Many people believe the key to getting healthier is simply eating less. Eating less sugar, saturated fat, and refined carbohydrates is definitely a way to get healthy. But there are some foods that if left out of your diet, can cause an equal amount of damage to your long term health. Today I am going to just focus on two major groups: dark green vegetables, and healthy fats.
1) Get it on with your dark green veggies
There's a reason that Popeye the sailor man is ripped. Aside from likely being in the P90X test group, Popeye eats his spinach.
We all know the macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fat. They are the basic structures of the food we eat that we digest and turn into energy in some way, whether long or short term energy. In the case of protein, it provides amino acids which are the building blocks of all tissues in the body. Without macronutrients, you would not survive. However, beyond macronutrients are the micronutrients. While these aren't essential to survive in the short term (i.e., you can't die of starvation from lack of micronutrients), they are arguably equally important and have a lot to do with long term health and prevention of disease. While dark green vegetables like kale, collard greens, swiss chard, spinach, and broccoli are nutritious due to being low calorie, high-fiber foods, on the micronutrient level they are out of this world.
A micronurient may on one level be a vitamin, like A, B, C, D, E, or K. We all have some knowledge of the benefits of certain vitamins. Most dark green particularly excel in vitamin A, C, and B12/folate. But beyond vitamins are the phytochemicals, or plant-based chemicals, that can help you live longer. Phytochemicals like carotenoids, polyphenols, and flavonoids often have antioxidant potential, which helps combat free radicals and oxidative damage in your body, and some have anti-inflammatory properties. Some phytochemicals such as sulforaphane in kale and other greens help detoxification enyzmes clear out carcinogenic substances from the system.
Most fruits and vegetables provide some sort of phytochemical potential (you may have heard of lycopene in tomatoes, or the fact that cranberries can help combat urinary tract infections due to a chemical that prevents pathogens from binding to cell walls). The truth is, the dark, leafy greens tend to be the richest sources and on top of that they can help maintain alkalinity in your body. Alkaline diet is an alternative medicine approach to regulating your body's pH and is certainly trending right now. Since alkaline foods tend to be fruits and vegetables, and acidic foods tend to be processed, fatty, or sugar laden, I see no bad effects of this diet concept!
So, find a way to get more dark greens into your diet. Ditch the iceberg salad for lunch, and hit up some spinach, or arugla, or kale. Steam some kale or spinach with pine nuts with your eggs and make it eggs florentine! Have a side of steamed broccoli, garlic, and pepper with dinner. Whereas before you might have thought they were a great low calorie choice, they are even more important as a nutrient-dense choice. So if you've got your lean proteins and whole grains in line with your diet, and feel like you are eating healthy and within your calorie range, it's time to step it up a notch with your green veggies! It might be the secret ingredient you are missing!
2) Healthy Fats Make You Less Fat
You should all learn to read the words "fat-free" and think instead: "sugar filled, chemical laden." If you don't believe me, just look at the labels on most brands of reduced fat peanut butter, fat free dressing, low fat mayonaisse, etc. and see how many unpronounceable ingredients there are on the label. Food without fat means there needs to be something else in its place. Why? Because FATS TASTE GOOD! It is one of the benefits of fats, it keeps you full and it satisfies your hunger. In addition to making you full, fats can help control your blood sugar, are needed to absorb specific vitamins, and are needed to build cell membranes and other structures.
Now, what are the bad fats? First saturated fat. Saturated fats tend to be the ones that are solid at room temperature, like butter or animal fat (as opposed to oils). They are linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and bad cholesterol. Trans fat is an unsaturated fat that is bombared with hydrogen atoms, which gives it a longer shelf life and turns it into a solid. Margarine is made of hydrogenated oils and is therefore a provider of trans fats. Anything containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils contains trans fats even if the label says 0g. Trans fats are directly linked to your LDL's, or bad cholesterol, going up.
Well, now that those are out of the way, we look at the healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats (sometimes called omega 9 fatty acid) and polyunsaturated fats (omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids) remain as the "healthy" fats. All three fatty acids are considered "essential," which means the body doesn't make them on its own and you need to get them from your foods. Omega 3's have gotten the most attention, but in reality you need a little bit of all on a daily basis. The most studies have been done on Omega 3's, and there is a general consensus that, particularly the Omega 3's you get from fish, can have anti-inflammatory responses, help lower triglycerides, and even help prevent dementia and can boost brain function. See below for common sources of all the healthy fats:
Monounsaturated Fat Sources:
-Oleic acid found in Olive oil, canola oil, most vegetable oils
Omega 6/Polyunsaturated Fat Sources:
-Meat, poultry, eggs
-Soybean, sunflower, safflower, and peanut oil
Omega 3/Polyunsaturated Fat Sources:
-Fish, particularly salmon, herring, and trout
Any diet should be at least 20% fat, and when we start "eating healthy" we tend to forget about the healthy fats, leaving them out all together. In general, I would say the USA is at an all time low of healthy fats, and we are at an all time high of eating unhealthy, saturated fats. Making the shift to the healthy side of your dietary fat will show BIG strides in your health, your weight, and your risk of disease.