What does it mean to eat healthily?
The answer you receive can vary drastically depending on who you talk to. If you’re speaking to a vegan, their answer will promote a plant-based diet. If you talk to a bodybuilder, their answer will be something along the lines of “rice, chicken, and protein shakes.”
However, you can learn how to eat healthy without going to extremes. You don’t have to deny animal proteins, carbohydrates, or even junk food. Healthy eating is all about finding balance.
Keep reading for a definitive guide on healthy eating, including what to eat, what to avoid, vitamins, and more.
What Not to Eat
First, let’s talk about the foods you should avoid. Now keep in mind, “avoid” does not mean “abandon entirely.” We will not be asking you to swear off ice cream for life – we’re not cruel.
However, the items below are unhealthy for regular consumption. If you’re looking for a healthy eating plan, these foods should be consumed only in moderation.
Unless you’re eating raw fruits or vegetables, all foods are processed to some degree. However, you should avoid heavily-processed foods. These often have added chemicals and compounds for preservation, taste, color, and more.
While these foods taste good, they’re not exactly good for you. Processed foods typically have excess amounts of added sugars, fats, and sodium.
Red Meat and Pork
We’re not pushing you to become vegetarian, but there are some types of meat you should avoid. Red meats (beef) and pork are high in saturated fats, which can contribute to heart disease.
Simple Carbohydrates and Added Sugars
One of the reasons processed foods are so bad for you is because they contain a high level of simple carbohydrates or simple sugars. Typically, these come in the form of “added sugars” to improve the taste.
These added sugars are rarely used immediately by our bodies for energy. Instead, our bodies release insulin which stores these sugars as fat.
A long time ago, the dairy industry convinced the entire world that we need milk to make our bones strong, because of the calcium. However, recent studies show that consuming too much milk can actually make your bones more brittle, and negate healthy eating.
Limited amounts of dairy in your diet isn’t bad. However, dairy products are high in saturated fat and cause a lot of other issues, such as acne, inflammation, bloating, and more.
One of the first things any personal trainer or dietitian will tell you is not to drink your calories. Things like sodas, energy drinks, commercial coffee, and canned teas have excessive amounts of added sugars.
Consuming that many sugars in the form of a beverage provide too much “energy” for your body to use. It will likely be stored as fat.
When searching for “healthy places to eat near me,” you’re unlikely to find any fried chicken or burger joints in your results. Deep-fried foods like wings, mozzarella sticks, fries, etc. are incredibly high in fat. The foods absorb the fat from the oil they’re fried in.
Finally, when pursuing healthy eating, you need to limit your alcohol consumption. Calorically speaking, alcohol contains seven calories per gram. For reference, protein and carbs each contain four calories per gram, and fat contains nine.
Moreover, alcohol also inhibits your body from burning fat and most drinks are loaded with added sugars.
What to Eat
Now that you know what not to eat, let’s talk about the other side of the spectrum. Below, we’ve listed healthy foods to eat as part of a normal, practical, and sustainable diet. We do not recommend fad diets or extreme measures.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other essential nutrients. Most people need to take over-the-counter vitamins because they lack a healthy balance of fruits and vegetables in their diet. Eating plenty of these foods will make you feel healthier, happier, and more energized.
Protein is necessary for making enzymes and hormones, as well as building and repairing tissues. The protein you consume contributes to bones, skin, muscles, cartilage, and more.
While you do need to avoid red meat and pork, there are plenty of other sources of protein:
- Cottage Cheese
As you can see, whether you’re an omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan, there are plenty of protein sources out there.
Not all fats are bad. In fact, we actually need fats to provide energy and promote cell-growth within our bodies. They also help regulate hormones and lubricate our joints.
Healthy fats can be found in:
- Olive oil
- Chia seeds
- Dark chocolate
Remember, however, that too much of anything can be bad, even with healthy eating. Consuming too much healthy fat can lead to weight gain.
Carbohydrates are somewhat vilified in our society. We’ve grown to believe that they are the root of all evil (or weight gain). However, carbohydrates are vital for our health.
They are our bodies’ preferred source of energy. Carbohydrates are also important for our brains, which struggle to use fat or protein for energy.
However, to avoid carbohydrates being stored as fat, limit your consumption, and focus on complex carbohydrates:
- Whole grains
- Brown rice, wild rice
- Whole wheat bread, pasta, cereal
If you’re looking for the best time to consume carbs to promote weight-loss, check out some information on carb-cycling.
People often worry about eating healthy on a budget. However, making meals out of whole foods is actually quite cost-effective. Sure you have to put a little more time into preparing meals, but they’re also much healthier.
Whole foods are minimally or completely non-processed foods, such as:
- Nuts, seeds, legumes
- Whole grains
- Lean meats
Aim to make whole foods the staple of your diet.
Finally, let’s talk about over-the-counter vitamins. If you have a well and truly balanced diet, you probably don’t need them. However, most of us live busy lives where things like meal-prep rarely go to plan.
It may not be a bad idea to take a multi-vitamin. You can also look into vitamin B12 if you lack energy during the day. And don’t worry, a B12 overdose doesn’t have any negative or toxic effect.
Most vitamins don’t, just be sure to check with your doctor before taking anything.
Want More Information About Healthy Eating?
Are you trying to get healthier this year? If so, learning about healthy eating is vital to your success. Most fitness professionals will tell you it’s impossible to outwork a bad diet.
Our blog has an entire health section dedicated to helping people like you live healthier, happier lives. Be sure to check out some of our other articles before you go.