods you choose to eat should always depend on your current health situation, stress level, muscle mass, mindset, current and past state of health or activity level.
In this article, I want to concentrate on a few principles that you can apply right away. These are the principles I use in making healthy food choices every single time (or most of the time). I follow these rules in my day-to-day life, trying to apply them whenever I go shopping for food.
How to eat for health
These principles are inspired by my personal health journey, my observations, and the research I’ve done in the last 3 years. It’s all based on the books and the articles I’ve read, the videos I’ve watched during all this time, and my own notes related to my personal health journey.
1. Eat a low-carb diet.
I strongly believe that our bodies don’t need too many carbs and I believe we are designed to thrive on fats. In my opinion, it’s very important to keep carbs at around 100-150g per day limit (even less on ketogenic diets), increasing this number only if your activity level increases.
Most importantly, I encourage you to get your carbs from real food (fruits and veggies) instead of refined sugar, flour, and processed foods. This way you’ll be eating fewer carbs overall and you’ll also end up getting all the benefits associated with fruits and veggies (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, soluble fiber and phytonutrients).
2. Eat healthy fats.
Eat as many healthy fats as possible, depending on the season and your location. This translates into eating more healthy fats in the cold season when there’s more need for energy while eating less in the summer. Keeping the carbs level low will translate into teaching your body how to burn fat for energy, and this means you’ll be craving healthy fats more and more.
Healthy fats support the proper function of all your body systems and will increase your body’s ability to fight disease. They contribute to having steady energy all day long, mental clarity, better sleep, great skin and nails, or shiny hair. But the benefits of eating healthy fats don’t stop here. How about a more positive attitude towards life, no sugar binges, no cravings, better intestinal flow, burning fat stores and using fat for energy, and the list can go on and on.
3. Don’t overdo it with protein.
Protein helps with building muscle mass, also comes packed with B vitamins and will help increase satiety. But too much protein is not healthy for your body and here are a few ideas why: it will take longer to digest, it can lead to release of toxic ammonia from gut bacteria fermentation, it could inhibit fat burning and will make you sleepy.
Most of the time, eating too much protein is associated with a meal that’s low on healthy fats, and this means you’ll be missing on all the benefits of eating healthy fats, and the fat-soluble vitamins that come with healthy fats. One simple rule is to let your appetite guide you towards your optimal protein intake. Sometimes it could be less, sometimes more, but what’s important is to let your body adjust itself in the long term.
4. Eat a plant-based diet.
This means eating more plants and less animal products overall. When I talk about plants, I’m referring to the following categories of foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes and grains. Each of these comes with advantages and disadvantages, but we won’t get into all this here. Instead, I will briefly talk about the categories of plants I emphasize and why.
- Vegetables – I emphasize vegetables since they’re the safest to eat and come with the most nutrients of all plants.
- Nuts and Seeds come next on my list, but pay special attention to their fat profile and the way they’re prepared before consuming.
- Fruits follow closely and, while they come with lots of nutrients, the sugar content can be problematic if one eats too many fruits too often.
- Legumes and Grains take the last place in my book. I try eating them as rarely as possible, paying special attention to the sources and the way they have been prepared prior to consuming.
5. Eat different foods.
Staying too much into the same eating pattern could negatively impact your health. That’s because you will eventually miss on some nutrients that come with the foods you’re avoiding. Try changing the foods you eat based on seasonal availability, the location you live on and even based on the cravings you have. Stick to eating real foods and you’ll be fine.
6. There’s more to life than calories.
In the context of food, calories are just an indication of the energy provided by food itself. They aren’t an indication of the nutritional content of the food itself, nor the energy you get after digesting the food. In the context of the human body, calories are a way of keeping track of the body’s energy budget (energy received vs energy spent).
Let’s expand on this for a minute …
Calories are just numbers that don’t take into consideration things like food sources, micronutrients, the way the food was grown or if it was processed in any way. When you eat something, make it a habit to think about the food’s nutritional value in terms of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes and fiber. Think about the life of that food, from land to plate, or the way the food was prepared.
Calories don’t talk about all of these; they are just an indication of how much energy the protein, carbs and fats will give to your body. Calories don’t talk about how much of the food you’re eating is actually absorbed by your body or how it may be used afterwards.
7. Eat when you’re hungry.
I don’t believe in 3 or 5 meals a day, or any strict number for that matter. I always eat when I’m hungry and I totally rely on my body telling me when I should be eating. Sometimes it can be as little as 1-2 meals a day, sometimes even 4 meals a day, it all depends on my activity level, general stress level and the overall energy I have at a certain time.
8. Think at what you eat as a plate of food.
This concept can be powerful if you apply it correctly. Imagine all the food you’re eating at a certain meal placed on the same plate. If you put too much bread there, there won’t be room for a salad or for the veggies. If you put a big steak on your plate, there won’t be room for all the veggies. The point is: don’t eat too much of a certain food; Instead, try to see the big picture and make an effort to balance your food choices.
9. Don’t replace real food with powders.
Don’t replace a meal with a powder or a shake, even if the calories are about the same. This happens often after a training session, and I see it all the time with professional athletes. For the younger version of you, this may not sound too important since your body will compensate for the lack of nutrients. But by the age of 30, this has become a bad habit since your body’s ability to recover and your health will definitely suffer.
10. If man made it, you can’t eat it.
This refers to avoiding all processed foods in any form. This is again a very simple and powerful rule that I first heard years ago, while listening to Dr. John Bergman’s talks. Dr. Bergman is a chiropractor that has a very powerful voice when it comes to talking about health and making healthy choices. You can check out his YouTube channel here.
The simple rule to avoid all bad food is to think if that food comes from a factory of some kind. Most of the time, foods made in factories are loaded with refined seed oils, refined sugar, made from questionable ingredients and devoured of real beneficial nutrients like vitamins, minerals, or enzymes.
11. Fermented foods are healthy.
I don’t really know one fermented food that isn’t healthy. Think about yogurt, kefir, brie cheese, Comte cheese, Cheddar cheese, chocolate, pickles, sauerkraut, natto, kimchi, kombucha. Pay special attention to fermented foods that are pasteurized, since they lack the beneficial bacteria and enzymes found in unpasteurized fermented foods.. Search for fermented foods that aren’t pasteurized, this should be clearly indicated on the package.
12. Learn how to listen to your body.
Your body knows what it needs in terms of nutrients. But in order to get an accurate response from it, you must steer away from processed foods for a while.
You see, processed foods make your body crave the wrong stuff, since these foods are engineered directly into making your mind ask for more of the same stuff. I will not get into the mechanics of how this works, just know that processed foods act like drugs in the brain, activating the same receptors and creating a vicious cycle that usually ends up bad for your health.
13. Taste can also mislead you.
As long as you are in the process of changing your eating habits, unhealthy foods can still look delicious. That’s ok, as long as you consciously make the difference between what’s healthy and what isn’t. With time this will change and you’ll be able to rely on your taste more and more, up to where only healthy foods will make your taste buds wonder. Eliminating all processed foods is one of the biggest steps you can take towards intuitively making healthy choices.
Things you can do right now to improve your food choices
Avoid toxic food
- Eliminate processed foods since they don’t come with real nutrients. These “foods” will only keep you into a vicious cycle of wanting more of the same bad stuff.
- Eating processed foods will steer you away from eating nutrient-rich foods.
- Always read the labels, identify hidden ingredients and avoid them.
- Avoid additives and preservatives; they are proven to negatively impact our health.
- Avoid refined seed oils and all kinds of sugars (refined sugar, raw sugar, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols).
- All refined oils are toxic and must be avoided. These oils are extracted in factories through complicated industrial processes that make use of solvents and other nasty chemicals.
- Due to the way they are processed and stored, refined oils are oxidized which makes them toxic for your body.
- Cold pressed oils are also most likely oxidized (because of heat, oxygen and light) which makes them unhealthy to eat.
- The way the food has been cooked and served is so much more important than you’d think. This refers to the way of cooking, cookware, hygiene in the kitchen or the dinnerware used to serve the food.
Choose real food
- If possible, choose organically grown food as opposed to conventionally grown. This is true for plants, meat, eggs and dairy.
- Choose real food, unprocessed, as fresh as possible, without additives and preservatives.
- Choose products from responsible sources – this means a better choice towards the environment (soil, water, air, land or the animals) but also for your health.
- Organically grown plants have more nutrients compared to conventionally grown.
- Conventionally grown plants come with more pesticide residue, whereas organic plants have little to none.
- Plants should be grown in their natural soil and rhythm without accelerated growth of any kind. Only this way they’ll fully develop in terms of nutrients and taste.
- Keep in mind that some conventionally grown plants have more pesticide residue than others. Check out the Dirty Dozen list for more details. Consider bananas and baby coconut exceptions and buy them organic, regardless.
- Sugar, wheat, industrially processed oils, GMOs and processed foods are not real foods.
- Frozen plants are fresh and pack all the nutrients, plus you can find lots of frozen veggies and berries at affordable prices.
Stop counting calories
- As long as you eat real food, your body will eventually regulate itself.
- Counting calories will only steer you away from healthy eating habits.
- Eating fewer calories without adequate micronutrients (basically just counting calories) is not a healthy recipe for weight loss, gaining muscle mass or for general health.
- The actual foods that you’re eating are far more important than the calories they supposedly contain.
- Calories are just an estimate of the energy you could get from a particular food.
- These numbers are not exact, and they can vary so much from one food to the next. For example, realize that not all tomatoes are the same and their calories will depend on the soil type and quality, the season when they’re grown, location on the globe, bacteria in the soil and even the quality of the water used. The same is true for all other foods out there.
- Calories don’t take into consideration vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients or soluble fiber.
- Calories don’t take into consideration the quality of the food or how the food may impact your body.
- The micronutrients found in foods are much more important than the macronutrients calories take into consideration.
- Counting calories is not relevant since not all carbs, proteins and fats are the same in terms of the associated nutrients they come with.
- It’s safe to say that calories are just an estimation of energy provided by food and only that.
I believe food plays a big role in keeping us healthy or making us sick. I also believe that too many of the foods we have access today are engineered in factories. In my book, this translates into many health problems that we see everywhere these days.
There is no easy way to health. There are no quick fixes, only long term solutions, and I believe it all depends on how much effort you’re ready to put into your health. It this means reading all the labels, asking all the questions or cooking your own food, I believe it’s all worth it and it’s a small price to pay compared to being sick.
I’m curious to know what are your tips for a healthy lifestyle? Have you found any of my tips useful? Share below