Thursday, January 17, 2013
This is a question that all of us have asked at one time or another. If we're someone who is used to everything processed and shelf stable, then we might be more confused than others. We'll all develop our own thoughts on what is healthy. I have not taken a nutrition class (yet!), but have developed my own thoughts on healthy.
I think that the majority of us can agree that if nature grew it, it should be healthy. If it grew from the ground or ate something that grew from the ground, then it is healthy. I come from an area that has small local farming, not those large corporate farms and having watched many documentaries, I have a lot to say about local vs corporate farms, but I will not be going into that discussion today, I'm going to try to keep it simple today.
When you go into the grocery store, you're presented with a ton of choices. Most of the stores I'm used to (and I've been in many in different stores in many different states) the thing that is similar in every store is that they have a perimeter that has the fresh stuff. You start navigating the interior shelves and then it starts becoming boxes of processed items, very few things there that are needed.
Let's start out with the first area you are likely to walk into when you walk through those doors, the produce department. It has all the veggies and fruits you need! Some might debate the organic produce might be better, but any produce is better than none! New to fruits and veggies? Try them one at a time and see what you like, you'll never know if you don't try! It all grew from the ground (or hydroponically), so it will have the nutrients you need.
There might even be a bulk department in the produce area, check it for nuts, rices, oatmeal, and a variety of other things that can be healthy for you. Avoid the side that is the bulk candy though! That's just sugar and calories, no nutrients whatsoever!
The meat department is usually next. There might be a deli there, but we'll concentrate on the meat department. If it comes in a roast, chops, ground or steak form, it's healthy, but you need to watch for flavored items, they'll likely have a lot more sodium than the original item. If they're stuffed, they might have some other ingredients that are unpronounceable. The closer to the animal form, the better. Knew the animal at the farm? Even better.
Still in the meat department, you might find these things called lunchmeat. If you read the ingredients you may find something that works in your diet, but they are very processed, high sodium, with things like sugar and corn syrup added in addition to colors and artificial flavors. Now, I'm not saying you can't ever have lunchmeat, but you really need to read the ingredients and find the things that are closest to natural. If you understand the ingredients, they might be okay for your diet. It should have meat in the ingredient list. Look for the serving size then decide if you'll get too much salt in your day from that item. Some contain added nitrates, which aren't as good for you, especially if you plan on eating them daily.
Most things that are processed into "strips", "nuggets" or "patties" are probably not good for you. Turn the package and you'll see a ton of ingredients. I found one that I will use for a quick meal for the kids, Perdue Simply Smart, it has the fewest ingredients and I understand them all. I don't use this on a daily basis, I still make as much from scratch as possible.
Leaving the meat department, you usually have a dairy department next. Milk (yes, from cows), cheese, eggs, butter and sour cream are here. They are all healthy items. They are all nature made. Okay cheese is processed a little, but it's still only one degree of separation from milk, same with yogurt and sour cream. Once again, the fewest ingredients the better. A little fat is necessary for the body to survive. The problem with these items is that you still need to read the ingredient list.
Butter should be cream and salt, beware of added color or other ingredients that shouldn't be there. Butter is nature made, margarine is from a chemical factory. I prefer things that are as close to nature as possible, once we start messing with chemical bonds, then it becomes less than healthy for our bodies. Still use this in moderation though, too much of a good thing can go to waist.
I drink 1% milk, I prefer the taste, even after years of being on skim, I also prefer the stuff with no added hormones. Yogurt should have "live cultures" on the package or it's not really yogurt, watch for "light" yogurts because they contain artificial sugars* (see thoughts on sugars later). Daisy sour cream just has cultured cream as an ingredient.
So now we've hit up the obvious places healthy items lie. Next we'll go into those inner shelves. Most of the items on inner shelves should be avoided, they have longer ingredient lists than any recipe you'll find in a cookbook. BUT you will have to go into those isles for a few things.
Canned fruits. You can find them canned in 100% juice. You need to make sure they have no added sweeteners, sometimes canned in juice also has artificial sweeteners. Avoid artificial anything as much as possible. Prepared applesauce can be healthy, but there is only one brand that has no added sweeteners, look for the brand that says "natural", then flip it to see the ingredient list that should only have fruit and water, avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners in the ingredient list.
Canned meats. You'll find tuna, salmon, and chicken here. Yes they tend to be processed with salt, find them canned in water, not in oil and you'll save yourself unneeded calories. Tuna is a great take with item, they're making them in single serve pouches for easy on the go meals.
Pasta, rice and beans. These are part of a healthy meal. Go for the darker items, brown or wild rice will have more nutrients than white (wild has a much different taste and not everyone can get used to it, try the smaller packet before buying a bigger bag). If rice says it's done in minutes, then it's been stripped of nutrients.
Most people say whole wheat pasta is the best, I still use the tri-colored pastas too, they at least have some veggies in them, even if they're nominal, be sure to measure out the serving size, it's much smaller than you'd expect.
Beans are a great way to get protein in your day without having to go to meat all the time. I buy them dry because I have the time to soak them overnight and boil them for an hour, but if you don't have as much time, buy them canned and rinse them well as they're usually canned in water and salt.
Fruit snacks. I'm not talking about those sugary based artificially colored items. There are a couple of options for pureed and dried fruits. They may go by the name "fruit leather" or "simply fruit". This should still just say pureed fruit and water, they don't have added sugar or color. It's a great way to have a little something in a lunch that seems like a candy.
The baking isle, in moderation.
Now some people may not agree with me, but *sugar is healthy, as long as it's used in moderation. It's better than artificial sweeteners. Sugar is just boiled off the beet or cane (more than once for the whiter stuff), artificial sugars are made in a chemical factory. Yes, we should still be avoiding sugar as our main source of anything, but a teaspoon in a day will not kill us, watch for hidden sugars in processed items.
Whole wheat flour. Unless you have Celiac disease, you can still use gluten and whole wheat. If you have the time, bake your breads from scratch, preferably using whole wheat flour.
Honey, sure it's just bee spit and nectar mixed together, but it can have a place too. Use local honey when you can because you're getting local flowers, use this like you would sugar, in moderation.
Cooking oils. Once again, in moderation, oil can be part of your diet. I only use extra virgin olive oil, it's just squeezed olives. Do your research before you decide to use oils, you shouldn't be out pan frying or deep frying everything all the time. Olive oil is great in home made dressings, I prefer the taste and haven't used "vegetable oil" in years. They can be used in moderation for different recipes.
One last thing that I still have in my freezer at times. The freezer section has a lot of ice cream choices. Read those ingredient lists and you'll find they're more likely to be "dairy desserts". There are a couple of brands that list cream, sugar and vanilla on the list. The fewer ingredients the better and even within brands you might find a difference. I like Breyer's (Dreyer's in certain areas) because it has several varieties of something I can actually call ice cream. Edy's may have this also. It has 3-4 ingredients and I can pronounce them all! BUT you still have to only have the serving size to make this appropriate for your diet. It's a half cup serving size, slow down and savor it because it's a treat.
Notice I avoid most other things. Sure, looking in my pantry, there are a few things that I have deemed "unhealthy" such as pretzels and white bread, but I figure if 90% of my diet is healthy, then I'm less likely to die young. Take the time to read ingredients and make the choices that work best for you. When you start doing the work, you'll find certain brands will work best for you. You'll start to see where hidden sugars are and learn what those funky names for things really mean. There will still be many thing that can be healthy that I haven't listed, but as long as you do the research, then you can add them to your list of things that are okay to eat.