You may have heard the terms “Good Foods” and “Bad Foods”. While there are certainly foods that are healthier and more appropriate to a balanced nutrition plan than others, there are rarely inherently “good” or “bad” foods.
The key factors in determining whether a food is appropriate for you to eat are listed below. We will briefly discuss each of these points and hopefully clear up any confusion about “good” vs. “bad” foods. So here is what you need to consider each time you put food in your mouth:
- The source of the food/the quality of the ingredients
- The level of processing involved
- The age/freshness of the food
- Your personal response profile to the food
- How does the decision to eat it fit into your recent habits and future plans?
This is first on the list because it’s the foundation from which everything is built on.You can’t build a foundation of health, from low quality ingredients. For all of the food we eat, we need to know where the food came from, and what the quality is.
Knowing where a particular food came from can tell us a lot about the quality. It’s not complicated, but most people don’t take the simple steps necessary to learn about the food that nourishes their body each day.
Here are the questions you should be asking:
- How was my food grown? (commercial, organic, biodynamic)
- Each of these can produce dramatically different levels of nutrient quality
- It will also let you know what potential pesticides, chemicals, and growing practices were used
- What do I know about the company growing the food?
- Is it a large multi-national conglomerate, a local, or regional farmer? This often determines (but not always) the conditions in the point above.
- Where was it grown?
- Each country/state/province has different regulations about the quality and care of food. Also, some countries also do not effectively police the regulations that are in place.
- Depending on weather conditions and soil, some foods grow better in certain areas, and can be a factor in quality, freshness, and the way the food was grown (think Okanagan Valley, BC, vs. the Sahara Dessert).
Once you know this information, you can make a more informed choice about your food. It’s a bit of upfront work (compared to blindly buying anything on sale at the local supermarket or fast food outlet without a second thought), but well worth the clarity and ease of future decision making that it will provide.
A simple way to help this process is to get to know local farmers, growing cooperatives, and build a relationship with vendors at local farmers markets. They will be a wealth of information about the source and quality of the food they are providing.
Taking these steps also demonstrates that you have placed your nutrition as a priority in life. The food you eat is the fuel that literally builds each cell in your body. Anyone who cares about their personal and family health, should be diligent about monitoring what type and quality of food they are consuming.
The Level of Processing Involved
Some level of processing is a natural part of food (cooking is a form of processing). However, most commercial foods today are so highly processed that they are devoid of basic nutritional value. In fact, that’s why so many foods have (low quality) vitamins added back into them. The original nutrients were stripped during processing. Commercial processing often enhances/masks flavors and boosts shelf life, but provides poor quality nutrients for your body.
Taking this point and the previous one into consideration, ask yourself this question. Would you consider a burger and fries a healthy, or unhealthy meal? Like most people, you probably quickly answered “unhealthy”. Now, in most circumstances you would be correct, if that burger and fries were made with low quality ingredients and purchased from your typical fast food franchise.
However, would your answer change if the following were true…You made the burger at home with your grass-fed, grass-finished, hormone free, range raised local beef. You had it on a sprouted grain bread made from a fresh loaf you got at the local bakery (or substituted for a gluten/wheat free option such as lettuce wrap, etc.), and the vegetables were all picked fresh from your garden. For the fries, you hand cut a sweet potato, tossed it lightly in olive oil, and baked it in the oven with a garlic, rosemary, sea salt and paprika mixture.
Compare this to the fast food meal, and they two are not even remotely close in terms of quality, health benefits, and of course taste! The home made version is a great choice. As you can see, we need to go beyond saying that a specific food is “good” or “bad” (i.e. burger and fries), and look at the bigger picture.
Ideally, our goal should be to eat as much whole, natural, unprocessed fresh food as possible. If we do this 80-90% of the time, our body will be able to easily handle the 10-20% of the time when we eat less than optimal foods.
If your food primarily comes in a package or box with a long list of ingredients, it’s time to start simplifying! Avoid packaged food, fast food, and meals from large low cost chain stores. Buy as much fresh vegetables, fruits, and proteins as possible.
The Age/Freshness of Food
Whole natural unprocessed foods usually don’t last as long (especially fruits, vegetables, and meats), but they provide great nutrition for your body. While it is tempting to become a “Costco Queen” and stock up on packaged/processed foods, there is a big downside and negative impact on your health and body composition.
Shop for fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein sources at least once (preferably twice) each week, and switch up the choices for the freshest, in-season produce whenever possible.
This is a pretty simple fix. All it takes is to make a choice to buy fresh foods, and to plan for a quick shop a couple times per week. It doesn’t have to take long since you are merely whipping around the produce and meat section of the store. You should RARELY have to go into the aisles, unless you are buying a specialty item. Your “staple” foods should be fresh and high quality.
Since this post is already getting a bit long, and the final two points take a different direction, we will talk about them in a separate post. (click here to check out Part 2 of this post).