What Should a Healthy Diet Look Like?
The foundation for a healthy diet. What foods to focus on and what to potentially avoid.
Everyone wants to know WHAT and HOW MUCH to eat in order to promote optimum health. Of course (and please hear me on this) there are so many things that affect our health other than just what we eat. These additional contributions to overall health that should not be overlooked include stress management, adequate sleep, and mental health. One piece of mental health and stress that’s often neglected when talking about optimum nutrition is ‘obsession around food’. Obsession is not the goal (and it never will be for us here at General Wellness). We firmly believe that all foods fit in our lives. However, there are options in all food categories that are the MOST nutritious, and some that are not. This doesn’t mean we strictly consume the most nutritious ones and don’t enjoy ourselves, but we should try to use the most nutritious options as our foundation for a healthy diet, which is the purpose of this post today.
There are three major macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. And in each of these categories there are good, better, and best options to choose from. This post will discuss the foundation for the healthiest diet possible in regards to all of the macronutrients and what foods are best to choose. In addition to these major macronutrient groups, we will discuss vegetable intake as well, which doesn't necessarily fit in a category, but is certainly the most important part in a healthy diet.
Let’s start with CARBOHYDRATES:
Carbohydrates are important to include in a healthy diet in order to give your brain and muscles the energy they need, to promote proper digestion, and to support hormone balance as well. But as far as your health goes, there are certain carbs that promote health more so than others. There are a lot of different foods that make up carbohydrates: bread, pasta, rice, oats, cereal, cookies, cakes, candy, etc… the things we classically consider “grains” and sweets. But fruit and regular dairy (regular cow’s milk and regular non-Greek yogurt) items are considered carbohydrates as well. And while the media may try to tell you otherwise, carbohydrates are not bad for you! But there are certain carbs that offer more nutritional value.
Which carbs are best for you and why -
The best sources of carbs and where we want to try and get the majority of our carbohydrate intake from would be whole grains and fruit. There is a general rule of thumb that at least half of your grains should be WHOLE grains. However, the more of your grains that you can consume as whole grains, the better. It is best to get our carbohydrates from whole grains and fruits because they give us benefits that other carbs (like cakes, cookies, and refined grains such as white bread & regular pasta) do not. Each of these offer a variety of vitamins, minerals, and FIBER that promote a healthy GI system and overall health. Not sure why we need fiber? Click HERE to find out ALL you need to know about fiber and where to get it in your food. Check out our blog post all about whole grains and how to cook them HERE. Fruit is also an excellent way to get high quality carbohydrates in your diet. Fruit provides the same basic glucose (the compound all carbohydrates break down into) to your body while also being full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These antioxidants and nutrients support our muscle recovery, immune system, and can even help fight chronic diseases. So when it comes to carbohydrates, whole grains & fruit are at the foundation of a nutritious diet.
Want to know more on if carbs are bad for you? Check out our video here:
Carbohydrates that also contain protein -
This is a tricky little in between category of foods that contain both carbohydrates AND protein. Honestly these are some of the healthiest foods for you because they are what we like to call “nutrient-dense”, meaning that they offer a lot of nutrients and benefits in even a small amount of these foods. Foods in this category include beans (all varieties), edamame, lentils, quinoa, and high protein dairy like Greek yogurt! Beans, edamame, lentils, and quinoa are all packed full of fiber that promote gut health and have even more benefits in the way of cholesterol and overall health. These are also considered plant-based protein, which is at the foundation for a healthy diet as well. Increasing plant-based protein options over animal proteins is often the healthiest thing we can do. This small switch in our diets can help decrease chronic disease and cancer risk (more on this in the protein section).
What about PROTEIN?
Protein serves so many very important functions in our bodies such as muscle building, hair/skin/nail health, cellular functioning, and so many more important details that we often never consider in our bodies. Protein comes in a variety of forms including the plant-based options mentioned above; meat products like chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb, fish; eggs; cheese; protein powder; and nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are also considered a healthy fat, which we will discuss in the fat section below. There are several caveats with meat intake. Medical history has a lot to do with what options will be best for you when it comes to protein. When choosing meat products, I try to choose products from growth-hormone-free and antibiotic-free raised animals whenever possible. Typically, the package of meat will say something like “raised without antibiotics”, “hormone free”, “no antibiotic ever”, etc. The jury is still out on the true effect growth hormones and animal antibiotics will have on our health, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
When it comes to red and processed meats, there is much more to consider. Processed meats such as bacon (from any animal), sausage (from any animal), and deli meat are considered to be class 1 carcinogens…the same as cigarettes. And red meat (beef, pork, lamb) is a class 2 carcinogen when consumed in large amounts. Because the narrative on this is so long, General Wellness will be publishing a separate blog post about this shortly. In the mean time, check out our Instagram Highlight “MEAT INFO” here! The summary for the purposes of this post and describing what is the healthiest way of eating is this: no red or processed meats will be included in the foundation for a healthy diet.
So what proteins ARE included in the foundation for a healthy diet? I’m glad you asked. In the foundation for a healthy diet, the main proteins consumed should be those in the form of fish (fatty fish such as tuna and salmon are best), eggs, “clean” protein powders such as Orgain or Collagen Peptides, and of course nuts and seeds.
The final macronutrient is FAT -
Fat is beneficial for joint, brain, and heart health as well as hormone production in our bodies. Although its name has been skewed in our society - fat does not make you fat. It’s an essential macronutrient and we need to consume it! However just like you’ve seen with all of the macronutrients, there are certain fats that are superior.
When it comes to fat a simple rule is this: avoid saturated fats and consume more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This helps promote overall heart healthy and avoids any cholesterol issues. But specific amounts and recommendations can only be made by your local doctor and Registered Dietitian.
Saturated fats (the least healthy ones) are typically found in dairy products like butter, cream, higher fat cheeses, higher fat meats (red meat and processed meats), and others.
Unsaturated fats (the healthy ones) are found in olives, olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds (think chia seeds and flax seeds too). THESE are the fats that you want to include in a foundation for a healthy diet.
Last but certainly not least we get to discuss VEGETABLES -
Vegetables are THE basis for a healthy diet. Vegetables should be consumed as much as possible, whenever possible. They are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help prevent and fight back against chronic diseases, cancer, autoimmune conditions, and so much more. Even if you are eating the healthiest version of the macronutrients out there but are not consuming vegetables, you really won’t be giving your body the optimum nutrients it needs to thrive.
Which vegetables offer the most benefits? Well, they are all pretty amazing. I promise. But incorporating a wide variety of vegetables will give you the balance of nutrients to promote overall health. Dark green veggies (think kale, spinach, swiss chard, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc) can help prevent the damage from things like red meat when consumed together, and can be beneficial to fight against certain cancers like colon and stomach cancer.
Oh, but you don’t like vegetables you say? Start slow. Find at least one you like - I find that zucchini, green beans, or carrots are the easiest “gateway vegetables” for most people. And while you’re trying to branch out and find others you like, focus on optimizing your intake of the healthiest macronutrients as best you can.
The other, less nutritious options in the carb, protein, and fat categories can still be consumed. But I like to lay the ground work for the BEST versions of all of them, and let you experiment with how these make you feel. After you know what it’s like to feel fueled with the best, you can begin to add in the rest in an effort to #FindYourFreedom and what makes most sense for you to live in a way where you feel your best both physically and mentally. Obsession is not the goal, increasing health and wellbeing is the goal.
Want to know more about what this could look like for you? Inquire about services or schedule your appointment with General Wellness today HERE.
You can also check out Addie’s day to day eats always on the General Wellness instagram — follow along and be inspired.