Healthy eating doesn’t need to be hard. Most diet programs, weight-loss centres, and fitness coaches would have you think otherwise. They want you to fixate on counting calories, buying expensive weight-loss approved foods, or adhering to strict meal plans to make you think you’re being healthy. I am a dietitian and want to inspire you to think of healthy, nourishing food in a different way; the way nature intended. Eating whole, natural foods, with little processing is the secret to a vibrant, healthy life!
For help in making the best food choices, there are three easy questions to ask yourself before eating.
1. Does it come from a plant?
Think herbs, tubers, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains and fruit. Plants are nutrient powerhouses and should be the bulk of a good diet. Rich in vitamins and minerals, but also plant pigments and phytochemicals that fight disease, energise your cells, promote longevity and help you perform your best. Plants should be consumed as close to nature as possible, for example choose whole grains like oats, quinoa, or whole wheat berries over refined grains and processed flours. Or choose fresh fruit over candied fruit or preserves.
2. Does it come from a field, ocean, lake or forest?
Beef, pork, eggs, poultry, fish and wild game fall into this category. Notice that meat from confinement operations and farmed fish don’t fit this category. Meat that comes from animals raised eating what nature intended has a better nutrient profile than animals fed diets they didn’t evolve to eat. As consumers we should look for eggs from pastured chickens, beef from grass-fed cows, and eat wild caught fish and game whenever possible!
3. How many “steps” happened to it before I ate it?
This is the question that drives it all home. Compare eating an apple with eating an apple flavoured fruit snack. Steps for eating an apple: pick it, eat it. Steps for eating a fruit snack: pick it, peel it, juice it, add sugar, add food colourings, add preservatives, add gelatine, cut into shapes, bake in an oven, package it in a bag, open, and then eat it. When we start to think about many of the foods we eat on a daily basis it is shocking to think of how much processing takes place before we ingest them. Crackers, breakfast cereal, packaged dinners, chips, hotdogs, buns, soda, even many condiments, dressings, and sauces don’t even resemble the foods that they are made up of. Think of how much processing is required to convert an ear of corn into a bottle of corn syrup! Or to create a cheese puff! No wonder we aren’t getting nourished from our diets! The components are so far removed from nature, it’s a wonder they even qualify as food at all!
So what can we do about it? Remember these questions before you eat something and let them guide you to better decisions. It’s not going to be perfect and there will be days that you rely on more processed foods than others, but if you make an effort to put natural foods into your body as much as possible you will feel a difference!
Think of buying more fresh fruits and vegetables, dry beans, raw nuts, whole grains and plenty of herbs and spices. Frozen foods like plain vegetables, meats, shrimp or berries are a great option as well. If you tolerate dairy, focus on buying whole fat, plain varieties free of extra stabilisers, preservatives or flavourings. This gives you the control of what you are putting in your meals. If you like fruit flavoured yogurt or spicy roasted nuts you now have the freedom to add real ingredients like berries, honey, fresh spices and olive oil, while adding less of the things that aren’t beneficial like excess sugars, salt, or damaged fats. Mild processing of natural food ingredients is fine and can keep you from getting bored with healthy eating. For example, roasting sweet potato wedges in a little olive oil, or grinding up cashews for a creamy cashew butter, can add delicious variety to your meals. Creativity with whole food ingredients can go a long way!
Things to avoid buying at the supermarket include many convenience items like boxed dinners, chips, crackers, processed meat products, sugary cereal, and more. Fake “dieter” foods like bars, shakes, and low-fat cookies can be full of sugar, artificial colours, stabilisers and chemicals (to trick the brain into thinking they are tastier than they really are) which results in the “health foods” being just as processed as candy. Use your intuition here, if it doesn’t closely resemble the natural food it came from, you probably should avoid eating it.
Follow along with my posts and recipes to see how to turn whole foods into delicious meals! We will use natural, basic ingredients to create dishes that are full of health and flavour! Our bodies are perfectly designed to be nourished and energised by foods in their most natural forms. It’s time to start feeding our bodies what they were always meant to eat!