What is healthy?
As personal trainers we have a lot of people telling us that certain foods are healthy when they describe to us what they have eaten during the day. They do not even wait for our comment or response. They know that they have been good – because a certain food that they have snacked on or substituted is, in their mind, healthier than something else that is ‘unhealthy.’ Take dark chocolate for example, we have many clients telling us that this is healthy. Is this healthy because it is a better choice than milk chocolate? Dark chocolate still has a lot of sugar in it. Cacao which is what all chocolate is derived from holds many nutritional benefits, but we are not so sure that we can deem dark chocolate as healthy.
Just because something is deemed ‘fat free’ or ‘gluten free’ doesn’t mean that it is healthy. Jelly beans or lollies have ‘fat free’ on the packaging but that does not mean that they are healthy for you! Understanding that certain foods that contain gluten make some people very sick but foods that are ‘gluten free’ aren’t therefore all healthy, they just won’t make people that intolerant to gluten, sick.
When we, as personal trainers, talk about health and things being healthy, we are talking about how things are going to nourish your body, give you fuel, help your body repair itself, transport certain vitamins and minerals (this is the work of the 3 macro nutrients, carbohydrates, protein and dietary fat respectively) and provide you with certain vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) we are not talking about something being healthy because it is better than an alternative! Yes, dark chocolate should be chosen over milk chocolate when you are treating yourself – and everyone should treat themselves every week but not every day with a slightly better alternative!
A typical day of healthy eating should look like porridge with some fruit and a few nuts thrown in or eggs (with or without toast) with a side of spinach and mushrooms or if you cannot stomach too much at breakfast – have a green smoothie, containing spinach, apple, a stick of celery some chia (maybe some oats) and a few blueberries. Lunch would be leftovers from the night before; for example; a beef stir fry or a chicken casserole or roast chicken and vegetables. And dinner would be a piece of fish with Asian greens, in garlic and lemon and some roasted sweet potato or a chickpea and lentil salad with tofu and roasted vegetables. Again, something that you could then have for the following day for lunch.
Our point is that your understanding of healthy needs to be cemented before you can start substituting things. What does it look like, how do things nourish your body and create balance in your body and mind. Is water healthy? Yes of course! Is coconut water healthy? It certainly has many health benefits, but can you just drink coconut water and not tap water? Not really, there is no substitute for water, it has so many health benefits and doesn’t have any calories in it. It aids in weight loss by keeping us satiated and full, and it helps maintain fluid balance in the body such as digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature.
Just because some things have some nutritional value, does not mean that they are healthy and that it is ok to eat them in large quantities. Raw treats and organic foods aren’t always healthy either, mashed up biscuit as a base for a raw nut and date treat from a café is still high in natural sugars. Meaning it is still calorie dense. Popcorn is a good alternative to chips, it’s a substitute when you really want to sit on the couch and eat while watching a movie. But popcorn isn’t healthy either, especially if you eat the whole bag!
Just be mindful when using the word healthy and trying to justify certain foods. We are all allowed to take our foot off the gas when it comes to being healthy but don’t dress it up as something that it is not. Frozen yogurt is still sugar in a cup (especially with reece’s pieces on the top!) even if it is slightly better than ice cream!
When in doubt ask your trainer or consult a nutritionist. Or just look at the nutritional value on the food packets. Rule of thumb? If it tastes really good and is totally moreish, it probably isn’t that great for you! Foods that are nutritious and help the body function optimally, are recognized by the stomach which in turn tell the brain to stop eating. Foods that you can overeat on generally do not contain much nutritional substance.
Our take home message? Healthy is; fruit and vegetables, good quality meat, wholegrains and legumes, wild caught fish, dietary fat in small quantities, even some saturated fat. Don’t try and substitute the bad stuff for semi bad stuff all the time. Just try and be healthy 85% of the time. And when you want something sweet or even savoury which doesn’t have much nutritional value – just embrace it!