Ingredients of a Healthy Food
We understand that food provides certain essential macronutrients, namely protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Without these nutrients in balance no diet can be completely healthy. However, some qualities of certain nutrients are healthier than others, and some foods provide these healthy items better than others. Understanding the "ingredients" of a "healthy" food will help you to build a diet that can better fuel the body and prevent disease.
Good Fats, Bad fats
Not all fats are created equal. We know that an excess of fat can lead obesity, heart disease, and chronic illnesses like cancer. However, there are several kinds of fat that are not only beneficial but essential to healthy living. They are needed for the transportation and absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K, which cannot be absorbed and used by the body without fats; the regulation of cholesterol in metabolism; for the creation of certain chemicals used by the body; and for healthy skin and hair. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are actually good for cardiovascular system, lowering bad cholesterol. Additionally, some fats that exist in the form of fatty acids, like Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, help prevent disease, lower bad cholesterol, control high blood pressure, and treat ailments like depression and anxiety disorder.
Polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, Omega-3's, and Omega-6's are elements of healthy foods; even though a serving of nuts may appear very high in fat, you'll notice that saturated fat quantities are low; the rest of come from this "good fat" category. Most ingredient labels now list poly and mono unsaturated fats, so knowing a good fatty food from a bad fatty food is as easy as checking the package. Some sources of good fats include:
- Olive oil
- Walnut oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Sesame and sunflower seed oils
- Avocado oil
- Nuts like walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, pistachios, and cashews
- Oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, bass, and sardines
- Whole grains like flaxseed and wheat germTry to replace bad fats, like butter and margarine, with the good oils and fats listed above. Replacing sources of saturated fats, like excessive quantities of cheese, fried food, or red meat, a few times a week with the healthier options above can add an extra nutritious edge you your diet. Sautee items in olive or walnut oils rather than frying in tradition oil and use ground nuts as flavorful sauces instead of cheese or cream, and substitute fish for red meat at least once a week.
Protein makes up our hair, nails, skin, blood, hormones, enzymes...the list goes on. Suffice to say that protein is essential to the human diet. Broken down by special acids and used to perform countless functions, protein must be replenished daily through our diet, making it a very healthy ingredient in food. Good sources include:
- meat and poultry
- milk and other dairy products, like yogurt or cheese
- legumes like beans, peas, and nuts
- whole grainsThe problem with protein is that when consumed in the form of many meats and/or animal products, protein can be accompanied by saturated fat. Lean protein, or protein that is accompanied by less than 10grams of fat, is the best choice for weight and health conscious eaters. Choosing lean meats, like chicken, turkey, or lean beef (beef that has been trimmed of excess fats) provides plenty of protein without the added calories and fats.
Fiber, though not scientifically considered an essential nutrient, plays many important roles in healthy living and nutritious foods. It lowers cholesterol, stabilizes blood sugar levels, slows the digestion of carbohydrates, regulates the digestive system/prevents constipation, and slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Fiber rich diets have been linked to lower instances of heart disease and obesity.
Fiber, like the different fats, is also listed on all food labels. Good sources include: whole grains, unrefined grains, grains, whole grain products like bread and pasta, brans, oatmeal, wheat germ, fruits, and vegetables.
These food elements work together to fill in the rest of the nutritive properties of food. Deficiencies often lead to illness and death, as is often in the case in third world countries where well rounded diets are not easily accessible. The list of these elements and the roles they play is long... B vitamins alone could take up an entire page, but here is a guideline to some of the most important:
Vitamin A: helps build and maintain healthy skin and promotes eye health; found in dark leafy greens like spinach, and yellow/orange fruits or veggies like carrots
Vitamin B-complex: performs many roles, including releasing food energy, building healthy skin, aiding the development of red blood cells, and assisting metabolism; found in dairy, meat, nuts, legumes, some fruit, and vegetables (individual vitamin sources vary)
Vitamin C: maintains healthy blood vessels and tissues, speeds healing, and boosts the immune system; found in citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, strawberries, and green tea
Vitamin D: maintains healthy bones and teeth and helps them harden, aids in calcium absorption; found in dairy, eggs, some fish, and sunlight
Vitamin E: fights the destruction of healthy cells and vitamins like A and C by free radicals; found in dark, leafy greens, vegetable oils, whole grains, wheat germ
Vitamin K: helps blood to clot; found in dark, leafy greens, milk, egg yolks