So you want to try shopping for healthier food, or maybe you’re sick of being misled and tricked in to buying unhealthy food by sneaky ad companies. You’re far from alone. There aren’t even that many foods nutritionists and doctors all agree on as being healthy. So how in the world is the average person supposed to know the difference?
The struggle is real, and no matter how much we customize our diets, being health-conscious requires us to remain vigilant. Why? Because ad companies get paid to convince you to buy certain products. From the words they choose (“all-natural,” “low-fat,” “fat-burning,” etc.) to the color of the label to the type of the font, it’s a battle to look past all the gimmicks and stick to what you know for sure. Because while the Food and Drug Administration does have certain restrictions on labeling and packaging, they’re far from comprehensive.
So which variations of certain foods should you choose? Here are some tips to help you get started.
Brown vs. white rice
Whatever your reason for avoiding gluten, you’re safe eating either brown or white rice, as they’re both gluten-free. However, brown rice is by far the healthier pick. All rice consists of mostly carbohydrates (roughly 80 percent of the caloric value or more), in addition to small amounts of protein and fat. Brown rice, however, is a whole grain, meaning it contains all the original nutrients of the grain, whereas white rice has had all those extra ingredients (including several grams of fiber and protein) removed entirely.
Brown rice also contains vitamins and minerals that could potentially help protect against heart disease, lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. It’s also a strong antioxidant, so there’s really no reason not to make this pick.
White vs. wheat vs. whole-grain bread
The problem with the bread we typically see in supermarket aisles is that it’s a far cry from the bread our ancestors ate for centuries, as it’s composed of ingredients our bodies aren’t as good at digesting. So when this bread hits our stomach, it gets digested quickly and causes our blood sugar to spike, which is a big no-no if you’re trying to lose weight. Elevated blood sugar can cause a wide array of problems, but most importantly, it causes us to become hungry again much sooner.
While it’s true that plenty of people lose weight and feel better on carb-restricted diets, they’re not really an option if you’re out shopping for your entire family or just trying to find a meal your kids will actually eat. So when you have to make sandwiches or use bread, avoid white bread entirely. Stick to whole-wheat or whole-grain options from a trusted brand. Bread is never going to be good for you, but at least with a “whole” variety, you’re consuming some nutrients, not just loads of empty calories and a ton of carbs. At that point, you may as well be eating a candy bar or drinking a soda, because our bodies respond to white bread much like added sugar-almost no nutrients, but a whole lot of chaos.
Pasta and quinoa
My family always has and always will love pasta, but the original stuff is highly processed and, again, full of lots of empty carbs. Thankfully, there are a lot more options now, which allows us to continue having pasta night but still manage to consume many of the vitamins and nutrients our bodies need. Our favorite alternative? Quinoa pasta. Yes, it does taste different, but in this instance, “different” doesn’t mean it tastes worse. It really just means different. It can be hard to find (the only place I’ve found it locally is Publix), and beware, there are lots of imitators out there that only have a small amount of quinoa mixed in with rice and corn. But if you can find the real deal, it should be your new go-to.
Coffee or tea
Both coffee and hot tea contain caffeine and can be used for a pick-me-up. There’s no real universal agreement on which option is healthier than the other, but it is agreed that we can have too much of a good thing. Really, this debate comes down to personal preference and experience. Tea and coffee affect each person differently, just as different people can tolerate different levels of caffeine. So try both, and when you need a boost, just go with the one you enjoy the most. It’s that simple.
Eggs vs. egg whites
Here’s the deal: Egg whites consist almost entirely of protein. We were told to avoid the yolk (the yellow/orange part) because it contains high amounts of cholesterol, but just because we eat a food high in cholesterol doesn’t mean we’ll have a dramatic spike in the cholesterol levels in our own bodies. So really, unless you’re trying to restrict calorie consumption, there’s very little reason not to eat the whole egg. They are one of the best foods you can possibly eat.
Which meat is best?
If you’re cooking the meat yourself, grass-fed meat is going to be more nutritious (and often more flavorful) than regular grain-fed meat, but it’s also going to cost more. If you’re looking for lean, low-fat meat, chicken is the way to go. It’s packed with protein and can be turned into many different healthy meals.
However, for low-carb dieters or people just trying to eat a little healthier, there’s generally little reason to fear eating fat. In many cases, it’s actually good for you. You should avoid overdoing it on red meat and try to cook your meat at lower temperatures (as high temps often remove beneficial nutrients), but overall, meat doesn’t have to be the enemy. If you’re in a rush and have to eat fast food, order grilled chicken. It may not exactly be healthy, but it’s usually the least unhealthy option.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.