Living a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important things you can do to slow down the aging process. This includes eating whole foods, exercising daily, not smoking, and keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum. Maintaining a healthy weight is right up there too for protecting your body against the threat of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardio vascular disease.
When I advise my patients to be mindful of the foods they eat in order to keep them looking and feeling good, I am often asked the same question: “ What are the best foods for me to cook with in order to stay healthy?” There is no simple answer to this question. What you eat is really not as important as how much processing the food has undergone. The term “whole food” has become a household word these days, but what does it really mean?
Whole food refers to food that has undergone minimal processing and is classified as nutrient-rich. This means that it contains vitamins, minerals, phytonutrient antioxidants, fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and anti-inflammatories; all the protective qualities nature has to offer. The best part about whole foods is that they contain all these powerful nutrients for a minimal amount of calories.
Processed, refined, and fast foods, on the other hand, are considered nutrient-poor due to the small number of nutrients as compared with the large number of calories they contain. It’s no wonder that a balanced combination of whole foods, especially when they are organically grown and cooked properly is recommended for weight management and optimal health.
The best diet then, is one that is based on whole foods with minimum processing regardless of how many grams of carbs, protein or fat it contains. Let’s take a look at some of the foods that are known for their whole food benefits.
There are a few outstanding foods that are whole, real, and unprocessed that are almost always healthy whether used as additions to recipes, as a snack, or main meal additives. Among the list of favorites are nuts, berries, beans, apples, greens, and onions and this is why.
Eating nuts have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. Berries are low in calories, high in fiber, and loaded with antioxidants that improves memory and help fight cancer. Berries also have molecules that may prevent tumors from forming.
Beans of all sorts, lentils in particular are high in fiber, practically nonfat, and when combined with whole grains or pasta make a dish that is close to the protein content of red meat or dairy. Add beans such as pinto, navy, or black beans to any dish and the nutritional value is increased. In 1999 epidemiological study that tracked 13,000 male subjects over 25 years, eating more legumes was associated with as much as an 82 % reduction in the risk of dying from heart disease.
When it comes to vegetables, there are really no losers. There are some that stand out while others take a back seat based on the way they have been prepared or eaten. So often it is what you put on your salads or vegetables that hike up the calories and counteract the healthy benefit.
Potatoes, for instance, often get a bad rap because they are most often associated with French fries, which are loaded with saturated fat. It you take away the butter, sour cream and bacon on a baked potato, it is a stand-alone veggie that is packed with vitamin B6 and C, potassium, fiber, and many other polynutrients.
Taking center stage are Broccolis, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale that are loaded with chemicals called indoles to help lower your the risk of cancer. Apples are probably one of the superstars of the fruit kingdom because they are loaded with fiber, minerals, and phytochemicals, known to have anti-cancer properties.
What would any meal be without members of the Alliaceae family of plants; onions, garlic, and shallots? They add a punch to most recipes besides offering you phytochemical compounds that accelerates the elimination of carcinogens in your body.
Garlic has been the subject of many studies showing its ability to lower the risk of heart disease while onion is known for its positive effect on certain types of cancers.
Let’s not forget teas, green in particular, long touted among the world’s healthiest foods because they are loaded with plant chemicals called catechins that fight cancer and inflammation.
It is not only important to understand why whole foods are good for you; it is equally valuable to learn the best way to cook them to achieve maximum health benefits. Choose the types of fats that lower cholesterol levels and use a method of cooking that retains all the nutrients of the food you are preparing, such as broiling, microwaving, baking, roasting, steaming, or grilling.
When it comes to vegetables, raw consumption is always the best way to get the highest amount of vitamins and minerals. The next best thing is microwaving or steaming rather than boiling the life out of your veggie. If sautéing is your preference be sure to use olive oil instead of butter to reduce your fat intake.
Look for recipes that offer the use of herbs and spices for flavor instead of fat. This can be achieved by squeezing lemon on steamed veggies, broiled fish, rice, or pasta. Spice things up by adding onion and garlic or use BBQ sauce with chicken or pork.
Choosing the right cut of beef, poultry, or pork can help keep your cholesterol on target.
- Beef – choose lean cuts such as round, sirloin, and flank steak, tenderloin, rib, chuck, or rump roast, T-bone, porterhouse, or cubed steak
- Poultry – choose without skin and white rather than dark (white is lower in fat)
- Pork – lean types are ham, Canadian bacon, pork loin, and center loin chops
When trying to cut back on saturated fat, choose items made with non-fat or low-fat milk. Below is a handy chart to help you make wise food choices along with what to try and why.
|Try this…||Try this…||Why?|
|Whole milk or 2% milk||1% milk or skim milk||less total fat, less saturated fat, and less cholesterol|
|Regular Cheese||low-fat cheese||less total fat, less saturated fat, and less cholesterol|
|Snack foods with hydrogeated oil, palm oil, or coconut oil||fat free or low-fat snack foods||less total fat, less saturated fat|
|Regular mayonnaise||low-fat mayonnaise or mustart; nonfat yogurt in dips and sauces||less total fat|
|Bologna, salami, or pastrami||sliced turkey or lean beef||less total fat, less saturated fat|
|Grilled Steak||grilled or baked salmon||has omega-3 fatty acids|
A healthy diet does not have to consist of bland, tasteless, boring foods. Your meals can be even more exciting than before by following a few basic guidelines: eat whole, unprocessed foods, cut back on saturated fats, and make wise choices when cooking. You might just find you’ll lose weight and feel great! Now what could be better than that?