7 habits of highly healthy people part 4: Eat natural foods
Do you know what a good diet looks like? I have a theory that almost everyone in the western world knows what a good diet is. I could stop anyone in the street and present them with two lunch options: one being very healthy and the other being unhealthy and they could identify the healthy option with ease. Despite this, the western world has one of the worst diets in the world and as a result one of the highest levels of death by non-communicable diseases. In my article Fat Foods the 4 C’s I discuss my theory as to why we can identify healthy foods, but yet choose unhealthy options time and time again.
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” – Ann Wigmore.
Now think of an individual you know and consider to be healthy. What do you imagine they eat? It is likely that you begin to conjure up images of fish, salads, lean meats and fruit and vegetables. The reason for this is natural foods have the most health promoting benefits and one of the reasons why that individual is so healthy is because they have made a habit of eating natural foods.
In this article I am going to help you identify some bad eating habits that you may have developed and present you with the good eating habits that you need to adopt to become healthier.
“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.” – Orson Welles.
Why you should eat natural foods
In order to achieve optimal nutrition we need a balance of macronutrients (which come in the form of carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Over thousands of years of evolution our digestive systems have adapted to the nourishing foods in the environment around us. Humans became resourceful to the point that our species could thrive on the wide variety of foods presented to us in the natural world. These natural foods delivered the perfect balance of macronutrients and micronutrients needed to provide optimal health.
As the population of the human race increased it began to outgrow its natural food resources and so structured farming techniques were developed to sustain the growing numbers. As time went by the demand for food increased, as did the need for it to taste better, last longer and become less costly to produce. Eventually the human diet became what it is today, consisting of foods designed by humans. The human design was driven by taste, cost and sustainability, with little emphasis on nutritional value. As a result we have, over time, lost the balance of macronutrients and micronutrients provided to us through our natural diet and replaced it with a diet that is high in energy but low in nutritional value. This has been to the detriment of our health. I suggest that switching to a diet containing more foods that have been designed by Mother Nature will help restore nutrient balance and improve health.
“The healthy man is the thin man. But you don’t need to go hungry for it: remove the flours, starches and sugars; that’s all.” – Samael Aun Weor.
Which foods should you eat?
When trying to consider which foods to consume, the closer the food is to its natural state the better. Eat foods that have grown from the land or sea. Choose a variety of foods both with eyes (animals) and without eyes (plants). It’s that simple. And try to eat plants and animals that have had minimal processing in their journey to your plate.
Plant-based foods are our natural source of carbohydrates and are packed with phytonutrients (disease-fighting nutrients). Once a plant has been harvested, it gradually loses its nutritional value, and so the fresher the product the more goodness it will have. In the world of plant-based foods, different colours represent various vitamins and minerals. This is one of the reasons that variety is so important, as it ensures that you consume a range of micronutrients.
With this in mind, your meal should contain as many different colours as possible. This also makes it look more appealing: a fruit salad is a great example. Fruit and vegetables are obvious plant foods, but some less obvious nutrient-dense plant foods include leaves, seeds and nuts. Leaves, such as baby spinach, watercress and rocket, are full of micronutrients and should be eaten daily. Nuts and seeds contain very useful, healthy fats. Nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, are very energy-dense, and so a fistful a day is usually enough.
The final consideration when looking at plant foods is herbs and spices. Fresh herbs and spices all have their own useful blends of micronutrients. They play an essential role in flavouring our foods to make them appetising and keep us interested.
Animal products (food that had eyes) are great sources of fats and proteins. Once again, eating a wide variety of white meats, red meats, sea food and eggs helps us to ensure that we get the greatest variety of macronutrients. The quality of life the animal had directly impacts on its nutritional value. Animals that live in their natural environment and eat their natural food sources tend to carry more benefit than artificially farmed and fed animals.
Try to avoid foods that are highly processed. This includes anything that our great ancestors would not recognise. Possibly the worst foods you could consume are those high in sugar, unnatural starches and unnatural fats. This could include sweets, biscuits, sodas, pastries, fried or battered foods, white breads and pastas, cakes and of course, alcohol. If a caveman wouldn’t recognise it, it’s a bad choice.
“About eighty percent of the food on shelves of supermarkets today didn’t exist 100 years ago.” – Larry McCleary (Feed Your Brain, Lose Your Belly.)
Is eating healthy boring?
Can you eat chocolate or your other favourites ever again? Yes you can. For many people, eating only natural foods immediately restricts the foods they love and are most familiar with. This makes a lot of sense, considering that human-designed foods were developed first and foremost with taste in mind and are designed to appeal to our senses rather than our physiology. Asking anyone to cut their favourite foods from their diet would usually result in uncontrollable cravings followed by an inevitable binge. Over time this creates a negative attitude towards healthy eating and a pattern of yo-yo dieting. The long-term result of yo-yo dieting is usually weight gain, the very opposite of what was intended.
Do healthy people eat chocolate? Yes they do, but less often. In order to make healthy eating sustainable, it is important to make your favourite foods a regular part of your lifestyle. The balance, however, must be tipped in the favour of natural, nutritious foods. Healthy people achieve this by rewarding themselves with ‘naughty’ foods for eating well and exercising regularly. I encourage my clients to incorporate a weekly reward meal into their routine. This is an opportunity to blow out, but with a few simple rules to prevent it becoming a binge. The same approach also applies to alcohol. Try to drink alcohol as part of a planned reward or celebration only. To learn more about this read my article about Reward meals.
“Any food that requires enhancing by the use of chemical substances should in no way be considered a food.” – John H. Tobe.
Healthy eating habits
Healthy people know that if it’s in the kitchen cupboard it will get eaten. It’s for that reason they don’t buy it. Your food shop has the greatest impact on how healthily you eat. Everything that goes into your shopping basket should be natural produce, with the exception of your planned reward meal.
Eat seasonal produce
A great method of ensuring you eat a variety of natural foods is to eat produce that is currently in season and preferably has been grown locally. Seasonal foods travel less distance, which makes them more nutritious and less costly. Remember that a colourful food plate is a healthy food plate.
Listen to your body
Healthy people are in tune with what their body is trying to tell them. Many people fail to pay attention to the most basic bodily signs such as hunger, satiety and thirst. Recognising such intuitive feelings and learning to act on them rather than ignore them is key to promoting optimal health. You may have heard others say that particular foods ‘don’t agree’ with them or make them ‘feel sluggish’. You have perhaps discovered foods or drinks that have a disruptive impact on your toilet habits or even more extreme reactions such as a rash or swollen mouth. Pay attention to how your body reacts to what you put in the tank, note the immediate impact, how you feel 30 mins afterwards and finally how you feel two hours later.
Create a healthy kitchen
Fill your kitchen with gadgets that promote healthy cooking methods and remove gadgets that encourage junk food.
Get rid of:
- Deep fat fryer
- Sandwich maker
- Bread maker
- Ice cream maker
- Donut maker
- Chocolate fountain
- Soda stream
Items to buy or keep:
- Food processor
- Smoothie maker
- Soup maker
- Slow cooker
- Water filter
- Egg poacher
- Food / drink flasks
- Tupperware set
- Grilling machine
Cook from scratch
Pre-prepared foods must contain additives to give them shelf life and are usually highly processed. As a result they generally contain high levels of salt, unhealthy fats and often unnatural ingredients. When you cook from scratch you can control the ingredients, personalise the taste and boost the nutritional value of the food by choosing a healthy cooking method. I recommend that when you do cook from scratch that you make extra to chill or freeze for future meals, which will save you more time.
Beverages are often overlooked. What do you imagine a healthy individual drinks? All healthy people drink water; it’s cleansing and life giving. Add nutrients to your water in the form of fruit and herbal teas, be open-minded and try a wide variety until you discover your favourites. If you find water bland because you’re used to being spoiled with sweet-tasting sodas and sugary cordials, try adding chopped fresh fruit to your water and leave it to infuse.
Bad eating habits cause a downward spiral for your health. You should avoid falling into the following common traps:
- Don’t use energy drinks or caffeine to wake you up or keep you awake.
- Don’t use alcohol as a means of getting to sleep or try to trick yourself into believing it’s the only way you can relax.
- Don’t eat just because you have nothing better to do. Recognise your need to do something productive.
- Don’t binge on bad food if you feel depressed. Half an hour afterwards you will feel even worse. If you’re feeling low, exercise; endorphins pick you back up.
- Don’t eat the same meals week in, week out. Remember, variety promotes health. Get a good cookbook and share recipes with friends.
- Don’t give in to peer pressure. If you’re trying to make positive changes you may make others around you feel guilty and they will try to sabotage your attempts. Instead aim to inspire them to follow your lead and work with others on developing positive habits where possible.
“A healthy attitude is contagious, but don’t wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier.”- Tom Stoppard.
It’s very likely you’re aware of what healthy eating is but have just never applied it well. You are not trying to cut things out but rather trying new foods, drinks and recipes. Eat and drink your favourite treats in moderation as a reward for staying healthy. The changes that you will observe in your mind, body and soul will leave you wondering how others can function on a poor daily diet.