What does healthy food mean?
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words “healthy food”?
In the absence of pre-existing conditions, a healthy diet is the combination of foods you eat
to keep yourself healthy, which most of the time translates into weight-watching. Of
course, fruit, green vets, and other boring stuff are the archetype of healthy food. I mean,
there’s no much to do: the famous “5 a day” must be fulfilled… But do you really need to
give up other kinds of food if you want to live a healthy life or if you want to lose two sizes
Your daily diet
Most diets recommend counting the calories you ingest. There are apps that calculate the
exact calorie uptake based on what and how much you eat. And, on principle, the concept is
right: if you burn more calories than those you assume, you’ll lose weight. And at the
beginning it works: eating that carrot for lunch every day can let you lose 2-3 kilos in a
month, but it soon stops working. And not just because you get fed up being an accountant
and start eating as there was no tomorrow…
What this theory is missing is that the human body doesn’t work as a steam engine would.
In fact, our body’s main purpose is “survival”. This means that when you stop providing it
with the necessary amount of energy, it will go in stand-by, cutting the functions that
considers not vital: in a few words, you’ll feel tired even without working out, you won’t be
able to focus and you’ll always feel hungry. Not to speak about the “yo-yo effect”, that is the
immediate weight gain when you stop your diet and your body starts storing as much as
possible, getting ready for another “food crisis”.
Furthermore, do you think that, although having the same amount of calories, two apples are the equivalent of a can of coke?
So, do yourself a favour: stop counting calories! It’s useless, harmful and depressing! Another trend of this period are diets that cut carbs… To explain (and eventually, disprove)
this we have to start from the bases: as you likely already know, carbs are one of the three
main families of macronutrients, together with fats and proteins. What is not always clear is
that carbs (as well as fats and proteins) are not all the same.
Carbohydrates (the long name of carbs) could refer to sugars (simple carbs) and starches
(complex carbs): definitely a wide family. All of them are processed by enzymes and
converted into glucose in the first instance, and eventually ATP: the only fuel that our cells
What would happen if we cut carbs?
Our body will soon adapt, drawing the glycogen (a derivative of glucose) stored in the fat tissues first and that contained in the lean tissues later, having the loss of muscles as the result. Nonetheless, there are lots of new trendy diets that claim miraculous results by cutting carbs. These diets forget to mention that the way carbs are absorbed by our body is more important than the amount of them you ingest.
Find out more about this at Love Cooking Home Healthy Recipes.
And we could find the same arguments for fats and proteins: the truth is that, in the right
amount and with very few exceptions, everything is important nutrition-wise: eating healthy
means finding the right balance, the equilibrium of macronutrients, that allows you to enjoy
food avoiding the excess. And sometimes even exceeding is ok, if you counterbalance the
excess straight after. As the Latins used to say: in medio stat virtus (virtue stands in the
I like to summarize my lifestyle in this list of do and don’t:
- Have a varied diet: something of everything, with a few exceptions. I found that
planning my meals in advance helps a lot.
- Have three main meals a day.
- Always listen to your brain: if you’re hungry before supper, have a snack! Fruits are
there for a reason!
- Drink at least 1.5 litres of water and have your “5 a day” fruits and vegs. These are
recommendations coming from people that know more than I do. Worth respecting
- Although not strictly connected with nutrition, physical activity is as important as
food to keep yourself healthy. It’s worth spending 30 minutes a day practicing a
sport, possibly outside.
- Try to privilege those foods that provide energy and vitamins and that satisfy your
palate as well.
- Don’t be paranoid on diet! obsessions are never good.
- The most important point: cheating is necessary for your psychology and for
celebrating special occasions. My personal view on this is that if you have the option
to commit only one sin, then make sure it is the best sin! And don’t let it happen so
So, what is considered unhealthy? Simply what science and common sense consider so:
Fizzy/sugary drinks, linked to obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Vegetable oils (except olive oil), that disrupt the right balance between omega 3 and
omega 6 (fundamental to prevent some chronic diseases). This necessarily means that
frying isn’t good for your health (see bullet point 8 above).
Processed red meat, recently classified cancerogenic by WHO (see you at Christmas
Processed low-fat products. Low-fat can either mean high-sugars or made of air.
Ready to eat meals, which are normally made tastier by adding high amounts of salt
(bad for your blood pressure) and tend to be high in trans-fats (bad for many reasons).
Finally, someone used to say: “We are what we eat”. Well, if this is true, I’d like to be
“everything with moderation” rather than “1600 kcal a day”. What about you?
MONTEIRO, C., & CANNON, G., 2015. Calories do not add up. Public Health
Nutrition, 18(4), 569-570. doi:10.1017/S1368980015000014
REECE, J.B., 2012. Loose Leaf. 9 th ed. Benjamin-Cummings Pub Co;
LEHNINGER, A. L., 2008. Lehninger principles of biochemistry. 5 th ed. W.H. Freeman
WHO, 2020. Promoting fruit and vegetable consumption around the world. [online].
Available from: https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/fruit/en/
FOOD AND NUTRITION BOARD, 1989. Recommended Daily Allowances. 10 ed.
Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Credit image to Love Cooking Home
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