What constitutes “good” food
I mentor on some health, exercise, and weight loss sites. There are a lot of questions that fly around about types of food, healthy choices, and processed foods. Here I’ll give you my take on what constitutes a well balanced diet. I won’t really go very deep into specialized or “fad” diet types like paleo or South Beach but I may mention them as examples.
Let’s dive right in. A healthy diet is one that you can live with forever, your diet should have a high percentage of un-processed foods such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, and it should contain a good balance of the three macro nutrient types (fats, carbohydrates, and protein). The percentage is really up to you, but generally if you make carbohydrates about 40 to 60 percent of your diet, you’ll be ok, to go along with that, making the majority (80 to 90 percent) of your carbohydrates “good” carbohydrates, is a key way to be healthy. You may question the concept of “good” carbs. That’s a good place to start. Good carbs are basically carbohydrates in a form that is as close to natural as can be expected. I.E. nothing (or very little) taken out, nothing added as supplemental, nothing ground down smaller than required for consumption. This is because our bodies and our stomachs were designed to process food in a certain way, deliver the food in a more processed way, and you essentially are eating partially pre-digested food, food that the body can break down faster than it should. Since the body doesn’t have any way to meter out energy delivery, this means flooding the body with energy faster than it can use it, which means extra energy, which leads to fat storage. This is key to the argument against enriched, processed, bleached flour vs whole grain stone ground flour. Yes they are both crushed and pulverized, but one type (the white) removes much of the ingredients, and grinds the powder down very fine, essentially delivering the carbohydrates in a very ready way, and usually then adds back in nutrients (not good), where the whole grain flour still needs to be processed in the body, which takes time, allowing for a more even energy usage and less fat storage.
Fats are another example of “good” vs “bad”. I usually try to keep my dietary fat intake around 20 to 25 percent of my daily macro-nutrient intake. And about 90 percent of that fat I try to make healthy (natural) fats. Fats aren’t bad for you, it’s the altered fats that are really horrible. Things like hydrogenated oils, and saturated fats are generally considered worse in most cases, because they contribute to arterial plaque and LDL cholesterol. So keeping the majority of your fats of the unsaturated type are much better. Plenty of foods have a high volume of unsaturated fats that are good for you, things like nuts, avocado, fish, and even certain meats are fine in the correct quantities.
Protein is, of course, vital to health, on most days I try to keep my protein levels at or near 30 percent of my diet. There’s all kinds of wild rumors about protein, most coming from the body building community, of which I’m very “plugged in”, but I’ll tell you right now, eating high percentages of protein doesn’t build muscle any stronger or faster than eating a moderate volume, there’s been absolutely no research to back this theory up, most studies say that anything above 30 to 35 percent protein in a diet is just converted to energy usage, even in the most intense muscle anabolism (gain) scenario. The caveat’s to this are people using some kind of steroidal or hormonal supplement (Anabolic steroids, HGH…etc.). With protein, you should watch for low quality proteins such as those from protein powders (yes, even the highest quality powder, whether it be whey protein, egg, or casein, is still less effective in the body than real food with protein, why? Because the body doesn’t know how to correctly break down this protein, and relatively high percentages of it are lost to either waste or simple energy conversion).
What does all this mean? It means read your nutrition labels closely. ESPECIALLY the bottom where it lists the ingredients. Things added to foods are never as good as the natural features in a food. Do a little planning of your diet ahead of time. You don’t need to sit down and write out every meal you ever eat, but know your percentages, and have a few food types that are standby’s that you can go to if you know you are deficient. I usually have a few chicken breasts and some broccoli (broccoli is a fantastic food, contains almost everything a person needs in some amount), and some almonds all hanging out at my house for the day I can’t decide.
It’s really not that hard, and if you fill your days with good choices, those times (hopefully few and far between) when you make a bad choice, aren’t all that bad after all, and can be easily overcome by the good choices.
As the saying goes, a body is made in the kitchen, not the gym. The food you eat will make you healthy, the exercise you do will make you strong, both are vital, but if I had to choose between healthy eating and exercise (gasp!), I choose healthy eating first, exercise second.
Feel free to ask any questions you want. I’m happy to help.