What Makes Healthy Foods, HEALTHY?
The word ”Healthy” is frequently thrown around in today’s health and fitness crazed world.
We see it on the food shelves and labels at the supermarket.
We see it on the newest fruit juice or salad bowl stores.
We see it on various blogs and articles (including this one) telling what to eat and how to eat.
And it works! It gets our attention. Who doesn’t want to eat healthier?
We all have limited stomach space after all. Why waste it on food that doesn’t help us achieve our goals?
But what EXACTLY makes healthy food, well, healthy?
What makes superfoods, super?
We’ll take a deeper look today!
Higher levels of nutrient (1) density, (2) quality, (3) diversity and (4) satisfaction are what foods healthier.
Whole Food options are healthier compared to their more processed counterparts due to these 4 factors.
When trying to change your diet, focus on adding whole food, rather than subtracting junk food.
Generally, 4 key factors make up a food’s nutritiousness:
1. Nutrient density
Nutrient density is simply the amount of useful nutrients you get from food compared to the amount of calories. In order words, nutrient-dense food has lots of nutrients for less calories.
Whole foods have the maximum nutrition possible. Especially if those foods are fresh, seasonal, and local, whole foods are closest to their original form, before nutrients are stripped away through time and harsh processing.
2. Nutrient quality
Having nutrients present doesn’t necessarily mean they are in the most beneficial form for us. Not all nutrients are created equal.
For example, consuming adequate carbohydrates is essential to the healthy function of our human body. However, simple and complex carbohydrates have very different effects on our body.
Whole foods usually contain chemicals and compounds in a form that we fully absorb and digest. Processed foods synthesized in labs may be chemically similar, though often not absorbed and used as well by our bodies.
3. Nutrient diversity
Our body can’t function on a single nutrient alone. We need a diverse mix of nutrients in order to keep our body functional properly and optimally.
Whole food nutrient combinations make them more useful. Nutrient combinations work together, not in isolation. You often need substance A to absorb or digest substance B. In whole foods, often both A and B are in the same food. It’s like the food evolved to be that way or something.
4. Nutrient satisfaction
Different nutrients have different satiety effects. That’s why some food make us full, while others make us crave for more.
Whole foods match our hunger and fullness cues better. Because of the reasons above, whole foods work more seamlessly with body signaling. Fullness signals may be more clear and obvious, leading to it being easier to know when to stop eating.
What are Whole Foods?
You may have noticed by now that to eat healthily, we recommend focusing on minimally processed Whole Foods. But what exactly are whole foods?
In simple terms, it could mean "food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances." (Source: Oxford Dictionary)
Another method of easily identifying whole foods from its more processed counterparts would be to ask yourself "Can I tell which animal this came from?" or "Am I able to easily list the ingredients that went into this food"?
If the answer is yes, chances are, it's more whole than processed.
The beauty of this system of eating is that there isn't a rigid line that separates whole foods from non-whole foods. It's more of a spectrum. All food falls on this spectrum of "more whole" or "less whole".
Having a mostly whole foods diet can be whatever you define it to be according to what is practical for you to apply to your current lifestyle. Rather than focusing on perfection in your diet, we advocate for you to simply strive to eat BETTER.
For example, rather than having chicken nuggets for dinner, you might consider eating an actual chicken drumstick instead.
Addition, not Subtraction
A healthy diet isn't really about taking away "bad food". It's about adding nutritious food.
When you start to add nutritious food into your diet, they automatically "crowd out" bad food choices.
Conversely, when you focus on "subtracting" food from your diet, your brain actually ends up craving them even more.