In this article we’ll discuss in detail about what it means to make healthy food choices. You’ll learn what healthy eating is all about and I’ll show you a simple no BS guide that you can use to make healthy food choices every single day.
What does “healthy food” means?
Healthy food is simply food that is helping your body thrive by providing the nutrients that your body needs in order to function properly. Healthy food is food that will actually give you more energy and will help you strengthen your immune system.
I’m not going to dive here into what specific types of foods are good for healing various health conditions or what diets you should follow. The health-food relationship is far more complicated than a simple approach as it depends on your current health situation, stress level, body composition, current and past health conditions and other factors.
In this article we’ll discuss a simple formula that you can use to make healthy food choices every single day. These are the guidelines that I personally follow in my daily life and that helped me to improve and maintain my health in the past years.
These principles are inspired by my personal health journey and the research (call it observations) that I’ve done in the past 6 years. Everything that I’ve written in this article is also based on books, videos and articles that I’ve read and watched during all this time, workshops that I was part of, as well as the work that I’ve done with my coaching clients.
My principles for making healthy food choices
Food and Energy
Before getting into the principles for eating in a healthy way, it’s mandatory to understand the relationship between food and energy in the body.
- Food is very much related to the energy you have (or not have), the moods that you experience (gut-brain connection) or your current and past health conditions.
- Keep in mind that, besides food, your fluctuating energy can also be influenced by other factors such as stress, mindset, exercise, breathing, sleep quality or environmental toxins.
- Your goal should be to draw your energy from fat storage instead of burning excess sugar (glucose and fructose).
- Using fat as the main source of energy means that your body will be able to use a “clean” source of energy, and this leads to less oxidative stress in the body.
- Being able to access and use energy from fat, on demand, is linked to developing the metabolic flexibility that our ancestors used to have. You see, in our so-called “developed society”, most of us have lost the ability to burn fat for energy on-demand.
- Using sugar for energy instead of drawing your energy from fat consumed and/or fat storage means that your body will live in a constant up and down energy spiral. This is recognized by feeling very energetic one moment and feeling a complete lack of energy the next hour.
- This constant up and down energy spiral leads to a lowered immune system, and later to developing chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart problems, depression, mental conditions and other so-called diseases.
Principles of Healthy Eating
Now that you’ve understood what I mean by “burning a clean energy source”, let’s discuss about the principles for healthy eating.
- Eat a low-carb diet since our bodies don’t need too many carbs in order to survive. We certainly don’t need refined carbs such as added sugar, processed grains, added fructose, or high fructose corn syrup.
- Our bodies are designed to store abundant carbs as energy in the form of fat storage and use that fat storage when food is scarce. This does not mean that it’s ok to eat lots of carbs and gain weight, the problems is a bit more complicated.
- Our bodies are designed to burn fat stored to produce energy, and this is something that can be trained and metabolically improved with time. The on-demand ability to switch from relying on sugar for energy, to burning fat for energy, it’s related to metabolic flexibility.
- Eat as many healthy fats as possible, depending on the season and where you live in the world.
- Don’t overdo it with protein. Too much protein is not healthy either, and abundant protein is often stored as fat or excreted by the body.
- Eat a plant-based diet, meaning you should eat more plants and less to no meat. You can eat healthy dairy products (more on this later) and eggs, but meat is something that can be hard to process and digest by your body. Not to mention that quality meat is very rare these days and pretty expensive (think organic, grass-fed, pasture raised animals).
- Eat as many plants in their natural raw unprocessed form as possible, and choose organically grown plants when possible (or naturally grown plants, doesn’t really matter if they are certified organic or not).
- When you eat something, think about the nutritional value of that food in terms of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes and fiber. That is literally the fuel that your cells need on a daily basis and that is the fuel that you should obtain from the food that you are consuming.
- Eat only when you’re hungry. There is no established rule when it comes to eating patterns or number of meals. Eating a certain number of meals a day is not a formula for health, since the energy required by the body is based on your physical and mental activity.
- Think of what you eat as a plate with food. If you have too much of one thing on your plate, you’ll end-up having too little of another thing. Just to give you an example: too much meat on your plate usually means that you consume fewer plants. Similarly, too much bread means you’ll fill your stomach with bread instead of what should go on top of the bread.
- Don’t replace a meal with a powder or a shake, even if the calories sound ok.
- If man made it, you can’t eat it. Simply put, avoid all processed foods in any form. If it stays on a shelf too long, or if the ingredients list is long or looks strange to you, you should probably avoid it.
- Fermented foods are healthy because they come with beneficial gut-friendly bacteria. I don’t really know one that isn’t healthy. One thing to remember is that pasteurization kills the bacteria that develop during the fermentation process.
- Always listen to your body since your body knows what it needs in terms of nutrients. In fact, your body talks to you all the time so you better start listening to what it says.
- Taste can mislead you sometimes. In technologically developed societies (so-called “modern world”), food can often look and taste delicious due to processing technologies and the use of additives and preservatives. This doesn’t mean that food that tastes amazing or looks great is also healthy to consume.
- With time, while you’ll introduce and consume more healthy foods, the same foods that looked appealing before the dietary change will become something that you won’t even want to consider anymore. This is a sign that you’ve recalibrated your taste buds towards making healthier choices.
- Feeling hungry all the time is an indication of unhealthy eating habits. Feeling satiated and full of energy is an indication of correct eating habits.
- Keep in mind that changing your eating habits will take time and patience, while your body adjusts to reflect the positive changes.
- Your body talks to you in every moment! Learn how to listen to your body’s nutritional needs and cravings in different moments of the day.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with different new foods but make sure to keep everything natural and low in carbs.
- There are no magical combinations that one should follow. Every person is unique so every solution must be adapted to one’s needs, behavior, energy needs, or habits.
Food and Calories
Are calories the correct way to measure nutritious food? Find out below.
- When it comes to making healthy food choices, calories are not a rule for success. Calories should not be used as a way to determine the quality of food.
- Eating fewer calories without adequate micronutrients (basically just counting calories) is not a recipe for healthy weight loss or for healthy living, and can often lead to various health problems.
- Calories are not that important when it comes to being healthy or losing weight either.
- Counting calories will only steer you away from healthy eating habits and will put you on a path of fear and uncertainty.
- The actual food that you eat and the nutrients that it provides is far more important than the number of calories that it may or may not contain.
- If you start listening to what your body is telling you, you’ll notice that the energy requirements will balance over time, thus making the action of counting calories obsolete.
- Even the so-called caloric requirements established as nutritional guidelines are simply estimations. based on average conditions. Do you see the problem with calories now?
Sources of Food
The sources of foods are far more important than you might think. Find out why in this section.
- Conventionally grown foods are produced using pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or fertilizers, just to name a few of the chemicals used today. These chemicals can be harmful for one’s health if ingested, and that is why it’s mandatory to wash all plants carefully before doing anything with them.
- On the other hand, organically grown are not sprayed with these chemical, and the plants will develop more naturally, thus having more nutrients per serving. This makes for a more expensive final product.
- Organic farmers rely on building a healthy soil in which to grow healthy plants in balance with nature. This is the way that plants were grown 200 or more years ago, before the so-called technological advances.
- Always choose organic food when possible. If certified organic is not possible, try asking your local farmers how they grow the food and buy from those that grow it as naturally as possible.
- Choose responsible farming because it’s not only good for the environment but it’s also good for your health, for the farmer’s health and for the animals.
- Choose to buy from local farmers and develop a relationship with the farmers from your area. Get in touch with your local farmers and ask them about the way their products are grown and prepared.
- Make the best choice that you can in a certain moment. Be aware of the choices that you are making and strive for the best that you can do in the moment.
- It’s perfectly ok to eat conventionally grown plants or organic plants. There is no right or wrong, especially since there are far worst choices to make than conventionally grown plants (think processed foods, ultra pasteurization, foods with additives and preservatives). As long as it’s natural, it’s ok.
Toxins in Food
When we discuss healthy food, we must also discuss the relationship between food and toxins. Find out how toxic food can impact your health and what to do about it.
- Processed foods are often loaded with additives, preservative, or fillers of many different types.
- Chemicals present in the food are categorized as environmental toxins and should be treated as a danger for one’s health.
- Most of these chemicals often accumulate in the body leading to an impaired or overactive immune system and lymphatic blockage.
- Always read the labels, identifying hidden toxins like additives, preservatives and fillers in all the products that you consume.
- Avoid additives and preservatives, they are proven to negatively impact your health in so many ways.
- Another category of food chemicals are refined seed oils and added sugars.
- Avoid refined oils and added sugar in all foods, including restaurant foods. Both of these are toxic for your system, even in small quantities.
- Stay away from trans-fats and all kinds of industrially processed fats or plant-based fats that were processed or refined industrially (think margarine).
- Another category of toxins in foods are related to cooking methods.
- Choose meals that are not over-cooked. The way the food has been prepared is far more important than you’d think, in terms of the toxins generated and also how these toxins may impact your health.
- Prepare and consume the food in pots or dishes made from natural materials .Cook the food in cast iron, ceramic or stainless steel pots and pans.
- Consume the food from ceramic dishes that were not glazed. Stay away from glazed items, as well as paper or plastic utensils of any kind.
Exercise and Food
Here are a few practical advices on how to recover after a workout session (or an intense activity) using healthy food.
- Training should not be an excuse for eating junk foods or desserts filled with sugar.
- Recovering with carbs after a workout can actually be a good thing but one should use plants for this, not powders based on simple carbs like glucose and fructose.
- Recovering from training by using refined carbs will raise your insulin levels, eventually triggering carb dependency, insulin resistance and probably a high carb eating pattern. This will take many weeks or months but it often happens so the best way to avoid this is to recover using natural carbs instead of powders, and use as little as possible.
- It turns out we don’t need too much protein even after a bodybuilding workout. Practical experience shows that the needed protein amount can be easily obtained from consuming real food.
Core principles for choosing healthy food
- Always read the labels on all the foods that you consume.
- Counting calories is not practical or even healthy. Why? Because not all carbs, proteins or fats are the same in terms of their micro-nutrient profile (not all calories are created equal).
- When it comes to healthy food, what counts is the actual nutritional value of the products themselves (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients, fiber) and how good these values are maintained after the cooking process.
- Choose real food, unprocessed, as fresh as possible. Shop organic when possible or buy from local farms that grow the food as naturally as possible.
- If possible, choose organic products even if they might be more expensive. Organic foods have more nutrients per serving and are responsibly produced, which means they are better for the soil, the farmers and for the animals.
- Cheapest choice always means highly processed and/or the lowest quality possible.
- Going to a fast-food restaurant should not be an option even if you are extremely hungry. Learn how to control your mind especially if you’re just beginning your health journey.
- Always avoid sugar, wheat, industrially processed oils, GMOs and processed foods of any kind. Stay away from all processed foods that come with the “organic” label.
- When going to a restaurant make an effort to avoid everything from the list above. Ask your waiter about the way the food is cooked, they will always be happy to answer your questions.
- Frozen food is always fresh and cheaper plus you can find lots of frozen veggies and berries. In fact, I eat lots of frozen broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, green peas, spinach and different kinds of berries. Cooking frozen vegetables will be less time consuming and will render delicious and healthy results.
That was it for the first part of this article.
In the second part of this short series we’ll focus on putting together a list of “what NOT to eat foods” and we’ll also discuss the “why” associated with different categories of unhealthy foods. Next, we’ll discuss my simple formula to help you put together healthy meals no matter what. Lastly, we’ll discuss in detail about what foods and categories of foods to consume, focusing mainly on plants since plants should be the bulk of your plate of healthy food.
Thanks for reading so far and I hope to see you in the second part of this article.