People often talk about eating clean or eat healthy but what exactly does that mean?
It’s so confusing because there are so many versions from the governments ‘low fat’, ‘eat less, exercise more mantra (yeah that seems to be working well). Then there’s the If it fits your macros (IIFYM) crew saying so long as your macros are at a set level you can eat what you want. There is the Veggie/Vegan approach, the Paleo/Primal and a thousand or more others. So what is healthy and which one works?
The truth is they all work, for different people which is where all the confusion comes from, we all know someone whose done well on each and every diet and will tell you how great it is and how you’re doing it all wrong. There are pictures of amazing athletes who have followed these plans and look awesome (truth be told most athletes are genetic freaks and would most likely thrive on any diet)
Where does this leave us then, those of us lost in the confusion, who ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ so to speak!
First off let me forthright in saying that I generally favour a paleo/primal evolutionary view-point so this can and does steer me in favour of this approach. That said I also see value in all of the approaches I mentioned and what I will explain here can be easily adapted to suit any of the above approaches. For instance as I’ve discussed in previous posts I am currently following the Carb Backloading protocol, however I still keep it within the Primal guidelines in terms of the carbs I consume (well mostly)
So What is Healthy Food
In simple terms it is any food that is unprocessed or unrefined. This is to say it is in its natural state as nature intended. An easy way to imagine this is how Paleo was initially described to me ‘Any food that can either be killed with a stick or stone, or can be picked and eaten as it is’
Sticks and Stones
Any unprocessed Meat, poultry, and fish is good, remember though that we are not all butchers so pre-packed meat joints, steaks snd fillets are good to go. For me higher quality sausages are also ok, so long as they are not full of additives and preservatives (if you can’t pronounce it on the label, it’s not ideal). Preserving using natural methods does not count as processing in this context, so drying out to make Jerky for example is all good, and smoking fish is equally good to go.
Planted and Picked
Kind of says it all, however all Fruits and Veggies are not created equal. This is just a matter of learning a few basic principles. All non starchy vegetables are good to go, and you should eat as many of these as you possibly can.
The only Vegetables to be wary of are the starchy ones, most notably potatoes, sweet potatoes and sweet corn. This is only in terms of weight loss as they can have a big effect on your insulin levels. White potatoes for example can leave the stomach as glucose faster than sugar. Therefore if you trying to control your carbs you need to be aware of the levels in these foods. the best way to learn this is a simple google search or you could use a calorie counting site such as My Fitness Pal. I use these Starchy vegetables to provide the much-needed carbs for my current plan so as you can see they are not bad at all and can be part of a healthy balanced diet so long as they fit with your goals and your own tolerance for carbohydrates.
Fruit is an area of confusion for many people, once again our spectacular government has clouded the waters for us with its 5 a day campaign. Now don’t get me wrong I am not for one second saying 5 a day is a bad thing, its a good starting point but firstly it doesn’t come close to enough. It’s been admitted that it falls short of the actual target but to tell us the actual number which is more like 10 but this would just put everyone off. The issue is the lumping of fruit and veg together, to say that eating 5 portions of fructose laden fruit would have the same effect as 5 portions of leafy green vegetables is ludicrous. Take grapes for example, 1 cup of grapes is equal to about 100 calories with 27g of carbs (I chose grapes because they actually contain glucose) if you had a big bowl of grapes to hand and ate them mindlessly it would be easy to eat say 3 cups, this would be about 300 calories and 81g of carbs, a snickers bar has 250g and 33g of carbs this is not to say you’d be better of with a Snickers but food for thought indeed if you are tracking either of these. As well as this many of our modern fruits have been selectivly bred to contain ever more levels of fructose to make them more appealing to our modern sweet teeth. The take home from this is to be mindful of how much fruit you eat and restricting it to 2-3 portions per day at the most.
Nuts and seeds can also be enjoyed in moderation but bear in mind that much like fruit it is very easy to over consume calories if you eat them to excess.
There is nothing to fear about natural fats, these include animal fats, lard, butter, coconut oil and olive oil. Just avoid vegetable oils in all forms, think of fat in the same way as i described other foods, if it doesn’t need processing then its all good (olive oil being the one notable exception),
A lot of nutrients in foods are fat soluble so that low fat salad dressing is not helping, get some full fat olive oil on there and help your body absorb more of the goodness from your salad.
Eat as much Meat, Poultry, Fish and non starchy Vegetables as you wish, eat moderate fruit and starchy Vegetables (as your metabolism or goals allow) nuts and seeds in moderation and plenty of healthy natural fats.