There's two kinds of people concerning health: the extremely healthy ones -they workout, care about health and know how to eat clean, do yoga/stretching/meditation, they don’t drink alcohol, don't smoke...- and the ones who aren’t healthy at all -they don’t workout or very rarely, eat out almost every day and drink alcohol several times a week, don’t care how to eat healthy or don’t have much nutritional information...-. It’s a bit cliché but almost always true! I find rather rare the people who are in the middle, also because I noticed some people in the second category actually care for their health but don’t know where to start and are afraid to have to commit to very strict rules.
I had a roommate who've always had a great metabolism all her teenage, therefore never cared much about how food would affect her size. And suddenly as she was in her 20s she wasn’t happy that she started gaining weight (nothing wrong about not being the fittest! If you’re happy and feel good that way it's perfect :) I'm just telling you about this one story). So what did she do? She went to buy “healthy food” that she doesn’t love as an effort to work on her health at the grocery store: roasted salted nuts and all made porridge with chocolate milk... see the problem? She ate foods that she didn't like because she thought she was making an effort but obviously, these foods aren't healthy or good to make you fit, so all she was doing was frustrating herself! We hear “nuts” and “porridge” are healthy, but if we don’t know why, we WILL make the wrong choices at the grocery store. It’s important to educate yourself when it comes to nutrition so you know you can actually have pleasure eating healthy (pizza’s aren’t that bad, even when they’re not cauliflower crusted, as long as you care about the toppings -you know cheese and meats aren’t the best- or how often you eat them) and that you don’t have to buy the so-called “diet” foods that you don’t really like AND aren’t working.
Some people would say this is obvious but honestly, I see so many people that lack basic info on foods that I think it's important to help them know the basis -where to start- for a healthy life! Not everyone was born with parents who could teach them that ;).
HEALTHY DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN SKINNY
Coming back at the example of nuts: why are they healthy? They contain lots of good fats and extremely necessary nutrients (potassium, magnesium, vitamins, iron, calcium, ...) but the downside of it, is that they also contain so many calories (just a little less than oil, which is pure fat), which is great if you want to gain weight in a healthy way (I have many friends who are naturally very thin and try to gain weight eating a lot of fast foods and candies... Which doesn't work because they get sick of it, and it gives them poor skin condition most of the time). But if your goal is to lose weight, maybe you want to limit the nuts a little (don't completely erase them from your diet, remember the nutrients they have).
As another example, fresh fruit juices are great and bring loads of vitamins quickly, but as I wrote in my article “juices vs smoothies”, you don’t have the fibers in it to help slow down the absorption of sugar... No problem at all if you don’t care (although it can mess with your blood sugar levels and so your energy) but again, if your goal is to lose a few pounds and that you think drinking juices will help you do that, maybe simply switch for fresh fruits or smoothies, where there are fibers to help fill fuller and slow the sugar absorption. There's no need to quit on natural sugar, it satisfies your sweet tooth and fruits aren't very high in calories, just be careful with the way you eat them :).
Same goes for olive oil and other oils, agave syrup, coconut products, granola and granola bars, peanut butter, ...
So remember: people can be healthy without being skinny (so don’t judge too quickly), and depending if your goal is to simply improve your health, or lose or gain weight, there is not just one answer and you might want to make adjustments to your own diet.
PLANT-BASED UNPROCESSED FOODS AS A PRIORITY
Instead of searching for “low fat”, “low sugar”, or removing all the carbs from your diet while still eating highly processed “diet foods”, you might want to go back to a simpler way of eating. Because your body needs nutrients and vitamins, and the more processed the less of these you have in it (maybe you've heard of the term "empty calories", which is when you eat something that doesn't bring anything necessary to your body). Always have fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, and find ways to cook them that pleases you without wasting all the benefits (maybe try not to deep fry them every day haha). Also include basic plant-based foods in your diet that will help you feel full in a healthy way: rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes, beans, chickpea, lentils, ... These unprocessed foods should be your staples if you want to change your health, then of course, it's up to you to make it delicious in a way that is still good for you :), like chickpea curry with rice, lentil dahl with sweet potato, whole grain pasta with homemade tomato sauce, ... there are quite a few options to play with!
Of course, not everyone has time to cook after a whole day working, so don't feel guilty about not being able to eat fresh produces every day. But for example take a look at the amount of sodium in a jar of pasta sauce you can buy at the supermarket: there’s often way too much salt, while if you simply make your own with simple ingredients (garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, onions, ... and a dash of salt and pepper) you’ll never reach that amount of salt. Sometimes it’s also a lot cheaper to make it yourself, and it doesn't take too much time in that case!
So think about it when you buy all made foods: could you make it yourself? Is there ingredients in it that are unhealthy and you could avoid using if you made it yourself?
WHAT TO LOOK FOR ON THE LABELS
When you do buy processed food -because there are good processed foods! Like oats for example, or canned beans- take a look at the label. Here are the few things to look for when you start your health journey (there’s more to look at, but these are the priorities in my opinion).
- There must be as little names you don’t understand as possible. You know, the scientific names you don’t really know what they mean? Well let’s try to stay away from them if you can. For example, I sometimes used canned chickpeas instead or dry ones because I'm in a rush, and when I read the ingredients on the can at wholefoods, some only had chickpeas, water and salt, while others had "calcium chloride" in it. So keep it as short as possible, if it's not necessary, I don't buy it :).
- If there is salt and/or sugar (note that most of the names finishing in “ose” have sugar - glucose, dextrose, fructose, ...) in the three first names on the ingredient list, it’s not a good sign (unless you're buying salt lol): the ingredients are classified by quantity, so the higher the name, the more percentage of it is in your product. I personally never buy any food that has added sugar in it, except if it's a particular cheat day (if I use ketchup for example). The reason is that I believe sugar is addictive (a few experiences proved it) and since I've quit added sugar I don't really crave it anymore. I also feel that natural sugars in fruits and dried fruits is way enough for my taste (since I've stopped eating added sugar, even from agave syrup and other health foods, I can taste it better, and some foods I used to love taste way too sweet for me now).
- Sodium: the problem with sodium is that it's often hiding in your everyday food (example: breakfast cereals) because it's a good preservative. Therefore, in general if you eat less processed foods you'll also reduce your intake of sodium, but if you want an indication of how much sodium is too much sodium for a food, here's what I found: it has to contain less than 140milligrams of sodium per serving (number from USDA's recommendations), or from 300mg to 120mg per 100g of food (120 is best obviously). Note that I don't count my grams and milligrams and all these numbers, as I say eating healthy shouldn't be complicated and if you simply reduce processed foods you should be ok :) but it's a good indication to start and understand. But don't panic, it's easy!
DON’T FEEL FRUSTRATED!
It's important to indulge a little sometimes! If you’re unhappy with what you eat, are you really healthy? Mental health is also very important!
It’s all about balance, remember you can't be perfect! As long as you’re making better choices everyday and that you’re informed about what you eat, you can of course drink wine with your friends and have a little fast-food sometimes, after all we only live once ;)!