Something I realised a while ago, which seems pretty obvious when you think about it, is that in order to be healthy, one needs to eat healthy, unprocessed whole foods if not all the time, then at least the majority of the time. It doesn’t make sense to expect to be healthy and be the best possible version of yourself when you’re not feeding your body healthy and nutritious foods.
Rest assured that when you start giving your body the healthy raw materials it needs, your body and brain will thank you, and will start using these healthier foods to make a healthier version of you. You are almost literally what you eat!
We’re going to take a look at what specific foods you should be eating for total body health. But first, let’s discuss exactly why what you eat is so important.
Importance of a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet can have some simple carbohydrates and sugars, but they really should not form the bulk of your diet. Instead, your diet should be made up of proteins, good fats, and complex carbohydrates which can provide short and long term energy, and of course lots of pure, clean water.
So long as you are not allergic to junk foods, eating them at times is normal. And let’s face it, they can help keep us sane sometimes. However, these sorts of highly processed and highly palatable foods are anything but natural and shouldn’t be eaten all the time if you want to be fit and well.
The foods you eat end up being used to make and repair your cells – and hence your body. That’s why you owe it to yourself to eat foods that help nourish you, make you thrive, and ultimately be as healthy as you are meant to be. Eating poorly leaves you temporarily satisfied in the short-term, but in the long-term, you end up with junk cells and a junk body that doesn’t work well or move without aches and pains.
Eat Processed Foods in Moderation
Healthy food and clean water are vitally important to your overall health. If you’ve been a big fan of unhealthy, highly processed foods and worry your body is made up of junk parts, don’t get stressed about it. All 50 to 75 trillion body cells and the body parts they form are replaced over time. For example, the cells of your intestines are replaced every 4 days, while your skin cells are replaced every two to three weeks. You won’t permanently damage your cells from one time of junk eating.
Focus on eating healthy foods the majority of the time to keep your health bank balance loaded. This ensures that the odd times you make demands and withdrawals when eating less healthy foods should not have too much of a negative impact on your overall health.
Top Foods to Eat for Overall Health
Health Benefits of Protein
Protein, of course, is incredibly important to optimal health. Most people could do with having about 10% to 35% of their calories coming from protein, although this can change depending on your age and level of activity.
Protein is important for the following reasons:
- Helps you grow
- Gives you energy
- Helps provide structure to your tissues and cells
- Supports immunity
Protein itself is made up of a bunch of amino acids strung together. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of many parts inside and outside of your body. You have twenty amino acids, eleven of which are non-essential, meaning your body can manufacture them. Nine of these amino acids are essential, meaning you’re unable to manufacture these on your own, so you have to get them from various foods. It’s important to note that one of these amino acids isn’t used by adults, only babies, but that’s an article for another day.
When protein is eaten, the strings are broken down so your body can properly digest and absorb the individual amino acids. These are broken down in the stomach through the action of enzymes like gastrin, protease, and peptidase. Next, the small intestine begins further breaking down what you’ve eaten into amino acids using the enzyme trypsin. These amino acids are then used as building blocks for your body to create the myriad of proteins it needs.
The proteins created by amino acids are used for things such as:
- Connective tissues – keep your joints supple and youthful
Foods High in Protein
Eating enough essential amino acids is absolutely key to meeting these needs. A diet deficient in protein, both essential and non-essential proteins, increases the probability of poor health and also possibly hunger. The usual sources of well-known proteins are animal and seafood. They are known as complete proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids.
What is rarely known is the fact that plant foods also contain protein, although they are incomplete proteins because they may lack a couple or so of these amino acids. This makes it an absolute necessity for vegetarians and vegans eating plant-based diets to eat a wide variety of vegetables, together with whole grains and nuts, to make a meal with complete proteins. They should be sure to include quinoa and soy because they’re sometimes considered complete proteins depending on the source. These can then be digested and used by the body to provide the much needed essential amino acids.
Examples of protein-rich foods include:
- Legumes or pulses
- Minimally-processed meats
- Poultry, beef, lamb, or seafood
- Nutritional yeast
- Organic soy products (in moderation)
Health Benefits of Healthy Fats
Fats are one of the macronutrients needed in your diet in the correct amounts to enable you to achieve and maintain optimal health. Good quality, healthy fats are needed in your diet as they play a big role in your overall health. In addition to this, fats should make up about 20% to 35% of your total daily calories because they’re a major component of your body’s cells and are required to build healthy cells. Fats also help foods taste better (go butter!), and help keep you full for longer after eating because they take a bit longer to digest. They also help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins, as well as help cushion and insulate your internal organs.
Tip: when eating vegetables, add some fat like extra virgin olive or a little butter to help you absorb the nutrients in your veggies better.
Foods High in Healthy Fats
There are different types of good fats and they’re separated into classes – saturated and unsaturated fats. The unsaturated fats are further divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. There are also trans fats, which are definitely not part a healthy diet as they have been ultra processed.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and include fats such:
- Fatty meat
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
Some fats like polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are considered essential fats. This is because you’re unable to make them in your body so they have to be obtained from the diet. These fats are Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids.
Notice the trend of naming things as essential if they are needed for good health, but cannot be made in the body.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
You’ve probably heard that omega 3 fatty acids are good for you. Omega 3s are classified as DHA, EPA, and ALA. They help reduce inflammation, support heart and brain health, and reduce mental health symptoms like depression. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for good health and have been researched quite a bit for their potential to lower the risk of many heart and brain issues.
One of the main ways omega 3 fatty acids can help you to be healthier is because of their anti-inflammatory properties. It’s often said that inflammation is the root of most disease processes.
Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include:
- Fatty fish
- Salmon and mackerel to provide EPA and DHA
- Walnuts for their ALA
- Flaxseeds for their ALA
- Chia seeds for their ALA
- Algae for their ALA
- Hemp seeds for their ALA
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Omega 6 fatty acids are also needed in the diet, but if consumed in excess, they can end up being pro-inflammatory. This means they promote constant inflammation which isn’t conducive to good health. Omega 6s are easy enough to incorporate into your diet… much too easy really, and that is the problem with them. Studies show that currently the ratios of omega 6 to 3 fatty acids being consumed in our modern diets are in the region of 25:1. That ratio should be nearer to 2:1 or ideally 1:1.
Good sources of omega 6 fatty acids include:
- Sunflower oil
- Corn oil
- Pumpkin seeds
These fatty acids can also be obtained from good quality supplements, although emphasis should be placed on getting them from food sources as much as possible.
Unhealthy Trans Fats
And now comes the not so good fats, the trans fat. Trans fats been linked to hardening of the arteries and heart disease. And they’re definitely and firmly placed in the inflammatory camps, meaning they have no place in healthy diets. They’re best when they’re avoided entirely. Keep in mind that these fats can also be shown on food labels as partially hydrogenated fats.
Sources of unhealthy trans fats include:
- Processed baked products
- Some packaged frozen and fried foods
Health Benefits of Carbohydrates
Did you know that even fruits and vegetables contain carbs? It’s true! Eating plants, like fruits and vegetables, is good for you and they’re an excellent source of healthy carbohydrates! You can even take your health up quite a few notches by including fermented foods like sauerkraut, olives, kimchi (my absolute favourite side dish), although any vegetables can be fermented. Fermented vegetables are chock full of good bacteria which is essential for healthy guys. Fermented drinks like beet kvass, milk, water or coconut kefir, yoghurt (dairy or non-dairy), and kombucha are also wonderful additions to a healthy diet.
Carbohydrates give energy, help with digestion, and help support a healthy weight. One of the many reasons why this is is because they contain anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Not to mention the fact that many are vitamin and mineral powerhouses as well. They also have fibre, both soluble and insoluble, which supports gut health (the good bacteria love them) and helps to slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, which is most definitely a good thing. You should aim for about 45% to 65% of your total daily calories coming from carbohydrates.
Lots of articles have been written on whether it’s better to eat low-carb or high-carb, with lots of references to support their stance. This article is not about that. Whether you eat low- or high-carb also depends on the state of your health, tolerance, and what you’re trying to achieve.
Carbohydrates are not essential, but they are nonetheless, part of a healthy diet so long as you’re eating mostly complex carbohydrates, and not just refined carbohydrates. Eating too many refined and processed carbohydrates increases your risk of chronic inflammation, obesity and type 2 diabetes, which are things no one wants.
You may know by now that chronic inflammation is the cause of so many short-term and long-term health concerns, including joint pain, asthma, fatigue, and gut issues, leading to stress. Inflammation is not a bad thing when it helps us heal from a cut for example, but it becomes a problem when the inflammation goes on and on without any appropriate triggers.
Enjoy your fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes/pulses if tolerated and properly prepared. And make sure they’re from whole foods while being either unprocessed or minimally processed, then you can’t go wrong. It’s important to note that carbohydrates can be classed as either simple or complex.
Simple carbohydrates are easily broken down to provide almost instant energy. They can be found in the following:
- Fruit and honey
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, require much more time to be broken down and help stabilise energy levels. These include:
- Whole grains like brown rice
- Legumes and pulses like beans
Refined carbohydrates have had their fibre portion removed through being processed, which causes them to raise blood sugar levels very quickly. If this happens over and over again, throughout the day and every day, it can affect your ability to manage your blood sugar levels and may also affect your insulin levels and sensitivity. This can also be a cause of the phenomenon known as being “hangry” – being hungry and angry and irritable at the same time. This occurs when blood sugar levels drop and desperation sets in when a quick source of energy can not be eaten immediately. Hangry does not look good on anyone!
Antioxidants in Foods with Carbohydrates
It’s also important to note that when eating plants, to focus on eating ones rich in powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants help fight free radicals that contribute to a host of disease processes. The following plants are a rich source of antioxidants:
- Colourful ones! Eat the rainbow by choosing from a variety of colourful plants. Think red, orange, yellow, green, and purple. Although white/cream is good too! Think cauliflower, parsnips, potatoes, and white sweet potatoes (my favourite!).
- Blueberries, grapes, green tea, and cocoa (yes, you read that right…unsweetened cocoa of course!). I’ve always held that cocoa, hence chocolate is good for you, although it has to be dark chocolate with about 70% cocoa and above.
Health Benefits of Drinking Water
I debated putting this section first but decided that it’s such a critical and essential part of a healthy diet and a healthy body. Water is something that I place firmly in the “Goldilocks” zone. This means that too much can dilute minerals in the body and too little can cause dehydration, headaches, tiredness, and brain fog. You’ve got to get it just right! The amount drunk daily changes every day and depends on the individual and the activity levels, the climate, diet and how healthy you are. The most often repeated number is about 8 glasses a day, but if your diet includes fresh fruits and leafy green vegetables, you may need less as these foods are very hydrating.
Some ways water is healthy for your body include:
- Aids in digestion
- Helps the brain function better
- Keeps the skin supple
- Helps provide enough fluid to cushion connective tissues and joints
Always drink when you’re thirsty. While it’s preferable to drink pure, filtered water, you may get bored with this flavorless liquid. If you want or need a bit of sweet flavour in your water, throw a handful of frozen berries or chopped fruit into your water bottle, then you’re good to go.
Are You Interested in Achieving Total Body Health?
Total body health is important for everyone, especially for those with gut issues or autoimmune disease. Eating a variety of whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense, and minimally inflammatory foods is the key to good health. Foods that contain enough high-quality protein, essential fatty acids, as well as carbohydrates that are rich in antioxidants are very important and non-negotiable in the pursuit of good health. It’s best to choose organic foods as much as possible, but if this is not something you can afford, it’s still definitely much better to eat non-organic whole foods mostly instead of highly processed and packaged foods. And don’t forget to stay hydrated.
I understand how overwhelming it can be to begin a complete diet overhaul once you make the decision to put your health first. If you’re looking for guidance along the way or have any questions about what foods are right for your specific body, don’t hesitate to give me a call to set up an appointment or use my online contact form to get in touch. I can’t wait to support you in your search for total body health!
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