This Is What Healthy Eating Is Really About
Healthy eating is not about following a strict diet, counting calories, eating so-called “health foods” that don’t taste good, wanting to reach the perfect BMI, or being skinny.
Neither is it about following and applying nutrition dogmas, or finding obscure cooking ingredients and superfoods.
Eating healthy is about enjoying delicious meals, maintaining a healthy weight, having a healthy body, having more energy and feeling really alive!
Here is what healthy eating is NOT about, what it is really about, and how you can design your healthy diet.
What Healthy Eating Is NOT About
1. It’s not about having a tasteless, bland diet
Too many people are still led to believe that a healthy diet is synonymous with bland, tasteless foods. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Eating some lettuce followed by steamed chicken breast and boiled carrots, without any added fat or condiments, is neither tasty nor healthy.
Think of it this way: if it’s bland, it means that all the nutrients our body needs are simply not there. Our taste buds are sensitive to different flavors to make sure we get different nutrients in our diet (without needing a nutrition degree to do so). Our body basically needs carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes.
So, if eating healthy still brings to your mind a picture of steamed vegetables and turkey breast, you need to get rid of these beliefs right now. You will do your taste buds and your body a huge favor.
2. It’s not about having a low-calorie diet or counting calories
This is another misconception that goes something like this: I’m not healthy because I eat too much and don’t exercise. I need to exercise more and eat less. Right?
Wrong. Simply put, if you exercise more, you’ll most probably be more hungry, and if you eat less at the same time, your body will get the message that it needs to go into starvation mode. This won’t make you thinner nor will it make you healthier.
You can of course exercise more if you’re sedentary, but what you need to do is eat more of the right foods, and less of the wrong foods. This hasn’t got anything to do with calories.
Being healthy is not about eating less, just as being un-healthy doesn’t mean that you’re eating too much. It’s the quality that matters here, much more than the quantity.
3. It’s not about following all the official healthy eating guidelines
This one is a biggie. You’ll find brochures, leaflets, presentations and websites by government agencies or health organizations that tell you what you should be eating.
While some of this advice is actually very accurate (eating vegetables, eating whole instead of refined grains, avoiding sugar and limiting sodium intake are good recommendations), a lot of it isn’t based on facts and even contradicts some of the most recent scientific studies.
Moreover, different government entities and health organizations will give you different recommendations, which contributes to your confusion and frustration about nutrition. You end up not knowing what you should actually eat in order to be healthy and stop gaining weight.
Official recommendations urge you to eat plenty of “healthy carbs” and whole grains, refrain from eating your bacon and eggs, consume “healthy” vegetable oils, drink plenty of pasteurized milk because you need calcium, or consume modern soy products because they are supposedly good for your health.
However, this is often the exact opposite of what you should actually be doing, because modern, processed fats or dairy products are far from being healthy. As far as grains are concerned, they can be great in moderation but can be detrimental to your health when consumed in large quantities.
4. It’s not about eliminating grains from your diet
We have evolved to digest and assimilate grains only recently (over the last 6,000 years in the Western world, compared to more than 2 million years of a plant and animal based diet), and grains, wheat in particular, may not be the ideal foods.
However, eliminating grains from your diet is not a guarantee that you’ll be healthier.
Some people might be, but the truth is that you can be perfectly healthy even if you eat grains, and sometimes lots of them. A simple example: Italians eat pasta every day for most of them, and they are perfectly healthy for most of them.
Most of us can eat a moderate amount of grains and be perfectly healthy.
Even Loren Cordain, who conducted in-depth studies on our Paleolithic ancestors, agrees that “Cereal grains obviously can be included in moderate amounts in the diets of most people without any noticeable, deleterious health effects.”
5. It’s not about being afraid of animal fats and eating low-fat foods
Humans have been consuming animal fats forever. For thousands of years. Traditional people value animal fat all over the world.
And suddenly, in the 20th century, we were told that animal fat would make us sick. Low-fat foods had to be much better.
So, we started to eat low-fat milk, low-fat cream, butter substitutes, vegetable oils, and all kinds of products that contained un-natural, processed and altered fats, that our body doesn’t know what to do with, doesn’t recognize, and that make him sicker than ever.
As long as animal fats come from quality sources (grass-fed animals) and are consumed in moderation, there is absolutely no reason why we should be afraid of them, because we have evolved to consume these animal fats.
6. It’s not about giving up your favorite comfort foods
Healthy eating is not about giving up your comfort foods. If you like your mac and cheese, your pizza or your ice cream, have some. But instead of enjoying these dishes five times a week or every day, eat them only once or twice.
You don’t it give up, but you stop feeding your body with these foods on a consistent basis. There are so many delicious dishes that are healthy, that you won’t ever feel deprived anyway.
When you want to start eating healthy, you need to understand and learn to love the 80/20 rule. This rule was invented by an Italian, Vilfredo Pareto, and means that 20% of your efforts will often lead to 80% of your results.
This means that choosing the right foods most of the time will give you the most spectacular results, and that trying to be perfect in everything or avoiding chocolate cakes and your favorite comfort foods all the time will mean a big sacrifice for you, yet it may only account for 20% of your results. Not worth it.
Now that we’ve explained what healthy eating is NOT about, let’s take a look at what it is actually about.
What Healthy Eating Is About
1. It is about no longer eating the foods that send the wrong message to your body
This is most probably the most important step to having a healthy diet.
I like to see food as a language. The foods we eat send messages to our body, our cells, and our genes.
We decide to send the wrong or the right message to our body. We decide if we want to eat the foods that send messages to the body to stick to every bit of fat stored, or to store fat from the foods we eat.
Let’s take a look at just a couple of simple examples.
White, processed bread gives our body some energy, but sends 2 messages: 1) the sugar contained in the bread triggers insulin and tells the body to store excess carbohydrates as fat; and 2) not enough nutrients means the body is hungry for more, and we’ll want to eat more. Over time, this will mean weight gain and maybe even diabetes for some people.
Vegetable oils, especially when they are used in frying, send highly oxidized polyunsaturated fats to our cells, contributing to making us sick. As research has shown in the late 1990s, “a high polyunsaturated fatty acid n-6 content and high n-6/n-3 ratio in dietary fats [are] atherogenic and diabetogenic”, which means that this can cause clogged arteries and atherosclerosis as well as diabetes.
Eating fake, highly processed, altered foods sends the wrong message to our body, and prevents us from being healthy.
Healthy eating is about eliminating – or highly reducing at least – un-healthy foods from our diet. These include highly processed foods, industrial foods, fake foods, refined foods and foods that contain chemicals.
2. It is about eating the foods that send the right message to your body
So, what do you eat once you’ve stopped consuming the foods that send the wrong message to your body?
You start adding the right foods to your diet; the foods that will send the right message to your body, your cells, and your genes.
We all live in a modern, civilized world; yet our genes have not changed much since we were Paleolithic hunter-gatherers.
Biologically speaking, our body is meant to assimilate and work on the foods that have dominated the human diets for millions of years, not the ones that have dominated the diet for the last 150 years.
We have primarily evolved to eat whole, plant foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts, and some seeds. These foods should therefore constitute the largest part of our diet. Then, we have evolved to eat animal products: meat, fish, animal fat, and organ meats. They should also be part of our diet.
And over the last 6,000 years or so, since we entered the agricultural age in Western countries, we have started to evolve to eat grains. This is a very important concept to understand. Our ability to digest and use grains as a food is very recent, and our body is not 100% ready to eat grains.
This is why many people still have intolerances or sensitivities to some grains – often without knowing it. This is also why, if you want to eat grains, appropriate preparation is required, and moderation is necessary.
The same can be said about legumes: they were not consumed before the agricultural age, and this explains why they are not easily digested by most of us, and why adequate preparation is a requirement to enjoy their great health benefits without their negative aspects.
So, these are the foods that send the right message to our body. These are whole foods, natural, real foods from plants and animals. And this applies to carbohydrates, to fats, and to proteins.
3. It is about knowing how your body works
“One man’s meat is another man’s poison”. It is important to understand that although we do have the same basic genetic makeup, there are important individual variations.
Nature is highly specific, and one person will not have the same reactions to a specific food as another person. This is why there is no one-size-fits-all as far as diets are concerned.
A basic knowledge of your own body constitution can really be a plus when it comes to making healthy food choices and designing a healthy eating plan. What’s healthy for you may not be healthy for your neighbor or your spouse.
Your body will absorb foods differently and more or less efficiently according to your constitution, and some people will do better with more animal protein and fewer grains, and others with less protein and more grains. Some will do better on more fat in their diet, and some with only a small amount of fat.
This is why some people are very healthy on a vegetarian diet (grains, no meat), others on a Paleo diet (plenty of meat, no grains), and others with a balanced, omnivorous diet.
Unlike mainstream medicine or nutrition would like us to believe, there is no perfectly healthy diet that would suit everyone. We all need to listen to our body.
Designing your healthy diet: healthy eating plan, habits and recipes
1. Healthy eating plan: it’s all about being organized
One of the biggest obstacles to having a healthy diet is a lack of organization and planning.
If you don’t plan and get organized, you’ll most probably end up having pizza and pasta or takeaway foods several times a week. You’ll also snack more often, and eat more processed foods. And this is exactly what you want to avoid.
To set yourself up for success, you need to take some time to make meal plans, and do your grocery shopping with these meal plans in mind. Spending 5 minutes to think about tomorrow’s dinner can go a long way in helping you reach your healthy eating goals.
Take small steps, add healthy foods to your menu, make small changes, and you won’t feel overwhelmed. Planning your meals and your grocery shopping consistently and with commitment will enable you to have a healthy diet, fast.
2. Healthy eating habits: it’s not only about food
Healthy eating is about food choices, but it is also about more than the food on your plate. And healthy eating habits are actually very important. They can be learned easily and quickly, one step at a time.
Eating is not a necessary evil demanding expediency, it’s not about “grabbing some food”, “giving fuel” to your body as if it was a gas tank (our body is an organism, not a machine).
Food is not something you gulp down as you’re watching TV, driving, or interacting on Facebook, without really knowing what it is you’re actually eating.
I believe in food and eating as a pleasurable, enjoyable experience that bring us satisfaction and happiness.
Healthy eating habits include making real meals (including a real breakfast, for most people) and reducing snacking, chewing your food thoroughly to facilitate digestion, drinking water between meals, not eating if you’re not hungry, and eating until you’re about 80% full.
Healthy eating is also about eating with others, sharing the experience, and educating your children about what they should eat to grow up and be strong. It is about mindful eating. It is about enjoying the moment and having fun.
3. Healthy eating recipes: preparing and cooking your food the right way
One of the most important yet often overlooked aspects of healthy eating is how you prepare and cook your food.
How you prepare your food is absolutely essential to make the nutrients in foods available and healthy. In a sense, you are not exactly what you eat, you are what you assimilate, what your body assimilates.
Cooking broccoli in water more than 10 minutes will kill enzymes and destroy antioxidants and vitamins, as it has been shown by studies. Baking salmon until it’s fully cooked will alter the beneficial omega-3s.
A poached egg will be highly beneficial for your health, but a fried egg will put oxidized cholesterol in your arteries. And the list goes on and on.
The more we alter our food, the less enzymes and vitamins we absorb. Altered fats have also been shown in scientific studies to wreak havoc in our body.
Of course, cooking also makes some substances in food more available and digestible, but you need to know exactly what and how.
So, healthy eating is also about preparing and cooking foods the right way, to make it nutritious and really make sure our body gets what it needs for us to be lean, have energy, and feel great!