How to Find Foods Healthy for You

What is healthy eating? What does it mean to you?

The joy of life is that we are all so different! I love meeting new people, making new friends, and finding out new things. To me, if we were all the same, life would be boring. Of course this can be very challenging when it comes to diet.

What is healthy for me, may not be healthy for you.  So finding out what is healthy for you will be a voyage of discovery.

There are certain basics things that are good for everyone.  That is to eat as much fresh whole food as possible and reduce packaged and processed foods.  If the food says artificial, like artificial sweetener, then avoid it as much as possible. A potato product means it has some potato in it. A cheese food means it has some cheese in it. Why not have the potato or the cheese instead of the artificial versions? Instead of drinking orange juice, eat an orange.

When I was a young child my father suffered from heart disease, so we were all on a heart patient diet. Back then, doctors encouraged the use of margarine instead of butter. When I moved out of the house and was cooking for myself, I figured that margarine was fat and butter was fat, but butter tasted better. I never bought margarine again.

How will you know if a food is not good for you?  You can follow a formal food challenge protocol (a local naturopathic doctor can help you with this), but if your health problems are small, you might start with just noting what you eat and how you feel. This is how I found that gluten is bad for me. (My “Eating by the Season” food journals are designed to help you track the foods you eat and your reactions to those foods.)

Foods that are bad for you personally will cause some kind of inflammatory reaction in your body. An inflammatory reaction indicates your body is unhappy with something you ate, drank, breathed, or rubbed on your skin. So what are the symptoms of an inflammatory reaction?  Here are some common ones that are easy to spot:

  • Post-nasal drip without being sick
  • Stuffy head without being sick
  • Sneezing, especially just after eating something
  • Stuffy ears without being sick
  • Asthma
  • Acne
  • Skin rash
  • Hives
  • Pimples (sometimes in odd places, like on your forearm or leg).
  • Upset stomach
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain
  • Swollen joints
  • Arthritis pain
  • Fuzzy headed
  • Dizzy
  • Headache
  • Memory problems
  • The Blahs

I’m not saying food is the only cause of these things, but it can certainly be a contributor. I had moderate arthritis in my lower back, verified with an X-ray. When I stopped eating gluten, all the pain from the arthritis went away.  When I tried having a nice spaghetti dinner with garlic bread, I was in such pain the next day I could not walk.  That was enough to convince me to go on a gluten-free diet!

How quickly will you have a reaction to foods that are bad for you personally? It can be anytime from immediately to about 48 hours. If I cheat on gluten (I have), I will know it the next day (about 12 hours).  So you can see that tracking what you eat is important because the reaction may be delayed and you may not remember what you ate.

When you stop eating a problem food, how long will it take to feel better? I suggest making a goal of not eating the possible problem food for 2 weeks, but you will almost certainly see improvement before then. Most people I know start feeling better by 48 hours, and feel much better after a week. If you do not feel better after 2 weeks, that food is probably not a problem for you (or other foods are even bigger problems).

It is easier to find problems with whole food groups than individual foods. So here is a short list of food groups that many people have problems with:

  • Gluten products, primarily anything made with wheat, rye, and barley
  • Dairy products of all kinds
  • Sugar of all kinds

These food groups cause problems for enough people, it is worth a try to eliminate one from your diet if you think food is causing you problems, then see how you feel.

Just because a food is supposed to be healthy does not mean it is good for you personally. One friend thought she was being really good on her diet, but started feeling bad when fresh blueberries were in season and she was having them every day at breakfast. When she stopped eating blueberries, she felt much better. Fresh blueberries are generally thought to be a healthy food, but they are not healthy for her.

Of course there are many other things that may be unhealthy for you. I have heard of people having health issues when they eat peanuts, soy, eggs, salmon, shell fish, broccoli, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Some people do not tolerate foods in the nightshade family which includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and okra. A blood or skin test may be useful to find allergies to specific foods (instead of whole food groups as I listed above).

Healthy Snack Bars

As I have gotten older, I have found some foods just do not work very well for me. For example, when I eat something with gluten, I get arthritis pain. Also, I try to eat natural food, by which I mean ingredients that I can find at a regular grocery store. Finding a quick snack that is healthy for me can be a challenge.

I have tried a number of snack bars in the past. Many of them taste yucky or have a gluey texture, and others are loaded with sugar or cereal. While I have not found perfection, I have found a snack bar that is pretty close.

I finally found a good tasting snack bar that is very low in sugar, contains protein and fiber, and is just 200 calories. It is the “Kind” brand of food bars. I can keep one of these tucked in my purse when out for the day, and they are a lifesaver on long plane flights.

I like most of them, but my absolute favorite is the Dark Chocolate, Nuts, and Sea Salt.  Very yummy! It gives me a boost of energy without caffeine, does not cause blood sugar spikes, keeps me going until I can get a “real” meal, and I get to have CHOCOLATE.

I find single bars in many shops, but lately I’ve just ordered these a box at a time from Amazon. I keep a couple of varieties in a kitchen cupboard, so anyone in the house (family, visitors) can grab one when needed.

Winter Eating

In the winter, our bodies tend to want more calorie dense food, which typically means more fat. This makes sense for a couple of reasons.

First, winter is the coldest season in most parts of the world. We use more energy keeping warm in places that are not climate controlled (such as outside or in an unheated building). For this reason, you may find yourself craving fatty foods and sugary foods.

Second, most people live in places where not many plants grow in the winter. In times past, food was much less available in the winter, so we ate things that could be preserved by methods such as drying, smoking, pickling, and fermenting. In particular, meat can be dried or smoked and kept for a long time, providing food through late winter.

Of course today we can get strawberries in the middle of winter because they are shipped in from places where it is warm enough to grow them.

In trying to live a life in harmony with my world, I choose to eat locally sourced foods, which means I eat what is available depending on the season in my area. This is good for the local farmers, less expensive because I eat the kind of food that is currently abundant, and potentially healthier for me because I am eating according to natural rhythms.

When cooking in the winter, I like to prepare meals in the oven. Slow roasting less expensive cuts of meat helps to tenderize them, and using the oven helps to keep the house warm.

So what would be traditional winter meals? Roast beef, roast chicken, roast duck, roast goose, roast pork, roast turkey, short ribs, ham, corned beef, and smoked meats (though not lamb because the little darlings have not been born yet).

What usually goes along with roast meat? Roasted root vegetables of course! Onions, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and yams are all traditional accompaniments to a roast dinner. Desserts tend to feature apples and carrots (which both store well), so think of baked apples, apple pie, apple cobbler, and carrot cake (maybe with walnuts and a maple cream cheese frosting).  Cheeses and nuts also store well and therefore are traditional winter fare.

Getting enough vitamin C and D is  harder in the winter. Traditionally people pickled vegetables in the summer to eat in the winter. Sauerkraut, rotkraut, kimchi, dill pickles, sweet pickles, and chutneys are some examples of foods that can provide additional nutrients in the winter.