Food is not meant for pleasure as so many of us have been programmed to believe. It’s got one true purpose: to provide our bodies with the vital nutrients we need to stay alive, healthy and functioning. (What are these, you ask? See Key Nutrients for Athletes.)
This doesn’t mean food shouldn’t taste good and that eating cannot be an enjoyable experience. No one will want to stick to a diet that forces him or her to choke down meals. The trouble lies in how we have conditioned our taste buds. We’ve made them believe that junk food and fake food is what really tastes good. (See How To Sustain Healthy Eating Habits.)
The Difference Between Real and Fake
Not all food is created equal. When a food is processed, it’s stripped of its nutrients. During production, food companies may add hydrogenated fats, chemicals, preservatives, sugar and fillers. (Get the lowdown on Artificial Sweeteners: Are They Healthy or Dangerous?) These foods fill you up with useless calories, and can lead to potential health issues. For example, check out the following comparison:
Fast Food Hamburger Meal
- Hamburger on sesame seed bun with lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup and mayonnaise
- Small order of French fries (salted)
- Small soda
Nutrition Facts: 1,160 calories, 50g of fat, 29g of protein, 157g of carbohydrate, 64g of sugar and 1460mg of sodium
Real Food (Homemade) Hamburger Meal
- Hamburger (4-ounces 85/10 lean ground beef) on 100% whole-wheat bun with lettuce, onion, tomato, one slice of reduced-fat cheddar cheese, mustard and ketchup
- Serving of French fries (sliced potato baked with one teaspoon of olive oil and a 1/2-teaspoon of salt)
- 8-ounce glass of water with lemon
Nutrition Facts: 550 calories, 20g of fat, 36g of protein, 52g of carbohydrate, 7g of sugar and 542 mg of sodium.
The two meals are basically the same. But the homemade version is a lot healthier, even after adding the cheese. (See how to Make Flavorful Meals Without Excess Fat, Sugar and Sodium.)
Eating right is not particularly magical and it doesn’t involve spending a fortune, going through the drive-thru or yo-yo dieting. You can eat out, at home and at parties, and you can splurge for holidays. You just need to eat real food.
Use the following guidelines at every meal (wherever it may be). I guarantee you enjoy healthier meals that satisfy your taste buds and fulfill your nutritional needs.
Food Survival Guidelines
- A specific food should contain five ingredients or less
- You can recognize (and pronounce) the ingredients (no preservatives or harmful chemical additives)
- No added salt or sugar
- No refined carbs such as white flour or high-fructose corn syrup; eat only 100% whole wheat and whole grain
- Food is prepared in a way that you could have done yourself
If there is a magical secret, it’s this: use your head and always read the ingredients.