The Definitive Guide to Healthy Eating
Updated: May 22, 2019
Healthy eating is so much more than a number that shows on a scale. It’s about having enough energy, giving your body the right amount of nutrients, and feeling great.
That said, when it comes to food, experts differ in opinion on what’s best for your body and mind. Every person is different so every diet will be different, too. It’s impossible to create an exact formula for what, and how much, a person should eat each day.
This fact makes healthy eating frustratingly difficult, especially when trustworthy health experts so often contradict each other. We think the best path forward is to cut through the confusion and go back to basics.
Eat Real Food
First and foremost, a cornerstone to healthy eating is to eat real food. This sounds far simpler than it sounds. You may think you eat real food for most meals, but you’d be surprised to learn that's not the case. Results from a nationally representative survey show that a majority of North Americans consume about 60% of their calories from processed foods.
A key component of healthy eating is to replace processed food with real food. This means eating food the way it’s naturally grown, not the way we repackage it to boost shelf life and taste. Defining real food and getting back to our roots is where we’ll start our guide to healthy eating.
What Does Real Food Look Like?
Real food is food that isn’t meddled with by humans. It’s food that grows on trees, sprouts from the ground, or animals that live on land or in the sea.
Some examples: fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, dairy, seafood, whole grains, beans, water, coffee, tea.
Real foods are packed with nutrients, and when we eat them, we absorb all those wonderful nutrients which work wonders for our health. They give us invaluable vitamins and minerals that help us ward off disease, function at higher levels and keep our hearts healthy. Most importantly, they make us feel better. Eat as much real food as you can and reap the beneficial nutrients they provide.
What Do Minimally and Highly Processed Foods Look Like?
Minimally processed foods are somewhat meddled with by humans. They’re a mixture of natural and unnatural ingredients to add flavor and shelf life to the real food we find in nature.
Some examples: canned fruits & veggies, fruit juice, wine, canned meat & seafood, mayonnaise, cooking oils, salt, sugar, butter, honey, molasses.
Minimally processed foods give us some nutrients and taste great, but don’t do as much for our health. It’s like putting diesel gas in a regular car tank. It’ll work the same, but the longer it sits in your fuel tank, the more damage it’ll do overall. Eat minimally processed foods occasionally but keep an eye out for how often you’re indulging.
Highly processed foods are incredibly meddled with by humans. They’re essentially made solely from refined ingredients and artificial substances. Artificial substances are chemicals, created by humans, that are added for value purposes and flavor.
Some examples: deli meats, hot dogs, canned meats, sausages, canned/boxed/frozen ready-to-eat meals in supermarkets, white bread, sugary cereal, chips, crackers, chocolate, sweetened beverages, margarine, bottled dressing.
These foods are high in preservatives, sodium, and food coloring. They are highly addictive, engineered for over-consumption and extremely low in nutrients. You might as well be throwing water into your gas tank at this point. We’re all guilty of loving highly processed foods, but we don’t spend enough time talking about the dangers of them. Eat highly processed foods sparingly, save them for cheat days if you can, and do your best not to incorporate them into a regular diet.
Back To The Basics
Now that we’ve been reacquainted real food, and reminded ourselves of the dangers of processed foods, let’s discuss a few other basics to keep in mind as you eat your real food each day.
We need lean proteins, healthy fats, complex carbs, lots of colors, minimal sugar and balanced portions in each of our meals every day. If this doesn’t overwhelm you, you’re either a certified nutritionist or have spent years perfecting healthy eating. For the rest of us, let’s simplify it.
Did you know protein comes in many shapes and sizes? Most people associate protein with meats and dairy only, but there’s more to the story.
You can get protein from beans, peas, quinoa, lentils, tofu, low-fat yogurt, and milk. If you are a meat lover, lean meats are better than others and are often identified by ‘round’, ‘chuck’, or ‘loin’ in their name. Chicken and turkey breasts are also great.
Lean proteins are healthy because they help to improve heart health and boost your energy. They also help you gain muscle--protein is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of muscle.
You’ve probably heard the scientific terms monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats to describe ‘good’ fats before. But, you may not know why they are good for you.
To start, avocados, nuts, seeds and healthy oils like olive oil are all examples of good fats. Fish are also a necessary source of omega 3s, which are an essential fatty acid associated with healthy fats. Your body can't make omega 3s, but we still need them to function, which is why we need to eat fish or over-the-counter vitamins to supplement.
So, why are healthy fats good for you? Well, they protect your brain and heart, only the two most important organs in our bodies. They’re also vital to physical and emotional health. Basically, they keep you alive and sane, so you should eat them, in moderation of course.
Complex carbs pack in way more nutrients than simple carbs. Fiber and starch are complex carbs, while sugar is a simple carb.
Basically, when it comes to carbs, the more natural, the better. Some examples are 100% whole grain pasta, brown rice, starchy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and veggies.
The nutrients in complex carbs are one of the primary sources of energy for our bodies. If you want to feel awake and alive throughout your day, make sure to include complex carbs in your diet.
Lots of Colors
This one’s short, sweet, and easy to remember. Try to incorporate a rainbow on your plate into each meal. From dark greens to bright berries, eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies is a great way to get the variety of micronutrients your body craves.
Did you know that sugar in its natural state is actually quite easy for our bodies to digest? It’s even necessary for us to function.
You will find natural sugar in nuts, fruits, vegetables, and dairy.
Sugar only acts in the form of empty calories when it’s added to food for processing. This can lead to increased levels of insulin, which up your body fat at record speeds. Do your best to lay off the cans of coke and spoonfuls of sugar in your coffee if you want to eat healthier. (We know this is easier said than done, but it makes a huge difference.)
Making the Switch to Healthier Choices
Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t eliminate all of the foods you’re used to enjoying right away. Going cold turkey on anything is rarely a good idea, especially if you live with other people and want to continue living there.
Start by adding portions of vegetables in with every meal. Slowly cut out processed foods. Put that beautiful rainbow of natural food colors on your plate. The journey to eating healthy is a marathon, not a sprint.
Here are a few other pro-tips that will hopefully aid your healthy eating journey:
Read more labels at the supermarket, you’ll be amazed by what you find.
- Eat smaller meals, more often, throughout the day to curb hunger and increase energy.
- Take your time while eating, your body will thank you for it.
- Use a prepared meal service like CleanBite, comprised of fresh and delicious foods that are never frozen and are nutrient-dense. They’ve done the work for you so that you don’t have to think too hard about your choices. Let them take the edge off the complicated path towards healthier eating, and save time and money in the process.
Bottom line: try to be more aware and conscious of what you’re putting into your body. Treat food more like fuel, rather than empty calories to fill the hunger void. Realize you are in control and develop a more positive relationship with the food choices you make.