In my quest to help us both be healthier, I’ve talked more about what you shouldn’t do more than I have the alternatives to unhealthy habits. So, with that in mind, let’s talk more about what you should be eating. Low-fat, high-carb options are extremely common at the grocery store, but better options are out there-and you have to look a little harder and know what it is to be looking for.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the way we eat today is far different from how humans ate for thousands of years. Highly processed food wasn’t an option or a necessity in the past. Our ancestors ate natural ingredients straight from the earth, and to be your healthiest today, you need to get back to eating the same way. It’s what our bodies know. A few decades or even a few generations of eating processed food isn’t enough time for our bodies to adapt properly. When all those sugars and added-on ingredients are thrown into the mix, our bodies do the best they can to digest them and gather necessary nutrients, but this can come at a price. The extra work and strain can raise your blood pressure or contribute to weight gain.
Stay on the lookout for so-called real food, which are items like these.
The protein found in meat will help you stay full and curb those pesky cravings. The great part is that your body can burn up to 30 percent of the calories you consume from protein through digestion alone. That’s significantly more than what you burn digesting fat or carbohydrates. Chicken, turkey and fish are great, leaner options, but you shouldn’t run and hide every time you see fat. The real enemy is overly processed food.
If you really are serious about your health, you should only buy organic, 100 percent grass-fed meat. Ad companies may try to trick you with labels like “natural” or “pasture-raised,” but all they’re really doing is charging you more for little or no benefit to you.
Now, some of you probably prefer sandwich meat (especially for an easy meal at lunch), but be aware that sandwich meat is highly processed, meaning it contains nitrates (which have been linked to various diseases) and is high in sodium. I realize it’s hard to avoid entirely, but it shouldn’t be an everyday thing, either.
It’s worth noting that as fat consumption has gone done in the U.S., overall health has declined. So, as I said before, fat isn’t your enemy. Add some butter or cheese to your meals without worrying about the consequences, but do avoid all trans fats because they’re damaging to your heart.
Pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs are the best option. They’re low in calories, and they’re full of high-quality protein, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and healthy fat. They contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which can help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
Our fear of eating eggs is much like our fear of fat. Eggs are high in cholesterol, so we (and health experts for decades) assumed eating eggs would raise our cholesterol, thereby raising our blood pressure and increasing our risk of heart attack or stroke. Well, the truth is that very little of that cholesterol actually gets in your blood, and fat eaten does not necessarily become fat that you carry around your midsection. Our bodies just don’t work that way. So, if you want an egg, eat one! Don’t feel guilty about it, because it does not increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
They’re loaded in fiber, water and antioxidants. Don’t get anything fruity that has added sugar, though. Fruit has plenty of sugar already, and if you’re trying to lose weight, it can make your job harder. Overall, though, fruit is a great snack or after-meal treat.
Similar to fruit but without the sugar worry. Eat them often!
Hey, I love chili too, but that’s probably not the ideal source for beans. The USDA guidelines recommend eating them, and they’re a great protein alternative if you’re not a meat eater. Consider adding them more often as a side dish with dinner.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are high in protein, lower your bad cholesterol, aid in weight loss and help stave off disease. Don’t get anything with added salt, and remember that they’re high in calories, so don’t eat too many if you’re looking to lose weight.
This is another instance where organic and grass-fed is the better, safer option. Milk is a great source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D. The calcium keeps our bones strong, but the potassium may be the most important ingredient, because most people generally don’t get enough in their daily diets. When this is combined (as it often is) with eating too much sodium, our blood pressure goes up, putting us at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
You should keep in mind that 65 percent of adults worldwide suffer from lactose intolerance. It’s more rare in North America, but if you are one of these people, dairy can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If you’re suffering from these symptoms, the omega-3 fatty acids in organic, 100 percent grass-fed milk can reduce inflammation, though it won’t necessarily prevent your side effects from occurring. And no, drinking milk wasn’t always part of our evolutionary process (after infancy), but we’ve been drinking it for about 7,500 years. How long has Coca-Cola been around again?
The bottom line is don’t run from all the food you were taught was bad. Our bodies are more complicated than everyone gave them credit for 30 years ago. Don’t avoid food you love because of some preconceived notion of what it will do to your health. Check the data and make sure before you say yes or no.
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.
Updated @ 1:18 p.m. on 10/14/14 for clarity.