How can I tell if a food is good for me?

December 11th, 2016

shutterstock_67879747I get this question or variations of it in my office all the time.  “I’m a vegetarian, I don’t understand why I’m not healthy/ losing weight and my cholesterol is high.”  I often reply, “french fries and chocolate are vegetarian and they cause a lot of people to be obese and have high cholesterol.”  Many people have very outdated ideas of what is healthy and unhealthy.  I believe part of this is due to our upbringing and the influence of TV and other media growing up.  I discuss more of this in my blogs on juice and breakfast.

To eat healthier, here are some tips:

  1. Read the nutrition labels, you should look for low saturated fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrates.  For snacks, try to stay 100 calories or below per serving.
  2. Avoid fried foods, meat that is high in fat (dark meat, pork belly, chicken skin, and red meat), deep fried foods, and thickened sauces.  Oftentimes, the thickening agent is flour or starch, which can raise blood sugar levels and cause weight gain.
  3. If you are not sure about a food, save a portion of it and put it in the refrigerator.  If it comes out the next day with a layer of whitish-yellow thick fat, it is not healthy.  Saturated fats will congeal whereas “healthy” fats such as olive oil will not.  Try this with your next bowl of chicken soup.  Sure, it’s delicious and great when you’re sick, but it’s also laden with fat.
  4. Google your food.  The internet has a wealth of resources that can tell you exactly how many calories, fat content, and ingredients for many foods.  All you need to do is enter the name of the food and the word “calories”.   You are likely not the first person to look it up!
  5. Plan ahead before you eat.  If you are going to a restaurant, check out the menu online.  It’s very difficult to make healthy decisions when you have a waiter tapping his foot to take your order.  Focus on vegetable dishes, fish, and lean cuts of meat such as chicken breast.  Avoid cheese, thick sauces, fried foods, and excessive amounts of carbohydrates “carbs” such as pasta or rice.  In general, these should make up no more than 1/4 of our plates (half should be vegetables, and 1/4 should be lean protein).
  6. Food that you prepare yourself will almost always be healthier than store bought or eaten in a restaurant.  When you make it yourself, you have more control over what goes into your food and will be less likely to put massive amounts of butter or sugar into them.  I always make it a rule to use 1/4 less sugar, butter, or salt than the recipe calls.  You can also try substituting healthier oils such as canola or safflower oil instead of butter, or honey instead of white sugar.  Try it, you probably won’t notice a big difference!
  7. Count your calories and keep a food journal.  I know it may seem tedious to do this, but I recommend it for anyone who is finding it difficult to lose weight.  We often eat “unconsciously” and forget about what we have eaten.  By keeping a food journal, you can be accountable for every item you’ve eaten and perhaps realize that the “snacks” you are eating may have as many calories as meals.  Coffee drinks, especially the expensive ones from a store with a green mermaid as a logo, are notorious for packing on the calories, with some as high as 800 calories per serving!