What Constitutes Healthy Eating?
Healthy eating has become a controversial topic, with many differing opinions on what constitutes a healthy diet.
Is there a one-size-fits-all diet that most supports human health? If so, then why are there so many conflicting beliefs about what constitutes the healthiest diet?
Hasn't science been able to determine which foods are best by now?
Is there a way to determine the best food selections for each individual, regardless of what the 'experts' claim?
By now, most people have been confronted with a range of ideologies about what constitutes healthy eating. Some claim that we are meant to be eating what our paleolithic forebears ate, that being a more hunter-fisher-gatherer type of diet.
Others believe we will experience lasting health by eschewing the meat, and munching solely on plants.
Still others claim our health suffers because we eat cooked foods, and are destroying important enzymes in the cooking process.
Does healthy eating involve eating a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, or a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet, and if so, should it be fruit-based, or grain-based? High fat, or low fat?
So many questions surround the topic of healthy eating!
With all the conflicting dietary advice, how do we determine what constitutes healthy eating, whether for humans as a collective, or for each of us as individuals?
Wild caught salmon, steamed with a dab of Kerrygold butter on top, marinated in citrus with salt & dried herbs enjoyed raw, on the lower right.
To clear confusion around determining what constitutes healthy eating for you, we suggest learning a few principles to better guide your choices, and help you experience thriving, balanced health.
For starters, If all you did was avoid or greatly minimize the foods that the consensus agrees are not part of a healthy diet, you will start to improve your health! Which foods should pretty much everyone avoid? Read more here.
- The first and most important step is to learn some nutritional basics, especially knowing which foods pretty much all agree are not part of a healthy eating plan.
- Next, recognize that your human body is still physiologically best adapted to the foods Nature made available to your pre-agricultural ancestors. The genetic and physiological changes required to be better adapted to modern foods that only came about with the advent of agriculture, about 10,000 years ago, takes a long time.
- The final, and most empowering step is to learn how to eat intuitively, and trust your true nature to help you choose the best foods for your unique needs.
A growing body of evidence indicates that it is hyperinsulinemia, and insulin resistance that is at the root of the majority of modern diseases, including hypertension, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, psoriasis, and more. The human body is simply not adapted to eating the quantities of carbohydrate-rich foods that most people now regularly consume.
We sometimes also say to 'eat for your dreams.' What you choose to eat should fit into the context of your goals and desires, along with being a match for your constitution, energetic expenditures, region you live, your ancestry ~ and your time and financial budget!
Burger w/ Low-Carb 'Fruit Salad' w/ Cucumber & Tomato
Healthy eating should be enjoyable. Foods that are good for us will help us feel satisfied, digest and assimilate well, and bring about a feeling of mental and physical well-being.
Too many of us rely on scientific data, blood tests, and the words of 'experts' while ignoring our own biofeedback systems, and direct experience. We need to Trust Ourselves, and our body's cravings ~ providing we learn how to read the messages.
To get a taste of learning how to eat more intuitively, imagine for a moment setting aside all nutritional and moral ideologies, then ask yourself the following question:
Which foods among those provided by nature ~ that are easy to obtain or prepare with minimal technology ~ are most attractive to you?
According to Chinese dietetics and food therapy, meats are considered to have a 'sweet' flavor. Wild fruits were much smaller, and less juicy and sweet than modern cultivated fruits. By and large, it was the fatty parts of animal foods that were always the most revered among traditional native populations.
Fats provide pleasure and satiety and can be found in many plant and animal sources. Choosing the right fats is key when considering healthy eating.
According to research and epidemiological observations including the work of Weston A. Price traditional saturated fats ~ especially naturally occurring fat in meats, like ribeye steaks and 80% lean ground beef ~ are quite healthy!
Our brains need fat. Saturated fat and cholesterol are important nutrients that support the health of our nerves, hormone production, and many other important functions in the body.
While most people may have heard about the health benefits of consuming monounsaturated fats such as is found in extra virgin olive (which also contains some saturated fat), avocados and avocado oil, and walnuts and walnut oil, saturated fats, with the exception of coconut oil, are still by and large touted as 'unhealthy.' However, as noted above, many recent studies, and anecdotal evidence, including our own experiences indicate otherwise.
According to Sagen Ishizuka, one of the early Japanese pioneers of the macrobiotic movement, healthy eating depended upon the right balance of potassium and sodium salts, and an appropriate level of nutrients to provide peak functioning and health of your entire body and mind.
Native populations consumed all parts of the animal, including the liver and intestines as these organ parts provided a high level of micro and macro nutrients. The blood provided needed sodium.
Sea vegetables are another excellent source of many beneficial minerals, including iodine that supports production of thyroid hormones.
How much and which of each of these foods will best support your health can best be determined through experimentation, and by paying attention to various signs and symptoms, which I discuss below.
Marinated & Roasted Turkey Wings are super delicious!
Several decades back, prior to the spike in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, food was still sourced closer to home, and the total consumption of fruits and vegetables comprised roughly 10% of total caloric intake, on average.
The primary foundational foods were raised on small farms, and in backyards, including eggs, chicken, mutton, beef and pork. They were eating a healthy 'Western' diet, and remained slender and in good health.
There are signs and symptoms that can help you gauge if your 'healthy eating' is on the right track. Many of us believe we are eating a healthy diet, loaded with lots of dark leafy greens and vegetables ~ like we ourselves did for years ~ without realizing the health impact these foods have on us until we eliminate them for at least one or more months, and then slowly reintroduce them back.
If you pay attention, and know what to look for, you can determine if you are eating a healthy diet ~ or not ~ depending on if you are experiencing signs of nutritional deficiencies, or signs of improving health, and adjust your diet accordingly.
Are you showing signs of nutritional deficiencies?
According to our recent research, vegans (and some non-vegans) can be at risk for several nutritional deficiencies, which can take some time to develop. Both Don and I were experiencing some degree of each of these signs, among others, after several years of eating a produce-rich, allegedly nutrient-dense, plant-based diet.
Some potential indicators of deficiencies of several important nutrients such as zinc, iron, selenium, and B-Vitamins include:
- Slow wound healing, and slow healing from injuries to joints, bones & ligaments
- Low libido - men especially need to ensure getting adequate levels of zinc and selenium for healthy production of testosterone, however women can experience low libido due to low testosterone as well. Even Rip Esselstyn points this out in his book, My Beef With Meat. He believes a plant-based diet increases libido. Our research has indicated the opposite to be the case. Studies indicate an improvement in libido and fertility from higher consumption of eggs, meats, and saturated fats. Women may experience low libido as well, especially if also feeling ongoing fatigue.
It is important to be aware of how misleading studies can be, often with too little information given as to the study methods to draw any real conclusions.
- Fatigue and general malaise or low-motivation. A sign of potential deficiency of iron or various B vitamins, especially B12.
- Dry skin, and premature wrinkling and aging, especially from diets too low in total and saturate fats.
- Brittle nails and hair. Signs of blood deficiency in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). See also #5. Can also indicate deficiency of minerals, or inadequate protein in the diet.
- Pale nails, pail pink under the eyes, pale pink tongue. These are also signs attributed to a blood deficiency syndrome in TCM for which herbal formulas, and increased consumption of meat ~ especially red meat, liver, and other foods would be prescribed.
- Easily catch colds, catch colds often, or cold hands and feet - can be a potential sign of low-thyroid function, and/or low zinc levels.
- Poor vision from low-levels of Vitamin A (plant-based diets can be high in beta-carotene, a Vitamin-A precursor, while Cod Liver Oil, or animal liver, such as pork or beef liver are the best sources of Vitamin A.)
- Inadvertently over eating, feeling full or bloated, yet still unsatisfied.
- Lack of real enjoyment eating foods that you mostly eat because you heard that they were 'good for you.' This is more a sign that you are not eating according to your intuitive nature, and instead are eating what you think you should.
- Dental decay and crowding of teeth.
- Weak bones, and poorly developed muscles.
- Poor mood states, depression, poor memory, and more.
Signs of healthy eating typically include the following health improvements:
- Your skin glows
- Your hair is softer and more lustrous
- Your hair does not fall out in clumps whenever you brush
- Your moods improve
- You feel more focused and centered
- You feel better physically.
- Your blood sugar and moods will be balanced
- You will more readily reach and maintain your ideal weight
- Your sleep improves
- Your energy improves
- Less pain and stiffness
- Better elimination
Eating the right, nutrient-dense, healthy foods will help you to build lean muscle, which in turn helps you to maintain healthy bones, and your ideal weight as you age.
Liver is among the most nutritionally dense foods, containing folate, and Vitamin A, which among other things, is great for eye health. Don't like the taste or texture? There are ways to incorporate it into meals that make it more palatable.
Try taking Now brand Liver Powder, or Universal Uni-Liver Tablets (which I usually chew. They aren't that bad! The Liver Powder shown tastes fine when mixed with a little low-sodium vegetable juice and water, along with the citrus flavored Carlson Labs Cod Liver Oil. See also top right if interested to order.
In early 2017, we amended what we believed to be a healthy diet, switching from eating whole grains, beans & greens as seen above, to a more ancestral or paleo centered around animal proteins, vegetables, healthy traditional fats, and some fruits & nuts, pictured right.
We later reduced our total carbohydrate consumption even more, and began to have excellent improvements in many of our nagging health conditions, including Don's psoriasis.
Delicious, perfectly roasted turkey wing w/ a sesame-ginger marinade served in sauce w/ vegetables
Folks who live in rural areas tend to have healthier eating habits than their urban counterparts, who rely more on take out and processed 'convenience' foods. Rudolph Ballentine discusses this in his book Diet and Nutrition, A Holistic Perspective.
Joel Salatin recounts a couple stories in his book Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People and a Better World indicating just how pervasive the disconnect from our food source has become. There are now people who pretty much only eat pre-packaged foods that can be quickly zapped in a microwave, and have no clue how to cook a simple meal from fresh whole foods.
Healthy eating requires taking the time to prepare food at home. It doesn't have to be very time consuming or complicated!
While you can learn how to make better choices when ordering out at a restaurant, you have much greater control over everything you consume when you prepare it yourself.
All of my meal suggestions and recipes in the Trust Your True Nature Diet Plan e-book are super simple! And delicious!
Our TYTN Diet Plan highlights the most nutrient-dense foods known to best support development of muscle growth coupled with fat loss to achieve an optimal body composition.
Eating protein and fat has been shown in several studies to be best for developing muscles.
According to the conclusion by the authors in the abstract, Dietary Protein for Athletes: From Requirements to Optimum Adaptation, published on Pub Med:
"...it does appear, however, that there is a good rationale for recommending to athletes protein intakes that are higher than the RDA. Our consensus opinion is that leucine, and possibly the other branched-chain amino acids, occupy a position of prominence in stimulating muscle protein synthesis; that protein intakes in the range of 1.3-1.8 g · kg(-1) · day(-1) consumed as 3-4 isonitrogenous meals will maximize muscle protein synthesis. These recommendations may also be dependent on training status: experienced athletes would require less, while more protein should be consumed during periods of high frequency/intensity training. Elevated protein consumption, as high as 1.8-2.0 g · kg(-1) · day(-1) depending on the caloric deficit, may be advantageous in preventing lean mass losses during periods of energy restriction to promote fat loss."
Other studies have shown that even those who are not athletes can safely consume higher levels of protein ~ and saturate fats ~ with good results.
Since switching our diet to once again include animal foods, we have noticed great results with our own strength training routine ~ with swifter recovery, greater endurance, and more immediate and observable muscle gain.
As a bonus, our skin and hair has become much softer and shinier as well. A sure sign of healthy eating!
Not that long ago, beef was on everybody's menu. It was more affordable. Nowadays, people are having a cow over eating some of the most nutrient-rich food, while decrying the raising of cows ~ despite their ability to produce the most natural, synthetic & chemical-free, gold star of fertilizer ~ when raised on pasture, as our ancestors did.
To determine what constitutes healthy eating for you will also depend on the context of your past habits, and current condition.
Within the greater framework of our TYTN Diet Plan, there is an ideal set of foods that can be determined based on your personal goals and needs.
What constitutes healthy eating will vary for each person, however there are basic rules that apply to all, such as avoiding the foods that are definitely not part of a healthy diet, as mentioned above, and as outlined here.
It is our desire to empower people to free themselves from rigid dietary boxes, prevent potential health challenges, and enjoy ones diet and life. We have experienced the cognitive dissonance that comes from adhering to dogma, while ignoring our own innate wisdom.
Preparing natural, healthy meals is a sacred act. When we are mindful, and have embodied the above principles, we can finally trust ourselves to be the best determiner of what healthy eating looks like for each of us individually, more easily tuning out the rest of the noise in the endless sea of dietary fads and advice.
Ultimately, we are each responsible for our own choices, and the creator of our outcomes. Determining what is healthy eating is a personal journey, one that can save you countless dollars in medical bills, and provide you with a much greater quality of life!
Embracing the responsibility to eat healthy is a far more empowering and liberating way to live!
Before concluding, here is one more simple study to consider with regards to healthy eating:
A 1999 crossover study published in Pediatrics, was conducted on 12 obese boys comparing the hormonal appetite regulating effects after consuming a low, medium, or high glycemic breakfast. The low glycemic breakfast consisted of a vegetable omelette with fruit, and the medium and high glycemic breakfasts consisted of oatmeal. The high glycemic breakfast was made with instant oats, while the medium glycemic breakfast was made with steel cut oats.
They were given a lunch, and a low-glycemic dinner. During the day, between meals, they were to ask for food when they felt hungry, ad libitum. The hormonal and metabolic test results indicated a clear difference between the various diets, with the low-glycemic breakfast producing the best results.
They consumed less food and had a better insulin response following the low-glycemic vegetable omelette, then when consuming the instant oats, and the steel cut oats.
This study exemplifies to me the different effects of eating carbohydrate-rich meals, versus a meal made with protein, and some vegetables and fats.
We have experienced greater energy and satiety and much better digestion eating animal protein-rich meals with some vegetables or fruits, than when we were consuming even our higher-protein grain, bean, and vegetable porridges while vegan.
Healthy eating can be determined by our direct experience!
The classic oatmeal porridge on the left, made with steel cut oats (shown here topped with a few walnuts and a little sprinkle of brown sugar ) provided more satiety than instant oatmeal to the boys in the crossover study, however, the classic 'Western' breakfast of eggs (shown here scrambled with some ham, spinach and other veggies) has a lower glycemic index than the oatmeal, and provided longer lasting satiety, with a better insulin response.
A standard 'Western Diet' ~ comprised of animal foods, healthy fats, and some fresh, seasonal vegetables & fruit ~ is an example of healthy eating that was enjoyed by our European, and other hunter-gatherer ancestors for eons, in good health!
The books shown above are a sampling of resources we read which represent both sides of the dietary debate. Several books shown that convinced us of committing to a plant-based diet are interesting, however, we now see the gaps in much of the research cited in those books.
Read with an open mind! There are always two sides to every story. Studies are very easy to interpret in a way that reflects what you are trying to prove. Sometimes the devil is in the details that were not discussed!
All purchases made through the links are greatly appreciated. Every little bit helps in contribution towards the time and effort it takes to produce free high quality content.
Below are links to all of my previous books promoting a largely plant-based diet. Each contains a variety of information and recipes, all quite enjoyable for those interested.
Please note: we no longer consider an entirely plant-based, high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet to reflect 'healthy eating' especially long-term for the majority of people. However, many people are wanting to eat a more plant-based diet, and don't know how to prepare many foods that make it at all sustainable. For this reason, I've kept my books available ~ for their supplementary information, and recipes.
Color photo Kindle version
Macrobiotic diets typically focus on whole grains and a variety of greens and land and sea vegetables, along with some beans and legumes ~ foods we once considered foundational to healthy eating.
If you are interested in simple recipes incorporating a more plant-based focus, including some whole grains, beans, and more greens and vegetables, I will be making my previous books in the Basic Macrobiotic Book Series, along with Make Every Bite Count available as a FREE PDF.
White Bean Soup w/ Millet Squares & Vegetables
What do you consider healthy eating? What do you want to learn more about? Feel free to share or subscribe.