Being a geek, I’m often asked for what I consider to be ‘healthy’ eating. I’m also regularly asked as to what healthy foods actually taste good too! This blog will give you a nice little ‘heads up’ on both. First, let’s start with what actually is ‘healthy’ eating?
For me and within this context, ‘healthy’ is eating foods in a way that enhances your health, rather than detracting from our health, or even remaining health neutral. Healthy eating improves ‘healthspan’, which is remaining in good health while increasing longevity.
With that in mind, and as a simple generalised rule of thumb, is that plant based foods will generally enhance our health, whereas animal based foods will detract. If you want to improve your healthspan then shift towards being plant based. If you accept that you will detract your healthspan, then shift towards animal foods.
Mind you, anyone’s healthspan will initially make gains if we move towards a whole food natural diet – the ‘processed diet’ that many people take is not doing us any favours! Also some people may benefit from a small amount of animal foods in their diet, particularly if they are deficient in certain nutrients that are easily sourced from meat, or are having difficulty working out how to eat a plant based diet. If this is you, then you can always follow Michael Pollen’s handy advice “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
If you question any of this, then please take a look at the current UK Food Guidance, ‘The Eatwell Guide’, and have a look at the suggested levels of animal based foods. The UK Food Guidance is nearly completely plant based, for healthspan as well as sustainability reasons. I would also suggest that you look at the nutrients contained in plant based foods that are lacking in animal products, and also the effects of animal products on IGF-1, mTOR, saturated fat risks, cancer risks, and other indicators of healthspan. Personally I’ve started down a nice little rabbit hole of the research into nutrition for healthspan, and it is starting to appear quite clear. We can’t get away from the data.
(If you do eat meat, please, PLEASE! Buy from your local butchers, get to know them, get to know the best cuts from the best sourced meat, and that way you’ll ensure that you are buying quality meat, that also may be more ethically reared and treated. My local butchers, Woods Butchers of North Camp, can give you all this information and more. They have created a buzzy community around them in part for this reason. Buying from a butcher you’ll find that you will pay a little more than supermarkets, yet it is worth it, a little will be of far higher quality, better taste, and a little will go so much further, meaning you won’t have to buy as much resulting in a cheaper overall shopping price.)
Preparation is important too. As a generalisation, the more ‘prepared’ the food is, the more the health benefits will be reduced. Please note that this doesn’t mean raw is always best – sometimes food needs to be cooked in order to allow the ‘goodness’ to be available to us. So we need a little knowledge to learn what the optimum way of preparing foods are, and for what benefit. That just takes a little research, and those motivated to improving their healthspan will take their time.
I do not consider ‘processed foods’, even plant based ones, as ‘food’. They generally will have added salt, added sugars and oils, other chemicals, and in my opinion never taste as good as real whole foods properly prepared by yourself.
There is nothing wrong with supplementation or fortification either – as long as it is delivered in a way that does not detract from health. I enhance my B12 intake with fortification in my nut based milks for example. My scientist friend Ray Cronise suggests that vegans or those nearly completely plant based may benefit from supplementing their diet with B12, I, Zn, D3, K2 and EPA/DHA. (You can find Ray’s latest paper here: http://bit.ly/oxidativepriority. Check out his fellow authors’ work too, they’ll take you down the longevity rabbit hole!)
Now we’ve got the health side explained, a common objection from those moving towards a higher plant based diet is how to make it actually tasty. That’s actually pretty easy, so let me explain.
I’ve been recently asked as to what ‘healthy’ foods actually taste good. In my opinion, ALL of them! After just a short time away from added salt, sugars, chemicals, and fats/oils, our taste buds can start to actually taste the food that we eat. I now can distinguish the difference tastes, smells, flavours and textures, and the ‘notes’ within, just of different lettuce leaves for example – imagine that! So eat natural foods properly prepared, leave the processed and additive laden food to one side, and allow your senses to recover and experience the world as it should be.
This leads me further into what ‘tasty’ actually is. We have taste, we have smell, and together they produce flavour. Much of the smell from eating passes up from our mouth to the back of our nose, another reason for correctly chewing, to release the molecules so we can fully smell and enhance the flavour of our foods. The somatic sensation of eating adds to the experience too. Texture from the food, the way it feels, the way it feels in conjunction with other foods, the crunch the smooth the wet, the different temperatures, are all a massive part of the eating experience. This is what chefs are trained in, and the reason why top chefs are so sought after. It isn’t just about the food – it is about how that food is combined to create the overall sensory experience.
Here’s an example. Get a Romaine lettuce leaf out of the fridge. Get a tub of nothing added cashew butter (or your own homemade) and spread on the spine. Get a banana and chop it along the spine. Sprinkle some blueberries along. Roll it up, and eat as a wrap. For some the thought won’t be appetising – it wasn’t for me when my friend Richard Frissen first told me to try it! Yet, please do, it is a food sensation! The coolness of the peppery ‘base’ of the leaf, the crunch of the spine and juices released, the smoothness of the cashew, the sweet of the banana, the little tasty ‘pops’ of the blueberries and their sweet yet sharp taste – the overall food experience is fantastic, and a lovely explanation of all the components that make food great, in a simple quick and cheap example.
So let me give you all the heads up. If you want to get the knowledge of top chefs and in a VERY simple format yet stacked with the details that make the difference, I HIGHLY recommend The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page. This should be bought by meat eaters too. It will let you know what goes with what, how to use herbs and spices, the flavours and textures of the food, suggested preparations, and a lot more besides. Armed with this book every meal, even completely plant based, will be tasty.
Personally I think the largest investment we can give to ourselves, and to those we love, is to look after our own healthspan. Hopefully this simple blog will help you make some more right choices, in a way that is right for you.