The first step to nutrition is knowing what foods are good for you and which ones are bad.
How do you know?
If you’re just starting out one way of knowing is by looking at the ingredients. Let’s say you grabbed a bag of Lays potato chips. In the ingredients section you will see things like sodium diacetate, maltodextrin, salt, malic acid, sodium citrate, and sunflower oil. To give you an example of what one of those ingredients are and why you should avoid it we’ll use maltodextrin.
Maltodextrin is a highly processed white powder that is water-soluble and has a neutral taste. This ingredient is high on the GI meaning it will spike your blood sugar, so you would want to avoid it as much as possible but it is ok to have a small amount of it sometimes. It is added to food to increase the volume and shelf life of processed foods. The only time this ingredient is good for you is during a workout and you need a quick energy boost.
Unless you’re a dietitian, most ingredients you see from foods that come out of a box, bag, or can will look foreign to you.
Now you might be willing to look up every single ingredient from a food item before you get it to make sure it’s ok to have, but for most this is really time consuming and not something people want to do.
A simple method you can use to avoid eating unhealthy preservatives is by picking up a food item and seeing if you know at least 90% of the ingredients that go in that item. If you were to pick up a banana, for the most part, the ingredients that go into a banana is a banana. There are certain circumstances when added substances would be placed in a food item to make it bigger or smaller, but that isn’t something you should worry about for now.
Shopping on the outside of the grocery store is a good way to avoid a lot of the processed foods, and making sure you are buying foods that are rich with healthy nutrients that your body needs. The healthy items that tend to be on the outside of the grocery store are vegetables, fruit, dense carbs like potatoes, meat, and healthy fats like avocados. These food items don’t have a lot of added preservatives, and that’s what makes them the better choice.
Lets breakdown your protein, carbs, and fats to help you understand a little more on the foods we are trying to stay towards, and to get you to begin eating well balanced meals.
For protein we want to stick to foods like chicken, lean beefs, fish, and some dairy like egg whites and milk. You have to be careful on the milk and fish because some have more fat than you need in a meal. Salmon and whole milk are two items that have this, and also beef that is not lean.
We want our carbs to be made up of mostly plant based, so foods like broccoli, kale, cucumber, and other leafy greens. You can have fruit for a meal or two, and same for your more dense carbs like brown rice and potatoes. Eating starchy vegetables makes you feel more full and allows you to eat more of them without consuming a lot of calories.
For the fats, we want to stay more towards our nuts and seeds, so peanuts, walnuts, and almonds are a few that make up this category. Peanut butter and some oils are good as well like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and peanut butter with the oil on top that you mix together. Avocado is another healthy fat that you can have.
To sum up a couple easy methods to follow when determining which foods are good for you are to look at the ingredients that go into the food and if you don’t know most of it then stay away. The other is shopping on the outside of the grocery store, by doing this you avoid buying processed foods that have added preservatives that are not healthy for your body.
Keep nutrition simple and be consistent with it. Below is an easy to follow guide.
- 3-5 meals a day
- There should be fruits and/or vegetables in almost every meal PLUS protein
- Eat whole foods so shop mostly on the outside of the grocery store
- For regular meals take a plate and make half of it veggies, 1/2 small cup of dense carbs like long grain brown rice, 1/4 of the plate protein (should be about the size of your palm), and fat the size of your thumb
- Little sugar as possible, natural sugar is fine like sugar from veggies and fruits
- Limit alcohol intake
- Drink roughly 2.2 liters or more of water
- Avoid foods that come in a bag, can, or box
In the link below is a list of foods broken down into the 3 categories mentioned above to help you determine which foods are what.