We all strive to eat healthy, right? It’s good for us. The problem is that it is such a vague concept. You feel like you don’t really know where to start, what is healthy and what is not and why is healthy food good for us while pizza is not?
I’ve been planning to “eat better” for years without much success. So I decided to really tackle this as a project late last year and just get down to it and do my research.
I took a day off to cram as much research about food and eating in it as I possibly could and hopefully end up with a plan. The good news is, I did and it was not even that hard! I’m going to share with you what I found out and what I changed in my diet.
This is my personal experience. This isn’t going to be a book and I’m not an expert so I strongly encourage you to do your own research since I will try to keep this short and sweet 😉
The first thing I found out is that there literally is no general definition of healthy eating. What is good and healthy for a person is a very individual thing. There are government issued guidelines but they change and evolve over time.
There are so many different ideas and diets out there and they all tell us they are the one way to eat to be healthy. Vegan, paleo, Atkins…just to name a few and there are so many more. I got very confused.
Whenever I get confused I try to structure my information. I made a chart and jotted down which foods all (or almost all) sources agreed were healthy or not healthy and which foods seemed to be controversial. This is my list:
Vegetables, fruit, water, herbs, roots, nuts, good fats and oils, fish, meat (if organic and consumed in moderation). Eating as much food raw as possible.
Grain, dairy products, legumes, eggs, coffein, alcohol. Cooking foods.
Sugar in any form, additives, bad fats and oils
That seems a lot more manageable, right?
I did want to know why some products were bad or highly controversial, such as grains and sugar and certain fats. Here’s where again I strongly encourage you to do your own research (share your sources in the comments!) since I did most of my research on german language sites and will be keeping this very short. If you would like my list of german language sources let me know.
Sugar is present naturally in lots of sources, especially as fructose (fruit sugar). When we eat an apple it contains sugar, but this sugar is attached to lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals. The body can really get to work breaking those down and using them, releasing the contained sugar slowly. Our blood sugar level rises slowly, inducing the gradual release of insulin to transport that sugar to our cells to be used as energy.
When we eat refined sugar (pure sugar which is not attached to anything valuable like fiber) we’re basically flooding our body with so much sugar that it can’t really deal with it all. Our blood sugar level soares way too quickly and lots of insulin is produced which results in a blood sugar level crash again. We are really throwing our body processes off balance continually.
Eating lots of refined sugar can thus lead to permanently confused insulin processes and in turn, diabetes. As I said, I’m keeping this veeerry simple.
What is more, tumor cells love sugar. Empirical research suggests that consuming sugar in the way we do in the western world dramatically incresases cancer rates. Animal research suggests that sugar is also responsible for a range of other negative effects.
Grains are controversial. Whole grain flours contain fiber, minerals, vitamins, micronutrients and unsaturated fats. White flour however has lost most of these nutrients, so what remains are empty carbohydrates which in turn are absorbed way too quickly by our bodies and make our blood sugar levels soar too quickly and unnaturally (see sugar). The starch and gluten get sticky and acidic when digested and can cause problems with the digestion for some people from bloating to serious bowel inflammation.
Some sources also mention that all the good stuff even in whole grain flours and products can be found in greater quantities in fruit and vegetables and advise to quit grains altogether.
I won’t go into this in great biological detail but fats and oils are not all bad. The right ones help us absorb vitamins, protect our organs and even help our blood flow better. Good for us are unsaturated fats and oils, such as walnut, rape seed, soy and linseed oil. Some are better used cold (like olive oil) because heat damages their good properties. Rape seed oil is recommended for cooking as it can stand the heat better.
Saturated fats are present in animal products like butter and cream. They are usually solid at room temperature and should only be consumed in moderation as they bump up our blood cholesterol levels. Industrial food products such as chips should be avoided completely because the hardened fats in them are much worse than other saturated fats like butter.
That doesn’t sound so hard at all does it? After my day of research the picture has grown a lot clearer and while I will probably never understand the biological intricacies in detail, the general direction is clear.
The boyfriend was impressed by this compilation as well and we have made an effort to incorporate these findings in our daily eating habits for the last few weeks. As this post is already very long, there’ll be another one one detailing what simple changes we have made and how it has affected us.
I hope to also share some recipes and tipps for healthy eating with you throughout the year. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section, I’d love to know what you think of this and if you struggle with eating better too!