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How Do You Define a Healthy Food?

10 Questions to Ask Yourself

Do you really know what is healthy food? When I talk about this to people, the more I find different “criteria”, different answers to the same question. Companies across the globe and even scientists use different nutrition criteria to define “healthy” foods. That is actually completely acceptable and the reason why is because it depends on so many factors.

Here are 10 questions to ask when deciding if a food is "healthy":

1.  The first and most obvious question is about the food itself: What nutrients and phyto-nutrients are in the food?

What is the balance of health-promoting nutrients versus components we want to minimize eg saturated fat and fibre content? Where did the food come from? How was the food grown? How was it produced? What additives are in the food? These are the easy questions and usually this is where it ends for many people.

However, the following is as important play a role:

2.  How much of the food do you eat? 

Too much of any food can potentially be detrimental to your health. Or, if you eat little enough of anything it either not really contribute to any health issues eg a small sucker. Or, if you eat too little of a certain meal, you might not be satisfied and that may lead to overeating later on.

3.   How often do you eat it?

Dark chocolate occasionally (eg once a week) may contribute to the pool of anti-oxidants in your body, but a large amount on a daily basis and the negatives (eg high fat and high energy content) outweigh the positives (anti-oxidants) by far.

4.  How do you feel when you eat the food?

Although high sugary foods give you quick energy, if you don't use that quick energy in for example an energy session, it causes an overproduction in insulin and re results is feeling sluggish and actually drained of energy. On the other hand, a Slender-Wonder protein rich shake for breakfast is being released slowly keeping you energised.

5.  What happens as a result of eating that food?

Does it nourish you with vitamins and minerals, and energy?

Perhaps it leads you to overindulge eg you start with one block of chocolate, but end up having it all in one go? Or, it might stimulate your appetite eg in the case of alcohol, and that might also affect your choices of food.

6.  What other foods do you eat along with that particular choice?

I often find that clients would mention that they often eat fish, which is commonly known as a healthy food. However, upon questioning, it turns out that the fish first of all might be crumbed, but is also accompanied by high-fat sauce. Or, popcorn, which is also a healthy snack in moderation, is never consumed without a glass of Cola at the movies.

7.  What other kinds of foods do you eat in your diet?

You always need to look at the bigger picture. If you eat out once in a week and have a pizza, that would make up 5% of your total intake of the 21 main meals (breakfast, lunch and supper) that you eat in a week and that your body will be able to handle without having any significant impact on yourHowever, increasing eating out to just 4 times per week, means 20% of your total intake you don't have any control over and that will make a difference. Healthy eating requires a high adherence (95%) to get and maintain your results - 80% is just not good enough, I'm afraid!

8.  What foods are missing from your diet?

Another common misconception, is that certain food groups are "bad". For example, too much fruit will give you too much sugar. Or red meat makes fat. Or, vegetarians are much healthier, and the list goes on. There is a simple short answer to all of this: unless you are allergic or have a certain disease (eg kidney failure), you need all the food groups to maintain health.

9.  How well do you listen to your body's cues for hunger and fullness?

It's an "old" story, but still true... It takes 20 minutes for the message to reach the brain to inform it that there is food and that you can start slowing down or stop eating. It is also old-fashioned now to tell kids to finish their food on their plates. It teaches bad eating habits and you can prevent that by not dishing up too much food in the first place.

10.  “Healthy food” for what outcome?

These are critical questions:   

What lifestyle goal are you trying to achieve? Weight loss? Lowering your blood pressure? Lowering your cholesterol? Improving your 10 km race time? Eating for a sensitive stomach? A healthy food product for one person, might be harmful to another.

There is no one food that will make-or-break your diet. I do believe that all foods can be part of a healthy diet – but some foods belong more than others. Your overall lifestyle pattern, and health and lifestyle goals will determine what foods you will want to eat more of, what foods you may want to eat less of, and how you may want to include them as part of your overall eating pattern. All of this, while respecting your body’s needs and signals for hunger and fullness.

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