What is eating healthy? Living healthfully can seem simple at times, and at others…downright confusing. Like trying-to-solve-a-Rubik’s-cube-that-has-no-solution kind of confusing.
But don’t worry, because in actuality, healthy eating is easy, doesn’t have to be fancy to taste good, and certainly doesn’t have to cost your entire mortgage payment.
Let’s go over what makes up food, what makes a healthy choice, and how you can eat healthfully throughout the day (psst! A healthy day of eating included at the end!).
At the end of the day, food is more than just food; it’s made up of macronutrients and micronutrients that your body needs in order to complete basic functions, like breathing, circulating blood, and keeping vital organs alive.
Now, don’t let the term “macro” make you think that macronutrients are more important than micronutrients. In fact, your body needs both types in order to function properly.
You just need a larger amount of macronutrients than micronutrients, but if you miss out on those micronutrients, then your healthy could suffer greatly. With macronutrients, there are only 3, whereas micronutrients, there is a heck of a lot more. But first, let’s go over what macro and micronutrients are exactly.
Macronutrients: this group of nutrients is comprised of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. While there are varying diets that claim you need more or less of a certain macronutrient, they all play a vital role in one’s health. Each individual, however, may need more or less of one specific macronutrient. The standard model for a daily in take of macronutrients is 20-30% protein, 40-50% carbohydrates, and 20-30% fat. You can consult with your doctor or nutritionist to determine the best ratio for you specifically.
Like we mentioned earlier, each macronutrient plays a vital role in maintaining good health.
Protein is not only good for a healthy metabolism, as it is requires the most energy for the body to breakdown, but it also gets broken down into amino acids, which serve as the building blocks for new cells. Essentially, these amino acids are used to repair old tissues of organs, skin, muscles, and bones. Protein also aids in the production of important hormones and immune proteins, such as antibodies and interferon.
Good sources of protein include: pasture raised and organic eggs, organic and grass fed meats (chicken, red meat, turkey), wild fish (salmon, tuna, tilapia, cod), shellfish (shrimp, crab, scallops), and dairy such as Greek yogurt, milk, and cheese). There are some plant based forms of protein, but the amount of protein in a serving is significantly smaller than that of animal protein, and may need to be combined with other sources of protein to create a complete protein. These plant-based sources include: beans (chickpea/garbanzo, black, pinto, white, cannellini, cannelloni), hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pea powder (made from green peas), and nuts.
Carbohydrates include starches, sugars, and fiber. These are the body’s main source of energy, and the second source is fat. Not only are they good at supplying the body with energy, but they’re also important in helping to preserve muscles. When not enough carbohydrates are being consumed, the body can switch into consuming amino acids, which make up your muscles. The amino acids are turned into glucose and used as energy instead, resulting in loss of muscle mass. Consuming unrefined carbohydrates is important in preserving energy and maintaining muscle mass. Grains, fruits, and vegetables contain whole carbohydrates, which will keep your energy stable and your blood sugar from spiking. Refined carbs, such as white sugar, processed foods, and specialty drinks (sodas, sweetened coffees and teas, store bought smoothies, etc) can lead to what is some call the “blood sugar roller coaster.”
Good sources of carbohydrates include: whole grains (oats, rice, faro, barley, quinoa, whole grain bread with no added sugars, pasta made with whole grains), legumes (chickpeas, black, pinto, lentils, etc.), sweet potatoes, starchy vegetables (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower) as well as regular non-starchy vegetables, regular potatoes, and fruits.
Fats are the last macronutrient, and, like the previous three, they serve a vital role in making sure everything is functioning properly. Similar to carbohydrates, fats can be used as energy, and they can also help with providing a sense of satiety after a meal. Fats are also essential in helping your body to absorb some vital micronutrients- without fats, consuming these micronutrients would be useless, as your body would not have anything to use as a vehicle of absorption! Fats also help to keep your organs and body regulated at a good temperature, as well as developing a healthy brain (your brain is made up of nearly 60% fat!).
Good sources of fats include: nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, etc.), avocado (which is considered a fruit!), cheese, full fat dairy, dark chocolate (unprocessed, made up of cacao butter and cacao), whole eggs, fatty fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines), extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
Now, micronutrients are a little different- you need a wider variety of them. In fact, you need about 30 different vitamins and minerals (which are considered micronutrients) just to function properly. We won’t go over all of them, but these important nutrients are found both in plant and animal sources, and it is suggested that you consume both for a healthy diet. If you do choose to consumer only plant sources, you will need to supplement certain nutrients, such as the B Vitamins and Zinc. Always consult with your doctor and/or nutritionist to determine what is best for you because you can have too much of a certain micronutrient, as well as too little.
Like we mentioned earlier, micronutrients are composed of water-soluble vitamins (dissolved in water) such as Vitamin C and the B Vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins (dissolved in fat) such as Vitamin A, D, and K, macrominerals such as Calcium, Phospherus, Magnesium, and Sodium, and trace minerals such as Iron, Flouride, Selenium and Zinc.
Each vitamin and mineral plays an important role in the overall functioning of your body’s various systems. However, to constantly monitor what micronutrients you are getting and from where would be exhausting and near impossible.
To make sure that you’re getting the right nutrients for your body, it is important to eat nutrient-dense foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables (including leafy greens and colorful produce!), well-sourced meats and fish, and whole sources of carbohydrates.
All of this information can be helpful, but if you don’t know how to apply it, it becomes useless! So now that you know about macro and micronutrients, their importance, and foods you can find them in, how do you proceed?
At the end of the day, consuming foods that are as close to the earth as possible and unprocessed is key. This includes choosing a wide variety of vegetables that are also in season, purchasing well-sourced meats that are unprocessed (i.e. choosing chicken breast over deli sliced chicken), and reaching for a sweet potato instead of sweet potato chips (unless you want to make them homemade, which you totally can!).
When shopping for groceries, it’s always best to shop the outskirts of the store first- head to the produce section and stock up on seasonal fruits and vegetables, pick up your favorite protein source, whether that’s eggs and chicken, lean beef and Greek yogurt, or a plant-based option, then roam the aisles for spices and seasonings, nut butters, sea salt, whole grains such as oatmeal and rice.
Of course, this does not mean that you have to eat perfectly healthy. A healthy diet is not 100% “healthy” all the time, nor should it be. It is about what makes you feel good both mentally and physically.
There are also ways to make healthy eating cost effective as well- purchasing some vegetables and fruits frozen can be very affordable, as well as shopping at stores like Trader Joe’s and Costco, which often times have significantly cheaper prices on even name-brand products.
Healthy eating can and should be enjoyable, affordable, and not mentally taxing. Start with small changes that are manageable, which will result in long-term and lasting results. Always consult with your doctor and nutritionist to determine what best suits your needs. Eating healthy doesn’t mean that you’re abandoning your favorite foods. In fact, there are ways to make almost every food slightly healthier, even Oreo’s!
It just means making some foods “sometimes foods” rather than “all the time foods.”
Now that we know a little bit more about what makes up food and how to make healthier choices, let’s go over one example of what a healthy day could look like. Your own personal needs may vary from this, but this is to show you that healthy eating can be easy and enjoyable!
Breakfast: 2-3 scrambled eggs with sea salt, pepper, and rosemary, 1-2 slices of whole grain bread or 1/3 cup whole oats cooked in water and topped with fresh berries and 1 tbsp of nut butter; cup of coffee with a little milk
Snack: sliced carrot sticks and 1-2 tbsp hummus
Lunch: whole grain pita pocket filled with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, and sliced grilled chicken
Snack: ½ cup strawberries
Dinner: 4 ounces grilled salmon seasoned in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, sautéed zucchini, spinach, and tomatoes, with 1 medium baked sweet potato seasoned with sea salt and 1 tsp olive oil
Dessert: sliced banana with 1 tbsp peanut butter, 1-2 squares chocolate and chamomile tea
Of course, drink lots of water throughout the day too! Again, this is just an example, and your taste preferences and needs will vary, but healthy eating can be as fun and easy as you want it!