In honour of The Big Swell’s Healthy Food Month…
So what is healthy food? It is, unfortunately, a good question these days. I say unfortunately because I find it a very sad state of affairs that we have been bombarded with so much misinformation from media, the food industry and even governments (who let’s face it, may have ulterior interests) that most people are completely misguided and befuddled in their honourable intentions to eat well and feed their families well.
Regularly in clinical practice I have people come in, certain that they are eating healthy and seemingly doing everything right and yet they are suffering from fatigue, poor sleep, skin disorders, low or volatile moods, an inability to get through winter without a string of infections, or worse.
All these symptoms are signs of one or both of the following: either not getting the nourishment that we need into our cells, or we are not getting waste products out (poor detoxification). Either way the cells cannot function efficiently, and so the symptoms begin. Both of these states are dependant on what we are eating – whether we eat nutrient dense, nourishing and cleansing foods, or empty calorie, processed, waste producing foods.
Based on those two functions (nutrients in, waste products out) we can then define healthy food as that which promotes those two functions. Sally Fallon Morrell, director of the Weston A Price Foundation puts it like this: Animals feed us, plants clean us. Animal foods* are certainly nutrient dense – that is they provide a high quantity of nutrients per unit of energy. Plant foods on the other hand, while also rich in vitamins and minerals excel in the phytonutrient department – a whole range of nutrients unique to plants including enzymes and antioxidants, which help keep our cells clean, vibrant and happy. Living in the modern world as we do, we are exposed to much higher levels of environmental and food toxins, so it’s more important than ever to adopt and maintain a high plant diet – especially non-starchy vegetables and some fruit, to keep us clean and healthy.
Food researcher and writer Michael Pollan has come up with the following eater’s manifesto: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. When you break it down into it’s three parts, this manifesto really sums up healthy food really well. I’ve touched on the mostly plants aspect above (they clean us) so let’s look at parts one and two.
Part one, eat food, is intentionally blunt. Pollan is referring to real, unprocessed food in a state that nature produced it as opposed to “edible food-like substances”. Take margarine and butter for example – butter is real food, margarine is an edible-food like substance. It does not contain any valuable nutrition and it is in fact hazardous to health with direct links to cardiovascular disease and cancer (and you only need to do some Googling into how margarine is made to put you off it for life!). Butter however, is as nature made it, just with a little churning by man. No lab, chemistry kit or technical equipment is required for its production. It contains valuable short chain fatty acids (particularly lauric and butyric acids) that are important for brain and immune development and function. It’s also a valuable source of vitamins A, D and E as well as selenium.
So eat food. Real food. Secondly, not too much. And this is the beauty of eating nutrient dense, healthy food – it’s satisfying. Really satisfying. You’ll finish your meal feeling full and you won’t be opening the fridge door in an hours time hungry again. Cravings (a sign your body isn’t getting enough of a nutrient) often go away without further thought, clarity of mind improves and before you know it (without any dieting) excess weight begins to fall off and energy piles on. All because you are eating food that is rich in all the nutrients your body needs.
So where to start then? I’d sum it up like this:
1) Whatever you’re doing now, there’s probably a few areas that could easily be improved by just replacing your edible food like substance with food (see the chart below for examples).
2) Drink clean water – filtered / spring / artesian water. Herbal teas count.
3) Do your shopping at farmers markets and or organic produce shops when and where available. There’s more fresh stuff there and less of an opportunity to buy processed stuff.
4) When shopping in supermarkets, keep to the outside perimeter of the shop – this is where you find all the fresh food – vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy (you may have to run down one isle for the organic eggs!)
5) Do as much of your own cooking from scratch as you can – doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of a meal each day. Just something simple, easy and real. Stuff in packets generally are full of sugar, preservatives and other additives.
6) Have a bit of raw food (veggies, fruit) with each meal to aid digestion, and make the majority of each meal veggies.
7) Reduce your starch intake – ie. Grains: rice, pasta, bread, grain flour muffins, cakes, pastries etc. These days the average diet in NZ is over 55% starchy grains. No wonder we have one of the worlds leading rates of obesity and diabetes.
8) Avoid packaged food with numbers on the label or ingredients that sound like they were made in a chemistry lab
9) On packaged foods, the shorter the list of ingredients, usually the better it is.
10) Eat great food 80-90% of the time and don’t worry about the other 10%. No one’s perfect and it’s perfectly healthy not to be too rigid with food.
11) Enjoy your food in good company – whether it’s your own company or that of others. We digest better when we are happy, mindful and not distracted by TV, computers, phone, ipads and so on!
Simple ways to healthify your pantry:
|White, brown or raw sugar, maple flavoured syrup||Xylitol, stevia, rapadura sugar, sucanat, real maple syrup|
|Margarine, olivani, etc||Organic butter, extra virgin coconut oil, ghee, sustainably sourced red palm oil, lard, avocado, hummus,|
|Cooking oil, generic vegetable oil, canola oil, other cooking oils||Butter, lard, coconut oil, ghee, sesame|
|Olive oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, etc on salads / used raw||Cold pressed extra virgin oils: olive, flax seed, hemp seed,|
|White wheat flour in baking||Spelt flour, nut flours (almond, cashew etc), coconut flour, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth flours.|
|Salad dressings||So easy to make your own with 2/3 oil (chosen from the list above) and 1/3 acid: raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, umeboshi plum vinegar. Add seasonings – herbs, spices, sea salt, pepper to taste.|
|Table salt, iodised salt, rock salt||Good quality sea salt (greyish in colour, good source of iodine), Himalayan rock salt (low iodine)|
|Shop bought cakes and biscuits||Make your own using real food ingredients in this coloumn,|
|Milk chocolate||Dark chocolate (70% cocoa)|
|Decaffeinated coffee||Real coffee, unless you know the coffee has been decaffeinated by the swiss water process (rather than chemically)|
|Low fat dairy – milk, yoghurt etc||Full fat dairy, preferably unhomogenised and better yet, unpasteurised.|
|Soy milk||Coconut, almond, cashew, hazelnut milks|
For more information and inspiration see:
*Quality of animal foods depends on the rearing of the animals. Were they in cages / grain fed / grass fed? These factors have implications on the wellbeing of the animal as well as the nutritional value of the animal.