Healthy Eating Defined: Clearing up the Conflicting Messages

healthy eating defined

Everywhere you look these days someone is touting one diet trend or another. Whether it’s swearing off all meat (vegetarian), all wheat (gluten-free), all grains and dairy (Paleo), or all animal products in general (vegan), let’s face it – unless you have a specific known allergy, there are a lot of conflicting messages out there. Plus on top of some of the more recent trends there are those who still stand by eating low-fat, low-carb, or low-calorie.

Then if you turn on popular health shows or flip through any big fitness magazine you’ll surely see that specific vitamins could improve memory, that some foods might promote better sleep, that particular nutrients can’t be absorbed together, or that certain antioxidants could even help you prevent cancer. I don’t know about you, but I cannot (and choose not) to keep up with intricate details like these. The stress alone of ensuring I follow a bunch of complicated guidelines – or counting every calorie or nutrient I eat – will surely take years off my life. Let’s remember that, aside from providing sustenance, food is supposed to be enjoyable and bring people together!

To be honest, I sometimes cringe a little when people generally classify me as someone who “eats healthy” because I am not sure exactly how “healthy” is being defined. And more often than not people assume that with my “healthy” lifestyle I don’t eat cream sauces, or cheeseburgers, or pizza. Thank goodness that is not true! Plus – since I am being so up front here – I didn’t exactly cut out processed food to get on some health kick in the first place. I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do. I (literally) could not sleep at night once I realized the foods I was feeding my children were full of chemicals, artificial dyes, and other strange-sounding ingredients I couldn’t even pronounce. That right there was enough motivation to transition our family to simple, wholesome, delicious, organic, real food meals, and the fact that we are all “healthier“ as a result was honestly just a wonderful side benefit.

So in the spirit of not being complicated or unrealistic, this is my simple definition of a healthy diet:

Healthy Eating = Consuming a variety of real, whole, unrefined foods that are provided to us by nature. This includes plenty of fresh produce as well as humanely raised animal products, wild caught seafood, nuts/seeds, and whole grains.

And just to make sure we are all on the same page, here is a more detailed definition of real food:

REAL FOOD is defined as…

  • Whole foods that typically only have 1-ingredient like “brown rice” or no ingredient label at all like fruits and vegetables!
  • Packaged foods generally made with no more than 5 unrefined ingredients.
  • Organic dairy products like whole milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs, and cheese.
  • Breads and crackers that are 100% whole-grain.
  • Wild caught seafood.
  • Locally and humanely raised meat like chicken, pork, beef, and lamb.
  • Dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.
  • Naturally made sweeteners including honey and maple syrup.
  • Foods that are more a product of nature “than a product of industry”*

REAL FOOD is not…

  • Labeled as “low fat” or “low carb” or “low calorie” (in most cases).
  • Made with refined or artificial sweeteners like sugar or aspartame.
  • Deep fried in refined oils like canola oil.
  • 100-calorie packs or any foods made from refined grains like white flour, which is
    often labeled as “wheat flour” without the word “whole” in front of it.
  • In packages with loads of ingredients, some of which you cannot pronounce or would not cook with in your own kitchen.
  • Highly processed foods that are labeled as organic (like organic cheddar crackers, organic cookies, or organic candy).
  • From a drive through window or gas station.

*Source: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

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  • Comments

    1. Kristin |

      I am surprised by the items you call “diet trends” in this post. I consider my choice to be vegan as much a lifestyle change for the good of my family as you consider eating “real food” to be a good change for yours. Because you seem to be an educated woman I know it is only a matter of time before you make this change for your family as well because in the end scientific and medical fact will win and you will realize it is just the next natural step in your “real food” mission.

    2. |

      Great post! When I tell people that I don’t eat processed foods, their first question is always “Then what DO you eat?”. I eat real food…vegetables, fruits, meats, dessert, etc. I just make sure that it is as close to nature as possible with only a few ingredients that I know what they are. It’s super easy to throw a few real foods in the crock pot in the morning and come home to dinner. And when we go out to eat, I usually don’t have any problem finding something on the menu. It’s not a diet…just the way I choose to live my life and feed my family.

    3. Linda Gardner |

      (I am a grandmother) my daughters & I have been trying to eat this way for several years, but I don’t think we labeled it. Last summer, my niece told me thy had quit all processed food except for sour cream and milk.
      I was excited to find this site yesterday and am taking the ten day challenge. We don’t have the shopping choices that Lisa has, so winter is a challenging time on this kind of plan. We started trying to feed our families this way for long term health. We can’t always follow it closely because of the increased cost, so I have been really interested in Lisa’s posts on the budget challenge.

      I recently was prescribed a low Tyramine diet. Consider this similar to an allergy diet. I use as my guide. Many of you will find the info on this MSG site as a reason to follow the guidelines that Lisa posted above. I must limit some natural foods, such as raw onions, bananas, and citrus. I have had to find a source for organic chicken, as the local stores have chicken with “flavor enhancers”– a big no-no for me. However, I plan to make Lisa’s recipe for banana bread. If I really watch my potion controll, it won’t be enough bananas to worry about.

      I also wanted to comment on the SNAP guide. As I understand it, a family of four with two young girls gets the same amount of money as the family with two growing teen-aged boys. I hope that puts some perspective on it. Three years ago, I took up a challenge to eat on the Snap$$$$. For two adults, that was about $64. I can still do it when I only shp at Kroger and don’t buy organic, and buy mostly frozen produce,etc. Cost o f living has increased a lot since we first tried it. Fresh Produce costs more than the meat we buy. I cook from scratch as much as I can. I started making our bread to save $5 a week. Now, I can only eat stale bread to avoid the Tyramine.

      Lisa, keep up the good work.

    4. Carol G |

      I am so happy I stumbled upon your blog! Some friends and I are starting a program in our community to teach young mothers how to feed their families. So many young mothers were raised on “convenience foods”, and many of them do not know how to cook with unprocessed foods. It seems to be an endless cycle, and my friends and I would like to end that cycle in our community. Thank you for creating this site. I know we will definitely be referring back to your site!!

    5. Dana |

      I don’t think sprouting would trigger the plant’s defense response as sprouting is not a defense mechanism. Rather, by eating sprouted grains one potential,y has greater access to the nutrients that are becoming bio- available as the seed transitions from a dormant state to an active state.

    6. Critical Reader |

      It is not a question of believe, it is a given fact that grains (not legumes) put their defense system on as soon as they are sprouting. A plant cannot run away when in danger, so it has to be prepared and take some preventative measures to not get eaten up. Grain seedlings synthesize a lot of benzoxazinoids (BA) as a defense chemical and BA levels are going down as the plant develops and matures. I cannot tell you how big of a deal BAs in the amount consumed through sprouted grains actually are, but several isolated BAs have been shown to be mutagenic and aneugenic.

      In addition, there are some natural maize lines with unusual high BA levels in adult plants, and there were some attempts to introduce that trait into elite lines in order to generate a “natural’ defense system through conventional breeding. Greenpeace was already cheering it as a victory over GMOs, but the potential lines never even came close to a viable solution, because the BAs turned out to be way to toxic to be used on field trials.

      For me it is reason enough to stay away from sprouted grains. And it actually really annoys me that the “organic” companies are trying to sell us some BS products with some pseudoscientific explanations without even evaluating the whole picture. I do not know if there is some equivalent in the US, but Europe has a so called “Novel Food Regulation” according to which any food that does not have a long history of consumption in the EU needs to go through a regulatory process in which the producers have to proof that the novel food is safe to consume.

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