For far too many people, eating and drinking is more of a recreation, i.e. an activity to be enjoyed, rather than what it actually is – a biological necessity for life and good health. Many people don’t like the taste or texture of certain foods that are good for them and so refuse to eat them. Others acquire the taste for foods that are positively bad for them.
A surprising amount of people don’t even know what foods are healthy and what foods aren’t. For all these people, ensuring their grocery list contains the following foods will make an enormous difference to their lives and long-term outlook.
Much vilified these days due to its saturated fat content that supposedly causes high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity; red meat is, in fact, one of the most nutrient-rich foods on the planet. This is why nature designed the human body to thrive on it – we are, in fact, genetically programmed to function at the optimal level on a diet that includes red meat. Most animals, and many birds, eat it as well and for the same reason.
Red meat provides us with high-quality protein that contains all the amino acids required for building muscle and bone. It is also an excellent source of B vitamins which are essential for keeping our brains ticking over. Lack of them can cause aggression, insomnia, dementia, confusion, impaired senses and physical weakness.
In addition, it is rich in zinc which supports the immune system, and iron which builds red blood cells and gives us energy.
You may have seen meat labelled as ‘organic’, ‘free range’ and ‘grass fed’ and be wondering if it is worth paying extra for. This is a relatively new and expanding market fuelled by people’s understandable desire to eat more healthily.
Unfortunately, like virtually all food markets, it is riddled with false and unsubstantiated claims. Yes, these animals may have more space than their factory-farmed cousins, but mostly they’re subjected to the same unhappy regime of high-energy feed, selective breeding for rapid weight gain, and minimal exercise. Nutrition-wise, these meats are only slightly better for you than factory-farmed meat and, all other things being equal, are most definitely not worth the premium you will pay for them.
That said, should you be lucky enough to find the genuine article (and you will be lucky!) you will at least get meat that is free of the antibiotics, steroids and growth hormones found in factory-farmed meat.
With regard to white meat (chicken and turkey) the only real difference between it and red meat is the color and flavor. White meat contains the same minerals, vitamins and fats found in red meat but in lesser quantities. It’s good for you, just not quite as good.
With a similar level of proteins and minerals, meat that comes from the sea has much the same nutritional value as red and white meat. However, in comparison, it offers only small to moderate amounts of vitamins.
Where seafood does have an advantage is its fat content – lower than in red meat. Furthermore, one of these fats is the healthy polyunsaturated omega-3 which is thought to play an important role in lowering the risk of heart disease. Being low in fat means seafood is also low in calories, so eating it is much better than eating meat for people looking to lose weight.
Fatty fish, such as herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon and tuna, all provide a good amount of omega-3 fat and are indeed one of the best sources of it.
However, there are a couple of caveats with regard to eating fish. The first is that we have contaminated the oceans with pollutants such as mercury and dioxin. As a result, many fish now have dangerous amounts of these toxins and so should be avoided completely. These are the larger fish, such as albacore and bluefin tuna, swordfish, king mackerel and sharks.
Smaller sea creatures lower down on the food chain are much safer as they don’t live long enough to absorb dangerous amounts of these pollutants. These include sardines, anchovies, crab, shrimps, prawns and oysters, etc.
The second caveat is the issue of fish farming. There is actually a world of difference between farm-raised fish and those caught in the wild. Farmed fish are raised in filthy, over-crowded conditions that cause diseases and parasites. To control these diseases, they are given antibiotics, and to control the parasites they are given pesticides.
These unfortunate creatures are fed a totally unnatural diet that consists mainly of grain-based pellets. This gives them nutrition levels that are much lower than those of wild-caught fish. For example, farmed salmon may be much fattier than wild salmon, but they contain much less healthy omega-3 fats and protein.
Be aware that industrial fish farming is the fastest growing form of food production in the world. Approximately 50 percent (and rising) of the world’s seafood now comes from it. Don’t let this put you off fish though – we urge you to eat it. Just be sure to eat the right types and get them from the right sources.
Diary products are basically butter, cheese, milk, yoghurt and cream. Let’s take a look at what they have to offer.
Milk – of the three main versions of milk commonly found in the stores – whole (full-fat), low-fat and skim – the only one worth consuming is whole. Skim milk has all the cream (fat) removed which renders it almost totally devoid of nutritional value. This is because the vitamins in milk are fat-soluble, meaning they need fat in order to be absorbed by the body. Without the fat it is essentially little more than water. Low-fat milk has a lesser amount removed and so does contain some nutrients.
Furthermore, the fat also gives milk its flavor and texture – removing it makes it bland and tasteless. It’s also a fact that because skim milk is a highly processed food, it will usually leave you feeling unsatisfied and wanting something more.
Whole milk, however, is totally different. As a result of being stigmatized for years by various government advisory bodies (most of which are in the pocket of the processed food industry), many people have been put off drinking it due to the supposed dangers of its saturated fat content. However, it is precisely because of that fat content that it is in fact extremely good for us. Amongst other things, whole milk strengthens our immunity to infections and provides calcium that helps keep our bones healthy.
It’s also a fact that whole milk is not actually a high-fat food. As a general rule, anything with a fat content of 20 percent or over is considered to be high-fat, but whole milk only contains between 3 and 5 percent.
Less commonly available is organic and raw milk. Organic milk is produced without the use of pesticides and with higher standards of animal welfare than non-organic. Accordingly, it is more nutritious, as the cows eat what nature intended them to eat – green grass. It offers higher levels of omega-3 fats, vitamin E, iron and other nutrients.
Raw milk is the real deal – unadulterated and straight from the cow, just as nature intended it to be. As with organic milk, it comes from grass-fed cows and is unpasteurized and unhomogenized. As a result, it retains all of its natural enzymes, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. This makes it one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world. It also tastes wonderful and has a rich, creamy consistency.
It has, however, attracted a lot of bad publicity because it is unpasteurized and so is supposedly unsafe to drink. The fact that this publicity is largely driven by the processed food industry which sees no advantage, i.e. profit, in raw milk should give the lie to this though. As should the fact that man has been drinking raw milk for thousands of years without any problems at all. As long as it is purchased from a reputable source, raw milk is perfectly safe and far more nutritious than any other type.
So, drink as much raw, organic and whole milk as you like and give the low-fat versions a definite miss – they are little more than water and offer very little in the way of nutrients.
Cheese – as with milk, this food has been vilified for years due to its high fat content. Again though, as with milk, it is actually extremely good for you and provides a whole host of vitamins (particularly K2), minerals and protein.
It should go without saying by now that the most nutritious and flavorsome cheeses are the ones made from the milk of grass-fed animals. Sadly, the vast majority of cheeses sold in the stores aren’t, and so are inferior. They are still well worth eating but aren’t nearly as good as they could be.
Do not, however, be tempted by the many types of processed cheese on the market. By this, we mean products such as individually wrapped cheeses, spreadable cheese, sliced cheese, string cheese and spray cheese. These should all be given a very wide berth. Not only are they bland and tasteless, they are actually very bad for you. Check out the ingredients of these cheeses and you will see a long list that includes stuff like dairy by-products, emulsifiers, sodium, saturated vegetable oils, preservatives, coloring agents and sugar, to name just some.
Real cheese is a simple fermented dairy product made from just a few ingredients, and which can be identified by its label. Examples are blue cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella, american and pepper jack. As with all real cheeses, these need to be kept in a refrigerator.
Butter – also subject to the ‘fat is bad’ school of thought is butter. Along with milk and cheese, this has received a bad press over the years. However, it is actually an excellent source of vitamins, such as A, D and K, which play an important role in the efficient absorption of calcium.
These vitamins are also beneficial to the body’s immune system, and are thought to play a role in the suppression of cancer cell growth. Also found in butter is a compound called sodium butyrate. Recent studies show this is effective in the treatment and prevention of diet-induced insulin resistance.
However, none of these benefits are provided by the products that masquerade as butter. Here, we are talking about margarine, shortening and the ‘spreads’ of various kinds. These all contain trans-fats which are extremely dangerous and should not be eaten.
There are two points to be made with regard to eggs. The first is the high level of cholesterol in the yolks, and the second is the unbelievable amount of nutrients they provide.
The first issue, cholesterol, has been covered in this article so we won’t go into it again here.
Moving on to their nutritional content, eggs are a very good source of high quality protein. More than half of this is found in the whites, along with vitamin B2 and low amounts of fat and cholesterol. The whites are also rich sources of selenium, vitamins D, B6, B12, and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper.
The yolks have a higher content of calories and fat than the whites and, apart from being an egg’s main source of cholesterol, are also its main source of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and lecithin.
Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants have major benefits for eye health and significantly reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration – both pf which are very common eye disorders.
Yet another benefit of eating eggs is the fact they’re extremely satiating – this makes them the ideal food to include in a weight-loss diet.
The bottom line then is that eggs are the most nutritious food on planet Earth – nothing else comes even close. Eat them to your heart’s content.
Most vegetables are very low in calories and carbohydrates while, at the same time, having a high content of the fiber, vitamins and minerals our bodies need to achieve and maintain optimal health.
Vegetables reduce the risk of getting a range of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even some cancers. Not only that, they are good for improving cognitive function and are effective against Alzheimer’s disease, kidney stones and various types of digestive issues. Furthermore, they provide antioxidants and compounds that aren’t found in any other type of food.
Some vegetables are better for us than others. These are the cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage and green leafy vegetables like kale. Not only are they very high in fiber, they also have the lowest content of carbohydrates – this makes them the ideal food for a weight-loss diet. Other vegetables in this category include broccoli, brussels sprouts, bell peppers, beet greens, cauliflowers, eggplant and spinach.
Root vegetables are of lesser value as, typically, they have less fiber. Also, being more starchy, they have higher levels of carbohydrates. So, while still very good for us, their leafy cousins have the edge thanks to their higher content of fiber. And, of course, if body weight is a factor then the carbohydrate content of root vegetables becomes an issue, particularly with potatoes. Once again, the leafy vegetables will be the ones to go for.
In both categories of vegetable, there is a huge range to choose from. So which are the best ones to eat?
Of the leafy vegetables, the general consensus is that kale offers most benefits, closely followed by spinach, mustard greens, swiss chard, arugula and romaine lettuce.
With regard to root vegetables, it’s butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, ginger, turmeric and eggplant.
From a nutritional viewpoint, fruit in general offers much the same in the way of nutrients as vegetables do. They have similar levels of minerals, vitamins, fiber and health-enhancing compounds such as antioxidants.
The drawback with fruit is the fact that it has a high sugar content – a type of sugar known as fructose. Eating too much sugar leads to excess weight which, in turn, is the cause of a large number of illnesses and chronic diseases. Now when eaten in small quantities, there is nothing wrong with fructose. But because it is routinely added to popular sweeteners, such as honey and white table sugar, and virtually all processed foods, most people are already eating far more of it than is good for them.
This is just one part of the problem – another is that the body handles fructose differently than it does other sugars. For example, eating glucose triggers an increase in the production of insulin which enables the glucose to be used for energy. Glucose consumption also increases production of leptin which regulates appetite and fat storage in the body. Neither of these processes happen when fructose is eaten, with the result that it gets stored as fat.
People in good health, who aren’t overweight and aren’t insulin resistant, can eat fruit without problem. Indeed, it is recommended that they do. However, people who are overweight, have high blood pressure, diabetes or a high level of cholesterol, are advised to limit the amount of fruit they eat.
With regard to which fruits are best to eat, you won’t go wrong with berries, bananas, avocados, papayas, olives, pineapples and kiwifruit. Berries are probably the best fruit of all as they offer all the nutrients and fiber that other fruits do but without the high levels of sugar.
Of the berries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are probably the pick of the bunch. Also well worth a mention are avocados. These tropical fruits are an excellent source of fiber, healthy fats, potassium, folate, and a wide range of vitamins. Indeed, avocados are considered to be a superfood.
Those looking for fruits low in carbohydrates need look no further than berries (not blueberries, though), rhubarb, watermelon, cantaloupes and coconuts.
Now we come to the fruits to avoid. Let’s start with the seedless varieties. These are fruits that have been artificially developed so that they have no seeds. As consumption of these fruits is generally easier and more convenient, this is considered to give them added commercial value. A number of methods have been devised to create them, such as genetic modification and grafting.
While, currently, there is no evidence that they are in any way bad for us, they simply haven’t been around long enough for the long-term effects of regular consumption to be evaluated. For this reason, we suggest you don’t eat them. Examples of this type of fruit are bananas, tomatoes, watermelons and grapes.
It’s also worth pointing out that much of a plant’s nutritional content, be it a fruit or a vegetable, is concentrated in its seeds. So while a seedless fruit may be more profitable for the producer and more convenient for the consumer, it will not be nearly as nutritious as nature intended it to be.
Then we have dried fruit. This is fruit that has had its water content removed so creating an extremely high sugar content. As long as it is eaten in small quantities though, it won’t be a problem. Just remember that being a processed food, dried fruit usually has sugar, vegetable oils, preservatives and goodness knows what else added to it.
A legume is a dry fruit that grows inside a seed or pod. The most well-known of these are beans, lentils and peas. They are all excellent sources of fiber, protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates.
The most common type of legume is the beans. These include kidney beans, broad beans, navy beans, soybeans, black beans, lima beans mung beans and chickpeas. They are all high in protein and carbohydrates but low in fat.
Some legumes are called peas. These include split peas, green peas, black-eyed peas, snow peas and snap peas. Similar to beans, peas of all types contain high concentrations of carbohydrates, fiber and protein, but little fat.
Lentils are round, oval or heart-shaped, seeds and are usually split into halves. They are available in a number of varieties that differ in color, texture and taste. The most common of these are the green, black and red varieties. Black lentils, also known as beluga, are famous for their similarity to caviar.
The two things that all types of legume have in common are their high levels of protein and fiber. For people who don’t eat meat, or restrict their intake of it, this high protein content makes them an ideal substitute for the protein they’re not getting from meat. As for the fiber content, this is great for those on a diet. A spoonful every now and then keeps those hunger pangs at bay, thus restricting the urge to eat.
Note that some legumes are incorrectly called nuts. The most common example of this is the peanut, others being soy nuts and carob nuts.
Oatmeal is meal made from rolled or ground oats and interest in it has increased considerably in recent years because of its health benefits. One of these is that the cereal’s soluble fiber content helps lower cholesterol levels.
Oats are abundant in both complex carbohydrates and water-soluble fiber, both of which slow digestion rates and stabilize the level of blood-glucose. Oatmeal is extremely rich in omega-3 fats, folate, B vitamins and potassium. Oats that are steel-cut contain much more fiber than the instant varieties.
The foods we have looked at in this article – meat, eggs, seafood, dairy produce, nuts, vegetables, fruit, legumes and oatmeal – contain all the nutrients required for optimum health. You need eat nothing else!
The same cannot be said for the foods we look at here. Eat these on a regular basis as so many people do, and you will, quite literally, be heading for an early grave – it’s your choice!