A lot of people are looking for healthy food. It is one of the hyped up phrases in today's world but what exactly is really good for us to eat ? Before we share some of the cooking recipes that we believe represent good nutritious food choices let us explore this important subject a little more.
Defining what healthy food is changes from person to person and their nutritional requirements. This article does not take any responsibility for the consequences of your adhering to what it proposes, as we cannot control how you are applying this knowledge. Do not endanger your health by following a diet that is not made for you. Find out from a doctor what your diet related illnesses are, and perhaps consult a nutrition specialist if you can afford it. What is healthy for a marathon runner may be deadly for
someone struggling with obesity. Different chronic illnesses like high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes and so forth require different types of diets. Nonetheless, there is some overlap between the diversity of dietary needs from good diets. I only attempt to lay this baseline, and I’ll complete it with an outline of the things that are as important as healthy eating, namely
exercise and relaxation. I know I have high cholesterol and a serious genetic propensity to mood disorders, but I’m relatively slim and exercise regularly. This shapes what I eat and I design my own diet as doctors have proved to be rather disinterested, or disbelieving, in all but the mainstream dietary basics, and have been unable to help me. But what I eat is my responsibility and we are sharing opinions here, not facts.
Keep an eye on the idea that we evolved for most of our history as hunter gatherers and that everything else brought to us since, we have been in contact with for only a short while, in terms of human evolution. Depending on our contact history, and varying from person to person, we may not be able to process a food well. The first food revolution, the ‘neolithic’ revolution, came with the invention of agriculture. In the west more grains and animal products entered our diet. In the Americas came other domesticated products like corn and tubers. Then
with bulk food processing in the industrial era came refined oils and sugars, and most recently came a plethora of chemical additives in the last century. If some people cannot tolerate wheat or milk, which we have been exposed to for thousands of years, and most of us are made sick by excess sugar, salt and oil, despite craving it because they were usually in short supply in the past, then we surely are not evolved to metabolize the hidden chemicals in most processed foods, or the freaky genes in food which have been with us since only yesterday, and which have not been with us long enough to stand a lifetime test for their effects on human health.
Many of these occult additives have slow toxic effects that give us cancer and produce all kinds of other diseases, and are only considered safe because they kill in the long and not the short term, and the effects of overindulgence are not as patently visible to doctors as with sugar and fat.
Thus - The first rule is to have your food as natural as possible, except for cooking which is needed with some foods. Here are the implications:
CUT THE JUICE
The first think I’d recommend is to cut shop bought fruit juices. Although we are told that they are a healthy food choice, the opposite is true. Even if you’ve seen the vendor juicing beets in front of you, they may still be using bought juice as a base for your smoothie. In the best case scenario fruit juice manufacturers use apple sugar as a base to preserve the juice, so that they can boast that it is ‘pure’ fruit. To preserve it without preservatives the sugar content must be high.
This means fructose in high concentrations and if you drink it often it is likely to give you diabetes, and a whole lot of other degenerative diseases including cancer. If you must have juice, squeeze your own. But it is much healthier to eat the fruit straight as nature made it, with sugar less concentrated, with all
the roughage and vitamins unexposed to oxygen. The juicer exposes the fruit to oxygen thoroughly, and the resulting in oxidative damage.
The only healthy foods I’ve ever heard of that improve through oxidation, and that is by cooking not pulping, are tomatoes and starch (a caveat, reheated starch is much better for you). If you drink sugared and carbonated drinks like colas and fruit flavored cool drinks stop now. Just stop. Find a replacement like a safe flavored tea.
Processed food is usually not healthy food
The next thing I’d recommend is to cut all food you didn’t prepare from the raw state yourself, within reason. Cut processed meats (like hams and bacon) and sausages (the red coloring stimulates cancer production), pies, pastries, fries and liver pate (all these and the sausages may contain trans fat which clogs up your arteries), cheeses in tubes, bottled sauces, and as many shop bought pickles and other foods that you can bare to avoid, as they
contain preservatives and all kinds of chemicals, and are pasteurized to increase their shelf life. Read the labels, but preferably find a source that is guaranteed to be free of these additives, or make your own as far as possible and cut the most dangerous ones like processed meats. The breast cancer association adds that one should avoid store bought salt cured, pickled and smoked foods which contain a lot of nitrates contributing to high blood pressure.
CUT REFINED FOODS
Leave refined white carbohydrate food like white flour, white pasta, white rice, and potatoes. Buy versions of these foods as whole grains or in the case of potatoes with color. Leave sugar and use very very sparingly. There is natural sugar in many healthy foods like sweet potatoes, fruit and onions, that will not make you sick. Try to buy whole oils rather than highly refined frying oil. I can’t afford to cook with virgin oils, but some cooks follow the cave diets and use whole fats, lard harvested from real meat cuts for instance, and unrefined.
EAT BALANCED MEALS
A BITE OF EVERYTHING
Imagine you are a hunter gatherer on the move. Your diet varied constantly with location and season. So eat with diversity in mind. By balanced meals I do not mean classic food pyramid styled eating with a base of carbs and a little vegetable and an even smaller portion of protein and fats. By balanced I mean a bit of everything. If you are having something as generally unhealthy as
fried potato chips, add some protein, and some uncooked fresh vegetables like a green leaf salad. This performs multiple functions. The green leaves contain roughage which absorbs some of the bad fats in the meat and frying oil, the oil and protein in the meat and the complex vegetable carbohydrates in the salad greens smooth out the insulin peak you’d get from the pure white carbohydrate in a fried potato.
The different food stuffs also give you a more varied nutritional input from amino acids to vitamins, minerals and energy sources. I prefer a vegetable dominated diet, with nice slow carbohydrate digestion and no insulin rushes. I also spread my vegetable diet over roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruits when possible, and over the colors, such as green, red, yellow, brown and black. High colored vegetables contain a lot of phytochemicals like anti-oxidants that are generally considered healthy food for most people. The classic food pyramid with carbs at the bottom and fat at the top has been debunked by the Banting school. A diet based on carbs would make me bloated, dull witted and overweight, but that is my metabolism. I also don’t fit well with extreme levels of Banting and start getting scary fast heart rates, and I have high cholesterol so its not a good idea conceptually either. Find the dietary balance that suits you, but is diverse.
Another healthy food choice is this
Mussels in Sea lettuce cream sauce
The breast cancer association also recommends limiting your fat and oil intake to 30 grams daily, or less than 10% of your calories. For many health reasons, avoid trans fats in shortening, hard margarine, and commercial cookies, crackers, snack foods, fries, pastries, and commercial baked goods. Use a non fat or low fat salad dressing, or lessen the amount to about 1 teaspoon per salad serving. Cook with broth or bouillon, not margarine. Buy skim milk, low fat dairy, and organic milk to avoid high levels of hormones and get the full range of nutrients. Bake or broil rather than frying.
FRUIT AND VEGETABLES.
The breast cancer association recommend more than 5 cups of whole fruit and vegetables daily (not juice). Dried fruit are also more intense in calories per serving which should be considered, they should be eaten in moderation. Like a hunter gatherer, try new plant foods every time you shop, for variety. In order to get
sufficient quantities of fresh plant food they suggest that you add finely chopped vegetable food to sauces you have on your pasta, lasagna or chili and eat lots of tomatoes, raw or cooked. Snack on organic baby carrots and celery, bell pepper strips, oranges or fat free yoghurt or small portions of almonds. Add chopped spinach to soups and stews, scallions, shredded lettuce and cabbage to potato salad and broccoli, tomatoes or zucchini to omelets. Eat vegetables straight as often as you can, deliciously steamed or sautéed. Add fruit to your porridge and cereal. Cover 2/3 of your supper plate with low calorie foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and 1/3 or less with animal foods.
Treat yourself with SMALL portions of frozen grapes and berries rather than sweets, crisps or biscuits.
To reduce your risk of breast cancer, avoid processed meats and cold cuts. Buy lean meat and trim the fat off, or remove the skin. Limit your red meat eating as it contains high fat, salt, nitrate, hormone and antibiotic levels. Vary your diet with other protein from healthy food sources like fish, lamb, beef, pork, eggs, legumes, chicken, or non-nitrate turkey bacon rather than pork. Eat only two 3 ounce portions of meat a day.
SOMETHING OLD AND SOMETHING NEW
Add all kinds of interesting microscopic flora to your diet. Some cheese, yoghurt, sour cream or sauerkraut is good for gut friendly lacto bacteria. However, most of these in the shops are pasteurized and microbialy dead until they begin to ‘mature’ in your home. Home made versions are excellent and alive. Learn how to make pickles and your own vinegar. Learn lacto fermentation. You can use it to preserve olives, vegetables, milk (as in yoghurt), fruit and cabbage as in sauerkraut. The danger is the deadly Botulism. The organism which produces the toxin cannot multiply in certain concentrations of acid (found in vinegar, wine, tart fruit, lemons, the sourness of milk and fermented cabbage) sugar (hence the relative safety of jams and syrupy preserves regarding food poisoning) salt (which is why the old time sailors ate everything salted) and it is killed by heat (therefore cooked food is safer) and lack of moisture (which is why drying food preserves it) but occasionally mistakes are made, as with olives prepared with lye, and people die. Be careful, do lots of research and really learn the ropes when you make your own.
However the organisms in successfully prepared preserved foods are very good for your gut flora. Make some dried foods. Apples dry beautifully if sliced thin and placed between two layers of mesh in the sun. I do not make a habit of throwing away everything that is just slightly over the hill. I know its good for me. But don’t eat stuff that smells bad or has been in a sealed container and is producing gas (except wine of course), or is a semi dry product that has been stored for ages and gone funny. These products could contain aflatoxins. The molds Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus which can grow on vegetation, hay, grains and improperly stored foods like cassava, chili, corn, millet, peanuts, rice, sesame, sorghum, sunflower seed, nuts, wheat and a variety of spices, especially when ground. So ensure that such foods are bone dry, free of blemishes and funny tasting plaques, or spoiled aromas, and are otherwise absolutely fresh.
THE COOKED AND THE RAW
Raw food is supposed to be so nutritious that people go on raw food diets. I found I had little tolerance for it. After two weeks of salads of various kinds, I lost a little weight but I stripped my gut lining. It lead to digestive hurry that got quite bad and uncomfortable. Mix the raw and the cooked. Some foods are improved in their nutritional value by cooking, like tomatoes, nixtamalized corn, reheated starch and a number of foods which can have dangerous toxins or organisms are rendered safe like eggs, raw milk, meat and so on. However, I frequently eat all of these raw. Our cows are free range because this country is ‘backward’ agriculturally, thank heavens, and our chickens are kept in batteries but not on the scale they are in Europe or the US. The occasional raw egg mayonnaise seems to be relatively risk free to me, compared to eating the additives in commercial mayonnaise, and if there was a salmonella outbreak in the news I’d stop at once.
LEFTOVERS CAN BE GOOD FOR YOU
I also read that reheated starch, such as yesterdays pasta reheated, becomes like ‘roughage’ in that it moves through the gut cleaning it and little of the carbohydrate is absorbed, so that you don’t get the dangerous insulin spike that you would with freshly prepared pasta.
EAT NUTRITIONAL SPONGES AND MOPS WITH UNAVOIDABLE BAD STUFF
Roughage and certain starches absorb bad cholestrol. Oats is supposed to be specially good at this. I imagine it would not work unless it is eaten concurrently with the bad cholestrol, so eat oats with your bacon, or add a handfull to a greasy casserole. If a meal makes you queasy because its too greasy, stop eating it and have an apple to mop up the fat and avoid eating that thing again. That is my tip not the that of the Breast Cancer Association. They also recommend that you add fiber to your diet with whole grains, vegetables, raw fruit, wheat bran and dark coloured beans.
Go for slow release carbohydrates, like whole grains, brown carbohydrates and those found in all vegetables except white potatoes. Sweet fruit can give you an insulin spike which is not good for anyone. The energy in fat and protein is released much more slowly. If you eat a balanced meal in terms of different foodstuffs which release energy at different speeds you will also flatten your insulin spikes.
GROW YOUR OWN HEALTHY FOOD OR BUY ORGANIC
Pesticides are a major health risk, and believed to cause unhealthy cell changes leading to cancer. These can be avoided by washing plant food well, avoiding those which need to be sprayed the most, or buying organic food and growing your own food. Learning to grow food is an acquired skill, and a lifetime of application produces the best results efficiently. But growing your own food is also very therapeutic, satisfying and beautiful, so that it offers a double benefit to your health, in the absence of agricultural poisons and in stress reduction which is very good for your body.
We have only become agriculturists in our recent history in terms of evolution. This is why the foods that came with the agricultural revolution as well as foods that have translocated across barriers which human beings did not traverse often, like the oceans, are more often the cause of allergies. Sometimes this intolerance can be found at very high levels in some populations. Wheat and milk are the two ‘new’ foods best known for being problematic. These are two foods that the agricultural revolution first enabled Eurasians to access in large quantities, and some people do not process them too well as they may not have the genes to do so. When we became farmers, there were other new foods which we suddenly ate in relatively large quantities compared to the hunting and gathering lifestyle before that. In addition to grains like wheat and pulses and milk I would add domestic animals to the list. Pork and beef often produce intolerance, but strangely mutton, chicken and goat meat is less offensive to our immune systems. When food has moved around the world, like peanuts or crayfish, it may be eaten by people who have genes that make them vulnerable. Such genes would not have survived in a culture which regularly ate the foodstuffs. These foods can cause very serious reactions in those who are allergic, resulting in anaphylactic shock and death. A recent food that has come to take up very large proportions in our diet and which we cannot actually assimilate healthily is sugar. It causes obesity, vascular problems, cancers, mental disability and more. Diet is thought to be partly responsible in 30 to 40 percent of cancers and sugar is a chief culprit, along with the suspects fat, animal products, carcinogenic additives and pesticides, and obesity is also a high risk factor. The global population has only eaten sugar in bulk since the era of first wave colonization and Caribbean sugar plantations. Excessive alcohol and fat and too much food are bad for the human metabolism in multiple ways. We evolved eating an extremely varied diet and going through glut and famine. Occasional mild hunger and short one day fasts can lengthen life according to some research. Too much food shortens the life of most people. But the worst of all are food additives we have never eaten in the history of mankind, even in small quantities, and by this I mean the manipulated DNA and chemical additives in foods. Preservatives, flavourants and colourants, chemicals which alter the consistency of food, traces of herbicides, pesticides, hormones, excessive antibiotics and other agricultural chemicals are among these. If milk produces intolerance, and too much sugar causes slow death, how much more likely are we to react to these chemical and genetic additives in unforeseen ways that damage our bodies and shorten our lives.
AS IMPORTANT AS WHAT YOU EAT….
As hunter gatherers and early gardeners and farmers we worked much harder physically to get our food, and hunger motivated us to stay healthy and fit. Sitting around all day while at work and using so many labour saving devices in the kitchen is one of the worst curses of a so called high standard of living. All the dieting and avoiding toxins in the world will not make you live longer if you don’t exercise. We have evolved to move and if we are sedentary we sicken and die. Exercise is a miracle elixir, keeping so many parts of the body healthy, from the vascular system and heart to bones, digestive and immune system, neurology and psyche. The immune boosting effects of exercise help suppress developing cancers.
If you sit still for longer than 30 minutes your blood sugar starts to climb and regularly moving about or 2 mins of strenuous exercise every 30 minutes prevents blood insulin peaks and insulin intolerance and a host of sedentary lifestyle diseases.
But like everything else there are also limits and moderation is required. Although we should ideally have 30 minutes of exercise daily, working out at aerobic heart rates for longer than 30 minutes in one bout causes your cortisol levels to climb, that is, the stress hormone. It wastes the muscle tissues that you are trying to build and has many other destructive effects on your health. So a stiff half hour workout is actually better when starting out with your training than a ninety minute one, especially for older people whose bodies naturally begin to lose muscle mass, as well as for unfit people. Some weight training is also good for fighting muscle loss in older folk. As you get fitter you can work out for longer without damaging your body.
RELAX, AND FIND PLEASURE IN MINISCULE AND VAST THINGS
We are not made for constant unrelenting stress, but according to Sapolsky, for short 3 minutes bursts ‘after which its either over, or over with us’ in the context of the African Savanna where we evolved. It makes no sense to pay undue attention to diet and exercise and completely neglect doing something about your exposure to stress. Exercise, love, physical affection, generosity and giving to and nurturing others, connecting with others, beauty, pleasure, gratitude and enjoyment of nature as well as feeling the awe and reorientation of being in the presence of things greater than yourself are all known to ameliorate the effects of the stress hormones which are poisonous to us at high concentrations and for lengthy periods of time, but which it is hard to avoid in urban life. Preparing good healthy food with your loved ones and sharing it with your friends in a natural environment or as a spiritual practice, accompanied by a half hour exercise in a wild or green place, are ideal ways of supplying the antidote to our toxic lifestyle. I don't know about you, but my grandma seems to have known instinctively what science is only now reducing to data.
It contains some otasty and healthy food ingreditents
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