Ways to Start Eating Healthy
When it comes to healthy meals, it’s often easier said than done, and that’s because of two major reasons.
The first is convenience. Having pre-processed, pre-made, pre-packaged food is way more convenient that sourcing and preparing our food from scratch. And that’s not even considering the notion of hunting, rearing or growing your raw ingredients, simply cooking fresh ingredients is a chore for most, especially in the face of fast food and microwave meals. Convenience is appealing, but when its comes to the food we consume, convenience often comes at our detriment. The problem is, in order for food to be as convenient as it is, it tends to cut many corners when considering its preparation and preservation processes. Processed food items are not only convenient to the consumer, but probably more so, they are convenient to the producer. This is where the cutting of corners becomes even more prevalent. All the additives and methods used to arrive at what you typically find on your plate or take out box, also come with a hefty price in terms of quality even if the cost to your wallet is less.
The second reason is a bit more primal, and that is, simply put, unhealthy food tends to be more tasty. The truth is, the flavors, textures and tastes that appeal most to us often come as part of unhealthy food choices. That isn’t to say all delicious food is unhealthy or that all healthy food tastes bad, but proportionally speaking, especially with regard to aforementioned processed foods, the tastier it is, the worse it is for you. This is because the additives used to enhance processed food’s taste are done so in excess by producers in order to maximize profit through repeat consumption. In a nutshell, our food is made to be somewhat addictive. This is true when considering the excess availability of added sugar as well as trans and saturated fats. The addictive additives also double up as efficient preservative compounds, tying in their use with the convenience aspect of processed food.
With all that said, it seems like quite the task when it comes to eating healthy. With the loss of convenience and the appeal of good tasting food, it would appear obvious that eating healthy is a lost cause. But there are a few ways you can curb the junk food cravings while improving your healthy eating plan.
Top 5 Ways to Start Eating Healthy
We all have a sweet tooth. For some it’s moderate, but for others, it’s insatiable. This desire for sweet stuff is hardwired into our evolutionary structure. That is because Sugar indicates an efficient energy supply. Our cells need energy of course, but when it comes to our modern diet, we seem to have it in excess, especially concerning sugar.
The problem with added sugar is that it comes refined and isolated. This means its absorption and effects are way more immediate. The insulin response from eating refined sugar is astronomical and is what paves the path for type 2 diabetes. This is because, nature intended sugar consumption to accompany fiber consumption, as is the case with eating fruit. Fiber mediates the uptake of Carbs and is abundant in fruit. That’s why fresh squeezed juice is relatively bad for you compared to whole fruit. Consider fruit juice’s relationship to whole fruit the same as what you consider refined, simple carbs to whole grains.
Pack a bunch of fruit. Great options are bananas, apples and various berries. This fruit are rich in fiber, contain many powerful antioxidants and last but not least, are super delicious and convenient.
In continuing with sugar, you can also eliminate it completely by substituting it with similar tasting compounds. Sugar substitutes can be split into 2 main categories. These are alternative sweeteners and artificial sweeteners.
Alternative sweeteners are naturally occurring chemical compounds that have a taste profile and sweetness rating similar enough to sugar without its macronutrient value or insulin stimulating effects. These sweeteners include such things as stevia, derived from the similarly named plant. It’s a popular sweetener in health foods, especially those aimed at the plant based diet market. Then there are sugar alcohols, known scientifically as polyols. These are present in many fruits and vegetables you typically consume and are in fact produced in your body in trace quantities as well. Sugar alcohols are sort of a hybrid of alcohol and carbohydrates. They don’t readily metabolized in the body which is why they have a considerably lower caloric value than sugar. They do however taste very similar, making them a popular alternative. Xylitol, sorbitol and erythritol are commonly used sugar alcohols.
Artificial sweeteners, as the name suggests, are man made sweetening agents. They are also referred to as non-nutritive sweeteners owing to their near negligible caloric value. Ounce for ounce, artificial sweeteners are thousands of times sweeter than regular sugar. This means only a fraction of the amount is required for the same level of sugary sensation. They are popular in “diet” foods such as sugar free sodas. Aspartame, Sucralose and Acesulfame-k are common examples. You can also purchase them as separate sweeteners for healthy meals. Although some past controversy surrounding the potential health risks of artificial sweeteners has made the rounds, they are generally considered safe.
Good Fat./Bad Fat
One of the most contentious issues when it comes to health and diet is the role of fat. Until not too long ago, fat was considered the bane of healthy eating. With the obesity crisis coming to the fore in the 1970s, the health establishment of the time deemed to be because of fat. With that came a social attitude that demonized the mere motion of fat in food, leading to an all out war against fat by commercial food, in an attempt to pander to the trend of the time. There was also the link to heart disease as a consequence of fat induced high cholesterol.
The problem with this is fat is a very broad spectrum of nutrients. These nutrients, known scientifically as lipids, are present in many forms and for many uses. Some fat is definitely bad for you, such as trans fats. And some you can’t live without, such as omega fatty acids. The three common forms of fat are trans fat, saturated fat and unsaturated fat.
Trans fats occur naturally in animal tissue, but as consumed today, are more available in the artificial form. This type of trans fats is produced by adding hydrogen to refined vegetable oils, often making them solid at room temperature. The problem with trans fats is how they affect your cholesterol levels. Until recently, any increase in cholesterol was seen as bad. We now understand that cholesterol is present in two forms, LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and HDL or “good” cholesterol. Trans fats cause an increase in the bad and a decrease in the good. This gives rise to the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis.
Saturated fat is the common constituent of fat tissue in animals. It is solid at room temperature in its natural form. Its uses range from surplus energy storage (e.g. a camel’s hump) to insulation (whale blubber). In moderate quantities, saturated fat isn’t as harmful as you’d think, however, in the excess amounts and in conjunction with excess sugar consumption, saturated fat can quickly result in weight gain. This is because fat is a high energy molecule, its caloric value is more than double that of carbs or protein. So once digested, there are more triglycerides in the blood per unit of saturated fat, which means your body will convert more into fat tissue. Add the excess insulin spike caused by sugar to the mix and you have a high way to obesity. The moral of the story is moderation.
Unsaturated fats are the golden child of the fat family as far as health benefits are concerned. Often touted as “healthy” or “good” fats, they are commonly obtained from plant sources, but are also present in animals such as fish. Unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated bear many benefits. For one, they contain omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. These are essential for the health of your nerve tissue. They help build the outer wall of nerve tissue. Polyunsaturated fats also nourish the cardiovascular system. They decrease bad LDL cholesterol while increasing levels of good HDL cholesterol. Great sources of unsaturated fat are fish, nuts, seeds and certain fruits like avocados. The best healthy meals will often place value on these types of fats.
Eating healthy and avoiding unhealthy food may seem difficult at first, but in most cases it’s simply about empowering yourself with the correct nutritional knowledge. Before long, you’ll find healthy meals to be more rewarding both in long term and short term results.