We’ve got eating healthy down to a science these days. In fairly recent history, (say, only a couple hundred years or so back), our predecessors had to mostly rely on trial and error to find which foods –and which parts of foods—are healthy. With this very imprecise method we (as all of humanity) made some progress in the world of health, but there was still an alarming incidence of poor health from poor nutrition.
Today, nutritionists and dieticians can pinpoint the exact chemical compounds foods contain and accurately tell us which bodily functions and areas of the body they will affect. This is one reason why there is a diet for everything: diets for losing weight, lowering cholesterol, making your skin beautiful, etc.
One thing to keep in mind about “diets” though, is that they should be kept simple. In large part, you don’t need to memorize all the nutrients contained in every food you consume. Following the basic food pyramid recommendations will steer you in the right direction as far as food choices go.
Quick side note:
It is important to keep in mind when you are trying to “fix” a certain problem through diet you should know a thing or two about how different nutrients interact with each other. For example, in the past, I did not have enough iron in my blood.
I decided to fix this through consuming more food sources of iron. (I was determined not to have to take an iron supplement.) I found foods high in iron (both heme such as red meat and non-heme such as spinach) and incorporated them more frequently into my diet.
One thing that helped me maximize the amount of iron my body could get from these foods was knowing that vitamin C aids your body absorb iron. Another useful thing to know was that calcium (while still good for you) can make it harder for your body to absorb iron. So, during this time I increased my vitamin C a bit and tried to stay away from calcium during those iron-rich meals.
By the way, it completely worked. I got my iron up and my doctor stopped bugging me to get on those iron supplements. Knowing a thing or two about food nutrients helped me achieve the results I wanted, but honestly, most of the knowledge I gained came from a few minutes of research. I’m saying you don’t have to study lists of vitamins and memorize their properties.
Back to Our Discussion on Diets:
Think of your diet as the food choices you will make for the rest of your life and not so much a temporary fix you will make to lose weight quickly. The major cause of yo-yo dieting is going back to old habits once the weight is lost.
Because your diet will need to be a permanent part of your life—it should be kept simple and sustainable. Not like the plant a fruit tree for every fruit you eat kind of sustainable, but just something you can keep doing for the rest of your life.
The interesting thing is that the form of the healthy foods we know we’re supposed to eat has not changed from what was consumed by our poor trial-and-error predecessors hundreds of years ago. It’s still best to eat an apple in its purest form—picked as fresh as you can get—peelings and all. Do wash it though.
Super Foods to Keep You Healthy and Lean
The lovely thing about eating healthy is that the choices are almost limitless. There are so many things that are good for you and it’s good to eat a diet with lots of variety. See our recommended fat burning fruits and fruits that burn belly fat for more info.
It can also be helpful to think of all the things you can eat rather than dwell on those you can’t eat as often to keep yourself on track with your weight loss goals. I find that if I keep a little source of chocolate on hand (thereby making myself feel like my chocolate consumption is not being restricted), I don’t eat very much of it—especially if I tell myself it’s there for when I need a quick chocolate fix.
There are really too many foods that I would deem as “super” to limit the list to say, 5, but I’ll give you some basic super food categories and a few specific recommendations within the categories to get you going on your variety-packed, life-long, healthy diet. Also take a look at our previous article listing 25 Super Foods you should be eating.
Plant Matter Matters!
Eat food that grows from or in the ground. Anything fruit or vegetable will do, but especially look for deep colors. This is usually an indication of higher level of antioxidants (you know, those nutrients that can help prevent cancerous cells from forming by inhibiting the absorption of free radicals in your system).
They all contain good amounts of fiber to help you feel full and satisfied for longer. Many fruits also taste delicious and can stave off a craving for other sweet—and less healthy—foods. Because they are so satisfying, fruits and veggies can help you stay in control of your portions (a crucial component of weight loss). Most green fat burning foods are going to be highly beneficial to your health.
My specific recommendation is tomatoes. This fruit (yes fruit) comes up again and again in the literature as a wonderfully versatile and delicious way to pack in the healthy stuff. It contains lycopene, a substance that helps your body fight the development of cancerous cells, lowers your risk of heart disease, and can help to prevent macular degeneration.
All tomatoes are good in all varieties. Use Roma for cooking (they don’t fall apart as easily) and heirloom for sandwiches. Also, orange tomatoes—actually orange, not unripened red tomatoes—contain higher amounts of lycopene so keep your eye out for these beauties as well.
Nuts are also powerful diet boosters. They contain high amounts of protein to help you build muscle and keep you feeling full and satisfied. Protein usually takes about 25% more energy for your body to digest than carbohydrate—which means your metabolism gets boosted just for eating it!
Much of the fat in nuts is the healthy unsaturated kind of fat that is actually good for your cholesterol levels. They are also a great source of fiber.
You will be happy to know that a 2009 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared women who ate nuts at least twice per week with those who didn’t and found that the nut consumers were better at keeping their weight off than those who didn’t eat nuts. For more ideas see our recommended fat burning foods and our giant fat burning foods list.
I have two recommendations (actually several, but I’m limiting myself to two for your sake): almonds and pistachios.
Almonds are, first of all, just plain good. I can eat them raw by the handful and never wonder if life has anything better to offer. Seriously though, an ounce of almonds will give you 6 grams of protein and 3 g of fiber and at only 167 calories serves as an excellent and quick snack between meetings, errands, or other demands of the day.
Pistachios are cool. They’re not quite as quick as almonds unless you buy the more-expensive, pre-shelled pistachios but they pack a lot of recently-discovered health benefits. A preliminary study at the University of Toronto has found that pistachios may reduce the risk of diabetes because they—like many nuts—contain high amounts of fiber, protein, and monounsaturated fat.
Apparently, each of these substances can slow the absorption of carbohydrate in the body, meaning they can decrease the effect of carbs on blood sugar levels. A good serving (3 ounces or so) of pistachios each day can raise your levels of good (HDL) cholesterol and help you feel energetic by providing you with some vitamin B6 and copper. Nuts are also a great source of essential fatty acids.
Eat Your Meat
Vegetarian diets are generally touted as healthy and wonderful. Which is true. They are both of those things, but they do make it harder to get sources of heme (basically red meat type) iron. This iron is great because it is more easily absorbed into our bodies than non-heme (plant-derived) iron.
We all know that white, lean meats are best. But, that doesn’t mean leave out red meat entirely. All meat, of course, is high in protein (the benefits of which we’ve already talked about), but red meat should be considered as essential to your healthy diet.
Find yourself a lean cut (like a tenderloin) and make sure it is labeled as grass-fed. Unfortunately, much of our beef comes from grain-fed cows and grain isn’t actually good for cows. So, they are fatter and we get fatter for eating them—sorry if that grossed anyone out.
Grass-fed beef is not only leaner, it also contains higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (which has been shown in animal studies to combat cancer) and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than the grain-fed variety.
I’m grouping fish in the meat group—some people don’t anymore. Salmon especially is a great, not-quite-as-fishy fish that is a great source of protein and fairly low in calories. It does have some fat, but again, much of that is good fat. Be informed on your seafood choices, some varieties contain higher levels of mercury these days.
Real Whole Grains
Grains are good for you. White bread is not good for you—it’s been processed enough that it slightly resembles a food derived from a grain source. So, limit your white bread stuff and stick to the delightfully satisfying and oh-so-good-for-you whole grain stuff.
Doing something like eating whole-grain oatmeal (not the quick oat kind) every morning can significantly reduce your cholesterol and increase your heart health. If it says whole grain, go for it. Unless that grain is corn. Corn just isn’t as good for you.
Despite their bad rap, milk products are high in calcium and protein. Calcium builds strong bones—something that will definitely come in handy throughout your life. There are multiple studies touting the benefits of dairy in keeping your weight down. Basically, getting two servings a day will help you lose and maintain your weight loss.
Don’t listen to the milk detractors, milk and milk products are a very versatile and easy to incorporate into the most hectic of schedules.
Variety Is Best
You will notice that much of my super food categories mirror those of the food pyramid. I obviously think it’s a great guide. Remember to eat a large variety and watch your portion sizes and you’ll be just fine.