Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Does Healthy Food Look Like?

My biggest surprise, as I have studied food, has been a very happy surprise.  The journey to find out what healthy eating looks like has ended in a very happy place.

Let's break through the great confusion that advertising has portrayed as healthy eating, and try to simplify it.  In its simplest terms, eating healthy food is eating food that is still in its original, or whole food, form and having been grown, or raised, the way it has been done for hundreds of years.

When you are looking for food to be healthy, there are easy ways to sort out what isn't healthy.  Start by avoiding these common health culprits...

Processed Foods
Anything that has become a "processed" food, or in simple terms "did a machine make it"?  An example would be a hamburger made of pure beef or a fast food hamburger that was processed, or made by a machine.  In the processing chemicals and lab created flavors are often added, as well as artificial preservatives.  The food is usually processed so much that it has very little to no nutritional value left.

Avoid processed foods by buying foods that are whole, and recognizable.  Eat grains that have been sprouted, and there fore don't spike blood sugar like regular bread, and have more nutrients.

Trans Fats
Another example of food coming from a machine, are foods with trans fats.  These are made by adding hydrogen to oils.  Trans fats are a major cause of heart disease, one of the worst killers in the US.  

SnacksSome common trans fat foods are margarine, packaged foods like cake mixes and Bisquick (they do have a trans fat free one too), soups (especially Ramen nooodles), French fries, fried chicken, frozen pies, waffles, pizzas, fish sticks, baked goods like donuts and cakes, potato and corn chips, crackers, breakfast cereals, cookies and candies, nondairy creamers, flavored coffees, whipped toppings, bean dips, gravy mixes, and salad dressings.Now there are certainly versions of each of these items that come without trans fats, but unless you know it doesn't have trans fats, it probably does.

The process is designed to give food a longer shelf life before going bad.  Unfortunately it's giving many people a shorter life.

You can avoid trans fats by purchasing foods that are trans fat free.  All Trader Joe products are also trans fat free.

Genetically modified (or engineered) organisms, have been very poorly tested before being allowed into our food supply.  There is so much to say on this one that I will direct you to another post I wrote on GMO's.  Also the movie is awesome at explaining the grave concerns that GMO's present, in a non-fanatical way.  I'm not volunteering to be a guinea pig.

To avoid GMO's buy organic, as anything "certified organic" or "USDA Organic" can't have GMO's in it.

Fresh VeggiesThe invisible chemicals put a burden on our liver.  Our liver detoxes, or cleans, our blood for us.  There are often many chemicals sprayed on one fruit or vegetable, and they often haven't tested what happens when all of the chemicals are mixed together.

To avoid pesticides buy organic.  If cost is an issue try to buy foods that you eat the skin of organic.  If that's still too much, you can make your own fruit and veggie wash for pennies.  This doesn't take care of all the chemicals, but it will help.  Mix 1 part vinegar with 10 parts water into a spray bottle.  Spray the mixture on the fruit or vegetable, then rub it on for about 30 seconds.  Rinse with clean water.

Sickness thy mask is sugar!  Sugar weakens our immune systems and causes blood sugar levels to spike, which can eventually lead to diabetes.  High fructose corn syrup is the worst, and unfortunately it's in everything from yogurt to ketchup.

To avoid high fructose corn syrup just read labels.  There are many similar choices that don't have any high fructose corn syrup in them.  Treat sugary items as treats, and have them only occasionally to help maintain good health.  Healthier alternatives like raw honey and stevia as sweeteners, are readily available.

salar 3Sodium is basically salt.  We need salt in our diet to keep our bodies functioning, however many Americans are in taking way too much of it.  We need about 1500mg per day, but the average American is consuming 3000mg per day.  The abundance is mostly found in fast foods, reduced fat foods, and restaurant food.

To keep from eating too much try to cook meals, or buy food that is fresh.

What we want to have in our food for it to be healthy is...

Balanced Omega 6 and 3
According to doctors, 90% of all diseases facing man kind start with inflammation.  My theory on this mass explosion of diseases like Alzheimer's, heart disease, and even cancer, is that the major change in our meat supply has played a big role.

Up until about 50 or so years ago cows were raised eating grass, chickens were raised running around eating seeds and bugs.

To maintain good health we need a balance of 1:1 or 2:1 of Omega 6:Omega 3 fatty acids in our food.  Today our common diet has a ratio of 10:1, or even as high as 25:1, which is way too high in Omega 6.
Cows and chicken that are free range fed and raised usually have this healthy balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 that we need to stay healthy.

CowWhen these animals are raised in commercial feed lots there food commonly yields a much higher ratio of Omega 6 than is free range counter part.  When we get higher amounts of Omega 6 it can cause inflammation that leads to so many other health problems.

Omega 3 is the balancer that lowers bad cholesterol, boosts heart health, can help with rheumatoid arthritis, depression and more.  Without the Omega 3 our bodies are in danger of many health problems.
When we eat the meat that is higher in Omega 6 it is hard to eat or supplement anything to really correct the balance.  Fatty fish, like salmon, have the highest levels of Omega 3, but also have levels of Omega 6.

With it being so hard to rebalance the Omega 3 and 6, it is much easier to just eat the healthy balance in the first place.  To to this buy grass fed beef, that has also been finished on grass (some ranchers finish them on grain to fatten them up, loosing a lot of the Omega 3 benefit), buy chicken that is free-range raised, eat wild caught salmon, and other fatty fish.

Eat Healthy Fats
Did you know that there are fats that are really good for us.  Yes, there are the Omega 3 fats, but there is so much more.  My two favorites are coconut oil and olive oil.  For more on them click here.  :)

Fresh Food
The best restaurants only serve food that is very fresh.  This makes it taste better, but for our benefit it also keeps the nutrients available to us.  After a fruit or vegetable is picked it starts to loose its nutrients.  The sooner it can be eaten the better it is health wise for us.  Frozen fruits and veggies are a great option when very fresh fruits and veggies aren't available.  The fruits and vegetable are usually frozen very soon after being picked.  This allows the food to hold onto its nutrients much longer.

light feta saladPrepackaged foods in boxes often don't have much in the way of nutrients, and may have trans fats.  Canned food looses almost all of it's nutritional value after about 6 months, with it being generally unfit to eat after 2 years.  Canned food is also commonly lined with BPA, a synthetic hormone that acts the same as estrogen.  Want some extra hormones with that food?  I know I've got enough already.

Raw foods, or foods that aren't cooked, provide a lot of good for our bodies.  Raw milk cheese and raw honey are two of my favorites!  When foods are raw they have what are called enzymes in them.  All raw foods have these enzymes.  These enzymes are amazing!  They are exactly what our bodies need to help break down and digest that particular food.

When we cook food the enzymes are destroyed.  Then our bodies have to make the enzymes to make up for what was lost.  That means more work for our body.

This is why eating some food raw is a great benefit to your body.  Fresh juicing is a fun and tasty way to eat things you might other wise not eat raw, like a turnip.  :)

In a nut shell:

Eat foods that are whole foods, not processed.  Avoid foods that have been unnaturally changed, covered in chemicals, or deep fried.  Save sugar as an occasional treat, and limit salt consumption.  Eat meats with a balance of Omega 6 and 3, like grass-fed beef, free range chickens, and salmon.  Eat healthy fats like coconut oil and olive oil.   Eat fruits and vegetables as fresh as possible, or from frozen.

This is the way that cultures who have the longest life spans eat.  Enjoy the variety and great flavors of real food!


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