Food and nutrition are huge subjects. We tend to use the words ‘good’ and ‘healthy’ interchangeably, but when it comes to food, ‘good’ can be pretty subjective. Working out what is truly good for you can be confusing and challenging at first… so when trying to incorporate a healthy diet into your lifestyle, it certainly helps to do some research and try out options in order to find out what works for you personally.
We all know that there’s a lot of bad food out there, and although some of that may well be hard to resist, the best possible option is surely to eat food that is both healthy and tasty. Some healthy foods may seem unpalatable, but it is possible to prepare those in a way that makes them much more enjoyable.
In this article we’ll take a look at foods that are good and bad for you, how you can incorporate healthy foods into your diet, and ways to avoid overindulging in the tasty (but naughty)…
A truly healthy diet requires understanding
When embarking on your healthy diet quest, it makes sense to get to grips with what actually constitutes good, bad and tasty foods:
The ‘good’ refers to the kind of healthy foods and drinks that we may not necessarily enjoy eating, but have great nutritional value and can bring huge benefits to our health and wellbeing.
- Superfood powders like raw cacao, spirulina, ashwagandha and maca root provide large amounts of vital vitamins and minerals
- Organic leafy greens such as kale, lettuce, spinach: full of vitamins, minerals and fiber but can taste bland
- Citrus peel: tastes bitter but contains immune-boosting vitamin C, calcium and anti-inflammatory, antioxidant bioflavonoids
- Root vegetables like turmeric, ginger, turnips and parsnips: fiber rich, boost gut bacteria, reduce diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer risk
- Green tea: high in antioxidants, boosts metabolism and reduces cancer risk… but tastes bitter and dry
- Some seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, chia seeds, and watermelon seeds: vitamin and mineral rich, but hard and chewy with little flavor
- Raw garlic: low in calories, highly medicinal, antifungal and antibiotic
- Brown or wild rice: can be chewy and dry, but boost heart health, lower cancer risk and are full of antioxidants and nutrients
There are also some very healthy foods that taste great and are definitely constituents of a healthy diet, such as most fruits (especially berries) and vegetables, sweet potatoes, oily fish and many types of nuts. Peanuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts and walnuts are particularly tasty. Don’t forget to eat organic wherever possible to avoid toxic pesticides, which will negate the effects of your hard work!
The ‘bad’ refers to food and drinks that we should really be avoiding, or consuming less of day to day. In this bracket we can include:
- Fry-ups and fast food take-outs: full of dangerous trans fats, low-quality cooking oils and additives such as MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Saturated fats: mainly found in meat and dairy products, these raise LDL cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease
- Commercial cereals: laden with refined sugars, cause blood sugar spikes, obesity and raise diabetes risk
- Dairy products: contrary to popular belief, dairy may not be as healthy as you might think.
- Processed meats like sausages, salami, bacon: full of toxic nitrates and nitrites
- Foods with a high refined sugar content: refined sugar is the main cause of diabetes, obesity and heart disease
- Convenience foods: ready meals are often full of chemicals, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors
- Alcohol: challenges the liver and can weaken your immune system
- Diet sodas: full of dangerous neurotoxins like aspartame
The list of unhealthy foods is too long to mention in one article, but if you’re serious about cultivating a healthy diet, this list of unhealthy foods will help you to get your head around what to avoid.
The ‘tasty’ refers to the foods that are commonly loved by all but may, or may not necessarily be our healthiest choices. It makes sense to apply moderation to consumption of such dishes, as in large quantities they can give your body a lot of work to do. They can even pose serious health risks if they’re a regular part of your lifestyle.
- Cooked meals rich in butter, vegetable oils, creams and saturated fats
- Bread, pizza and wheat products
- Sweets and desserts
- Soda and concentrated fruit juices
- Potato chips
We wouldn’t mind betting that giving up these foods and drinks won’t come easy to many… but is it necessary to give them up completely, or can we prepare and consume these in a healthy, well-balanced way? Nobody wants to deprive themselves of life’s natural pleasures – we get that! Actually, it is totally possible to indulge now and then, provided that you have the balance right. Read on for some tips on how to do that…
Tips for balancing a healthy yet tasty diet:
For those days when you’re stuck for inspiration on incorporating the healthier but less appealing foods into your diet, you could try some of the following strategies:
- Add plenty of aromatic and flavorsome herbs and spices when cooking them: rosemary, garlic, cayenne pepper and cumin are good examples
- Cook brown or wild rice in oils and spices and add chopped up avocado
- Blend up a few superfood powders and seeds in a healthy morning smoothie with nut milk and fruit so that flavors are disguised
- Sprinkle seeds in on top of salads and soups so that they blend into the meal
- Add a natural sweetener like xylitol, agave syrup or stevia to your green tea
- Roast root vegetables in the oven with some Celtic or Himalayan sea salt and cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil and they’ll go from boring to moreish in no time!
- Freeze citrus peels and then grate them into drinks and onto salads
We won’t decorate the truth – the bad foods we mentioned above are never going to be healthy, no matter what you do with them. Although you’re better off avoiding them completely, you can get around cravings by substituting the bad foods you enjoy for healthier versions. For example:
- Grill foods instead of frying them
- Replace butter with healthier alternatives, like coconut oil, avocado oil or vegetable spreads from a health food store
- Replace fried chips with oven-baked chips
- Drink only fresh, not-from-concentrate juice, or squeeze your own
- Replace refined sugar with natural sweeteners
- Use high quality, unrefined cooking oils instead of cheap vegetable oils
- Throw out the refined, bleached table salt in favor of Celtic or Himalayan
- Buy organic, pesticide-free coffee (and lower your consumption)
- Change up saturated fats for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (i.e. healthy) fats
- Swap commercial cereals for easy, tasty overnight oats
- Buy gluten-free flours and breads, and make or buy plant-based pizzas
Although you can probably get away with indulging in the tasty but naughty foods from time to time, it’s wise to keep this to a minimum if you really want a healthy diet. Here are some tips on how you can do this:
- Get a realistic nutrition plan, plan your meals and mealtimes in advance, and measure your results regularly: how do you feel and look? How much energy do you have? Positive results should inspire you to continue
- Eat more protein to reduce your appetite and keep you from overeating and craving naughty foods
- Challenge yourself to cultivate self-discipline: by keeping your eyes on the prize (health and good shape) you may find it easier to say no
- Prepare food yourself, from scratch: convenience food is rarely ever healthy. Make your own versions of tasty food so you have control over the ingredients, and use healthy substitutes where possible
- Make sure you get enough sleep each night: proper rest boosts metabolism and reduces cravings
- Adopt the 80/20 rule if you really can’t stay away: eat clean, whole foods for around 80% of your daily calories and treat yourself for around 20% of your daily calories
In short, establishing a healthy diet is a combination of nutritional awareness, self-discipline, effort in the kitchen, and choices motivated by self-care. You can’t know what true health and vitality feel like until you have them, but once you have, you won’t want to let them go again.
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Stay safe, and healthy!