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Eat healthy foods
Health is inseparable from eating healthy foods. How do we describe healthy food? Quite simply. If you want to evaluate a food, just ask yourself is it:
● nutrient rich
Healthful foods are rich in nutrients - the greater variety of nutrients in significant amounts the better - with at least roughly balanced macronutrients, they do not burden or putrefy the body during digestion, and they do not contain appreciable levels of toxic substances.
In fact, you can categorize various foods as to their healthfulness, by ranking them for each of these four criteria from excellent, to good, mediocre and poor. The combined rankings give you the picture of where that particular food stands as a whole, and how it compares to other foods.
For instance, a food that scores one "poor", two "mediocre" and one "good" ranking, would go as "mediocre" (assuming that each of the four criteria are equally valued; you can also value one criteria over the other, according to your needs or preference).
This would help you to categorize foods and determine which are more desirable, and which ones should be limited, or avoided in your diet. While no food is perfect, some are healthier than others, and some are plain unhealthy. Let's look at our four criteria for healthy foods in more details.
Nutrient content clearly favors whole (unprocessed) foods. Processing takes nutrients away from any food in several possible ways, from physically removing part of its content, to loss of nutrients due to exposure to heat, chemicals, air (oxygen) and/or light. Foods may contain up to 20 times more of any single nutrient before processing; some heavily processed foods, like refined oils, can have their nutritient level practically reduced to zero, becoming "empty calories foods".
Also, organic foods are both, less contaminated and more nutritious than those conventionally grown.
Raw foods are mostly limited to foods of plant origin: all fruit, and quite a few of vegetables, from carrot and tomato, to onion and leafy vegetables. By their nature, raw foods are essentially unprocessed, thus providing all the advantages of foods in their natural form:
∙ higher nutrient content,
∙ absence of potentially harmful nutrients altered by heat; for instance, pasteurized or cooked dairy protein casein is found to be increasing cancer rates in animals; likewise, exposing muscle meats to high heat (produces carcinogenic heterocyclic amines),
∙ all food enzymes are preserved and,
∙ raw foods are mainly consumed fresh, which assures near-maximum nutrient content.
In comparison to foods of animal origin, most of which require cooking, plant food also offer advantages of phytonutrients, chlorophyll (if leafy) and fiber. This is why plant foods in general, and raw plant foods in particular, ought to be significant part of a healthy diet.
On the other end, the lowest in nutrients are highly processed foods. Not only that they give little to the body nutrient-wise, they may actually deplete body's own reserves, because it may take more nutrients to have them metabolized, than what they bring in. Such foods are often "enhanced" with some "popular" nutrients, but it seldom makes them healthy. Added nutrients are few and usually of inferior quality.
Nutritional balance requires, in the first place, that a healthy food doesn't deviate excessively from the desirable proportion of the three basic macronutrients: 10-15% of total calories protein, 20-25% fat and 65% carbohydrates (with not more than 1/10 of carbohydrates being sugars). While one can't draw a clear line, obviously, the more off these basic proportions is particular food,
the more it needs to be limited in your diet -
unless it can be purposely combined with other foods within meals, or for the day, to produce desired macronutrient proportion.
For instance, foods of animal origin nearly completely lack carbohydrates, including dietary fiber. Consequently, they are protein and/or fat excessive. Lack of fiber causes slow elimination and promotes intestinal putrefaction, contaminating blood. This is why foods of animal origin ought to be only a small part of healthy diet.
Excessive content of any nutrient, or substance - even if it is needed by the body - makes the food potentially unhealthy, since it may promote over-consumption of that particular nutrient. Over-consumption of any nutrient becomes unhealthy beyond a certain point, and this stands for both, macro- and micronutrients: minerals, vitamins and accessory nutrients.
Over-consumption is unhealthy not only because of possible adverse health effect of the nutrient excess itself, but also because most nutrients either inhibit (antagonist), or promote (agonist) use of some other specific nutrients by the body. Thus excess in any single nutrient can result in the effective excess - or deficiency - of other nutrients, even if their intake is nominally appropriate.
Good part of the epidemic of degenerative diseases plaguing western civilization is caused not by nutritional deficiencies, but
by nutritional imbalances
stemming from over-consumption of particular nutrients relative to others.
Food digestion/elimination includes breaking food down to nutrients, nutrient absorption into the bloodstream, and elimination of the remaining bulk and metabolic waste. It is constitutes the initial and the end phase of body's metabolic process. Absorbed nutrients become available for assimilation at the cellular level, which is the purpose of the whole process.
In general, raw foods are easier for the body to break down, due to their preserved enzyme content. However, cooked foods, even those processed - especially when in liquid form - can have their nutrients (whatever is left of them) more readily available.
So, if you are healthy, you should have better part of your food consumed raw. Only if your digestion is compromised to a significant degree, you should consume mostly cooked foods, as long as it is unavoidable, and as long as this "readily available" part in it doesn't include excessive sugar, fat, salt or protein (there are always exceptions; in extreme cases, people can only digest simple sugars, but it is clearly a disease stage that requires treatment and constant supervision by qualified medical professionals).
If you cook, use lower temperatures, and only for as long as you really have to. The higher temperatures the food is exposed to, and the longer the exposure, the more denatured nutrients, and the more likely is formation of unhealthy, twisted molecules. It is known that grilling or barbequing meat creates carcinogens (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from burned fats, and heterocyclic aromatic amines from burned muscle tissue).
It needs to be mentioned that some plant foods are not very cooperative when it comes to allowing the body to put its hot little hands on their nutrient contents. They contain certain compounds making it harder for the body to extract nutrients, thus lowering their rate of absorption.
For instance, phytates (phosphorus compounds built around phytic acid in cereal grains, legumes and nuts) bind to minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron, lowering their absorption. Phytic acid is mainly inactivated by sprouting, fermentation, cooking, and by leavening (flour). However, with the recent research indicating that phytic acid - which has important cellular functions, including roles in proliferation and differentiation - probably boosts protection from cancer at the cellular level, its benefits should be considered as well.
Another plant food anti-nutrient is oxalic acid, the highest in beets, lamb's quarters, rhubarb, chives, parsley and spinach. It also binds to minerals and lowers their absorption. In the process, it forms oxalates, crystalline mineral salts that can irritate stomach lining and kidneys, also contributing to the formation of kidney stones (in more severe cases of hyperoxaluria can also damage the kidneys, or even cause kidney failure).
Here's a more complete list of food oxalate contents. Keep in mind that measured values from different sources may vary, due to both different measuring techniques and varying oxalate contents in the same foods (extreme examples are yam and black olives shown below, three samples each, Holmes and Kennedy, 2000).
This is not a complete list, since many foods haven't been subjected to the estimation of their oxalate contents. The breakdown of vitamin C produces oxalate, and there is evidence that it is a risk factor for kidney stones (Taylor and al. 2004). Also, xylitol, comercially used sugar, is metabolically converted into oxalate.
It should be noted that food's oxalate content is not necessarily an accurate indicator of how much of it will actually enter the bloodstream. Its absorption from the intestines varies significantly not only due to individual differences in the gut conditions (e.g. presence of oxalate degrading bacterium Oxalobacter formigenes) and functioning, but also due to differences in its bioavailability. For instance, foods with high content of calcium and/or magnesium relative to their oxalate content are not a source of dietary oxalate, because oxalic acid binds to these minerals, forming a compound that cannot be absorbed. An example of such food is soy bean and products, shown below (source: Oxalate and Phytate of Soy Foods, Al-Wahsh et al. 2005).
Far greater content of phytates vs. oxalate is another plus, since they are believed to be among the factors inhibiting calcium oxalate kidney stones formation.
It is generally accepted that dietary oxalate intake is of secondary importance to its endogenous production (primarily) by the liver. However, in some individuals that have high rates of oxalate absorption (it varies from 1% to over 15%) combined with high oxalate intake, dietary oxalate can be significant health risk.
Like phytic acid, oxalic acid is also inactivated by cooking.
While cooking foods has its advantages, plant foods that can be consumed raw may have their proteins better utilized by the body than those exposed to high temperatures, which is unavoidable for most foods of animal origin. They also spare the body of other potentially harmful effects of food substances chemically altered by heat. And, of course, raw foods keep their enzymes, as well as all the nutrient contents intact.
Also, as mentioned, speed of elimination and lower toxic accumulation due to their fiber content
heavily favors diet based on plant foods.
Finally, food toxicity is not something to be taken lightly. Quite a few foods may and do contain toxic substances. They can be naturally occurring toxins, or manmade food contaminants: pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and various environmental toxins. In addition, most of processed commercial foods contain food additives - colors, flavors and preservatives - with not a few of them capable of causing adverse health effects.
Food toxins are burden to body's detox and immune systems, and can inflict serious damage to your health. Despite their food level being generally very low, due to long-term consumption and/or accumulation they
do have the ability to interfere with vital body processes.
As a result, they can and do cause health disorders in sensitive individuals, either immediately, or as a result of long-term consumption.
There are no inherently unhealthy proteins, or carbohydrates, but there are certainly unhealthy fats, the most significant among them being most oftrans-fatty acids. Avoid them as a plague - they come with processed fats, especially partly hydrogenated polyunsaturated fats, as a result of exposing them to high temperatures. Trans-fatty acids, even at very low levels, alter cellular membranes and hamper their function, joining free radicals in causing damage at the cellular level.
Healthy foods, as defined above, outline your food choices for a healthy diet plan. A good rule of thumb is: the less processed the food, the healthier it is. Factoring in these basic criteria puts you into the "northwest quadrant" on the metabolic cross, which means a diet of predominantly plant foods, with significant proportion of it being consumed raw.
But don't take it for granted: your individual needs may differ significantly, as a result of nutritional imbalance/deficiency, health condition or even genetic twist. Your individual metabolism may have quite different take on what foods are best for you. If you are not doing well with what is optimal for most folks, there is a reason for it, and you need to find out what it is with the help of a good doctor and appropriate medical tests.