We are bombarded with food choices everywhere we go and it’s mandatory to learn how to efficiently steer away from all those unhealthy options. This short guide will help you choose healthy food, while staying away from all the bad stuff.
We’re so busy with everything else in life that we don’t give food the importance that it deserves. We often choose our food the same way we choose a pair of socks: based on the look and feel, not based on the amount and the quality of nutrients that it can provide us with.
Food is not only something that “tastes good”, food is our source of energy and healing, and should be used wisely. When choosing food we have to look besides the color, label or even the taste.
The problem with food today
Since the food industry has developed so much in the past 50-70 years, they can make almost anything look “good” or taste “tasty”. But let me tell you that, just because something is sold in a food shop or a restaurant, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it automatically qualifies as nutritious or healthy to eat.
We have to learn how to choose the foods that we need at a certain moment in time, based on our current health, energy level, emotions or stress. Alternatives always include lots of added sugars, trans fats, hydrogenated fats, low quality foods, GMOs, processed grains, added chemicals (additives, preservatives, etc). On top of all these, there are the toxins resulting from the food preparation process, food storing or how the food was served.
It’s easier to prevent all the above by making smart choices and putting together your own meals. That’s why I believe it’s so important to learn how to navigate a food shop and choose the ingredients and the foods that are right for your needs.
A note regarding restaurants – Don’t assume just because a restaurant looks fancy and is expensive, that they also serve great food (read “healthy food”). Most of the restaurants will prepare their food with the cheapest ingredients, cooked in the cheapest and fastest way possible. I’m sorry but this is a fact and you need to be aware of this, because unhealthy food is way more bad for you than you can imagine.
Short Guide To Healthy Food
Healthy food is food that nourishes your body with all sorts of “good for you” nutrients. Think whole foods, unprocessed or processed as little as possible, without any kind of man made chemicals. Real food looks and smells great and doesn’t come in packages.
I’ve broken down real food into several food groups and we’ll discuss them one by one below. Today, for our purpose, I want to focus on hand-on tips that you absolutely need to know in order to start making healthy food choices every single time.
You Eat Plants
When I say plants, I think about vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes and grains. Personally, I always try to include plants with every meal and, with time, I discovered that buying organic plants is not expensive at all. Since organic plants are grown without chemicals, they come with more nutrients per serving and I don’t have to bother to wash them too much either. I like the idea of knowing that my plants were grown in a healthy way.
Ideally, I would grow my own plants in a soil that I know it’s very healthy, and eat at least some of them without washing too much. Think of all the probiotics (healthy strains of bacteria, great for gut health or for the immune system) that are growing on plants and that we wash away due to the need to remove those nasty pesticide residues.
As a general rule, I believe that one should focus on eating as many vegetables as possible, followed by nuts and seeds, a few fruits, some legumes and some grains. While vegetables are loaded with the most nutrients, they’re also low in sugar, which makes them perfect for eating on a daily basis. How many cups of veggies have you been eating in a day?
Nuts and seeds also come with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fiber, healthy fats, proteins and some carbs. The problem with nuts and seeds is that, with the exception of macadamias nuts, pretty much all other nuts and seeds have the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio problematic. You see, these types of fats are part of a category of fats called polyunsaturated fats. They are sensitive to oxidation through light, heat and oxygen, and this oxidation will cause inflammation in the body, if one consumes too much omega 6 fats.
Consuming nuts and seeds only in plain form (no oils, no roasting) is very healthy, but only if done in moderation. Nuts and seeds also contain what’s called enzyme inhibitors and anti-nutrients (phytic acid). While phytic acid can interfere with the absorption of minerals, enzyme inhibitors will make nuts and seeds harder to digest for some people. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this problem: soaking your nuts and seeds for a few hours in salty water, prior to consuming them, will remove most of the anti-nutrients while also activating the enzymes. The soaking process makes the nuts easier to digest and healthier overall.
Read my guide to buying plants: How to Buy Fruits and Veggies on a Budget
You Eat Cheeses
For me, the word cheeses refers to traditionally made full-fat cheeses, without additives and preservatives (unless 100% natural – think salt). I try as much as possible to choose cheeses made from raw milk (organic if possible). Unfortunately it’s very hard to do so in places where people still think pasteurization is good for health. Many people don’t realize the importance of raising healthy animals that can give healthy beneficial milk. Going outside the supermarket it’s another story, you’ll probably find raw milk in small local shops but you always have to make sure that it comes from healthy animals.
Cheeses are a great source of healthy fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. But one particular ingredient that I look for in cheese is vitamin K2, one of the most interesting vitamins because it’s linked directly to the health of bones and teeth. Vitamin k2 can be found in various fermented foods, and traditionally fermented cheeses are a great source of this vitamin (also called activator x). From brie, to camembert, to comté, cheddar, all soft or hard cheeses that are fermented naturally come with vitamin k2.
You Eat Full-Fat Dairy
Full-fat diary refers to things like full-fat cream, creme fraîche, full-fat yogurt, butter, or milk. Same as with cheeses, healthy milk comes from animals that were raised on green grass. These animals eat omega 3 rich grass and, because they stay all day in the sun, these animals absorb vitamin D through their skins, so their milk is far superior when it comes to nutrients.
Healthy fats, quality proteins, enzymes, probiotics, assorted vitamins (including vitamin K2), all are superior in milk that comes from grass-fed pasture raised animals (cows, sheep or goats). And to make things even more interesting, this milk doesn’t have to be pasteurized in an attempt to kill pathogens. If the animals were raised in a healthy way, their milk will always be healthy and free of pathogens or hormones.
While pasteurization kills harmful pathogens that are only present in unhealthy animals in the first place, pasteurization is also responsible for killing the living enzymes, destroying fatty acids and lowering the vitamin content of milk. In short, one can eat raw full-fat cream or drink raw milk, as long as the animals were raised in a healthy way, without the use of antibiotics and hormones. Raw milk translates to more nutrients for you and a better choice towards the animals and their environment.
You Eat Eggs
Healthy eggs come from organic hens raised outside on a farm somewhere (at least when the weather allows it, from spring to autumn). They have to eat worms and stuff, not corn or other cereals or legumes. Turns out that when hens eat what they were designed to eat (namely plants and insects) and after spending daily time outside, their eggs will be more nutritious compared to hens raised inside and that were fed cereals or corn. These pastured eggs have more vitamin A, D and E, a better omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, and more omega 3 fatty acids overall.
Do you remember the chickens that your grandma used to keep outside in her yard? Those were organically free-range and that is exactly the eggs that you should be looking for. They’re probably a little bit more expensive than “regular” eggs but these eggs are far more nutritious, and better for the hens and the environment.
You Eat Meats
I don’t eat meat anymore because now I’m eating vegetarian low-carb, but if I would be eating meat, I’d make an effort to choose meats that only came from pastured animals. It’s important to choose meats from animals that spent at least some of their time outside in the pasture (sheep vs cow, spring vs winter raised). This is what we call grass-fed meat.
When it comes to the differences between grass-fed meat and regular meat, we can focus on 2 things: the way the animals were raised (conditions, waste, environment) and the fats profile of their meat. Let’s just say that grass-fed fat is healthier because it incorporates more nutrients into the fat profile (more omega 3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid – CLA, stearic acid), vitamin E, vitamin A, glutathione (antioxidant), other vitamins and minerals, but also substantially less toxins tend to accumulate in the fat of healthy animals.
You Eat Fermented Foods
I’ve included fermented foods as a food group because these foods are so healthy and yet we don’t always give them the importance they deserve. In fact, I don’t know of a fermented food that isn’t healthy. Think about yogurt, chocolate, cheeses, pickles, sauerkraut, fermented veggies, beer or wine, etc.
What is the main thing that makes all these fermented foods so healthy? It’s the healthy strain of bacteria (probiotics) that develop during the natural fermentation process. Besides probiotics, the fermentation process enhances the vitamins content, minerals bioaccessibility and enzymes content of the foods.
But there’s a secret to having a healthy fermented product. The secret is to ferment these foods slowly and naturally, without using heat after the fermentation process has ended. Once you decide that no more fermentation is needed, these foods will have to be transferred to a colder environment (think fridge or cellar); that’s because the cold slows down the bacteria, thus substantially slowing down the fermentation process. It’s very important to avoid products that were pasteurized after the fermentation, because pasteurization kills all living strains of bacteria, rendering the food nutritionally useless.
Notes on Additives and Others
I always try choosing products without any kind of harmful ingredients. In my opinion, things like added sugar, fructose, high fructose corn sirup (or similar stuff), added wheat or gluten, soy, artificial colorants, trans fats, preservatives, fillers, do not have to be in our food.
My rule is simple and goes like this: If the name on a certain ingredient doesn’t sound familiar to you, there’s a high chance that it’s not good for your health. Healthy ingredients don’t have complicated names and don’t sound at all like chemical formulas. With harmful ingredients, well … that’s another story.
Read the label first, eat later!
Here’s one quick tip: Let’s say that you want to buy a product but you aren’t really sure if a certain ingredient is or isn’t harmful. What do you do? Simply open “Google” on your phone and search for that particular ingredient. Do your own quick research for 5 minutes and, if you decide it’s a no-no, you simply put the item back on the shelf and look for something else instead. This works for me every time … although my wife doesn’t like me to “lose time in the supermarket like this”.
- Eat foods that were grown organically or with as little pesticides as possible. Buy your food from local trusted producers (local market), this way you can simply ask how the food was grown or prepared.
- Avoid additives, preservatives and fillers in any kind of food. And if you can’t pronounce one ingredient, it means that the product is not healthy and you should definitely find an alternative (or skip it altogether).
- If it was made in a factory, it probably isn’t healthy to eat.
- Pasteurization kills enzymes, destroys fats and lowers the vitamins contents of food. Pasteurization is the “invention” of big food companies, as a way to kill harmful pathogens that shouldn’t be present in food in the first place.
- Homogenization is even worse and products made from homogenized milk should be completely avoided.
- Healthy animals are always raised outside in the sun. This way, their milk, eggs and meat is far superior for taste but also nutrients.
- Keep in mind that most toxins (hormones, pesticides, environmental toxins) tend to accumulate in the fat layer of the animals.
- When it comes to meat. if you can’t afford buying grass-fed or pastured raised, it’s best to choose leaner cuts. This way your risk of accumulating toxins is always lower.
- In my opinion, the safest and healthiest way to eat is going for a plant-rich diet, with a variety of plants and an emphasis on vegetables, nuts and seeds, while keeping fruits as a treat only.
- I don’t really care about diets, what I care about is making plants a central part of my way of eating.
Need more inspiration towards making healthy choices?
The way you choose what you eat is always up to you. We are bombarded with food choices everywhere we go and we need to learn how to be smart, and how to steer away from all those unhealthy options.
Most of the time a certain food will look and smell fantastic, but you have to think twice before deciding if it’s something that you really need eating. I believe that we shouldn’t make emotional decisions when it comes to our food, we need to use our brains because the food industry has messed-up food so much that it has become almost impossible to rely solely on our perception.
It’s up to you to keep yourself and your family safe from all the toxic food out there, and you can only do it by learning how to avoid the unhealthy stuff. Read the labels, do your own research, prioritize real nutrients and real food, cook your own food, and make an effort to stay away from all the junk foods that’s out there.
Navigating the food equation is a developing skill. In order to be successful you need to work on it every day and soon enough you’ll see the results in your own health. When it comes to food and health you can safely say that “what you eat is what you get!”
What are your best tips for choosing healthy food? Did you find my tips interesting? Share in the comments.