In its simplest form, healthy food is something you eat that is minimally processed and in its most natural state. Several reasons to avoid processed foods include; increased spike in blood sugar and insulin, processed and man-made fats cause cellular changes and increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Processed foods almost always have added sugar, and lack fibre and nutrients, resulting in a poor nutritional profile. They are also designed to be hyper-palatable and stimulate food intake. Lastly, they also have a lower thermic effect, which is the number of calories required by the body to digest and assimilate the food we’re eating.
Eating a diet of whole, minimally processed foods is an excellent way to improve your nutrition and protect yourself from disease and obesity.
In the western world, plant-based foods, especially vegetables, aren’t given as much emphasis as they should be. Plant-based foods have a multitude of health benefits and help in mitigating the effects of unhealthy dietary components.
Although diets high in animal protein provide important nutrients that are not available in vegetarian diets, they can lead to the growth of inflammatory gut bacteria that can increase the risk of disease. Including vegetables in your diet will provide probiotics that feed friendly bacteria in the gut to counter inflammation in the gastro-intestinal tract.
Plant-based foods are also rich in antioxidants that support mitochondrial health and reduce increased free radicals that are associated with heavy meat consumption. Additionally, plant-based foods are rich in fibre that moderate blood sugar and lower insulin levels associated with carbohydrate-rich foods. A good example is the pairing of antioxidant-rich berries with high-carb foods like toast or oatmeal. This has been shown to bring blood sugar response to a healthier range.
Adding a colourful variety of plant-based foods to any diet will lower the risk of disease and moderate appetite for better body composition.
The recommendation to eat mostly plants is not the same as advocating a vegetarian or vegan diet. It showcases the necessity to increase plant based-foods in the typical western diet while calling our attention to the fact that not all animal foods are made equal. Animal foods are themselves a product of pure plant foods, and the composition of animal flesh and milk is as much influenced by their diet as we are by ours.
Unfortunately, industrial meat and fish production has resulted in feeding animals processed grains, supplemental fats, and animal parts that are not part of their natural diets.
It’s important to have animal meat in our diets which provide creatine (essential for athletic performance), carnitine (aids in fat burning), iron (necessary for energy production), and vitamin B12 (essential for cognition and energy levels), none of which are readily available in vegetarian diets.
The key is to invest in organic, pasture-raised, or wild animal products. This results in higher concentrations of omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) compared to grain-fed animals.
Organic and wild meats are also higher in glutathione, an amino acid composite that protects DNA and cells from cancer. Organic beef and ham have the highest glutathione content of all foods, surpassed only by fresh vegetables like asparagus. Organic, pasture-raised dairy also benefits from higher vitamin K, a nutrient deficient in western diets, omega-3 fats, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an anti-inflammatory compound.
Animal products are a nutritionally rich part of a healthy diet. Including them adds variety, texture, and flavour. Just ensure all your meat, fish, and dairy are nutritious and sustainable options.