food. It's good for you. What else is there to say about it? And we
don't just mean good for you in the sense that eating healthily is the more
responsible thing to do than the other alternative - eating junk food. Health
food tastes good too! Although it may not be as appetizing to one who has been
eating junk food their entire life, those folks who have been eating health food for a
steady length of time or have been raised on it since Day One can't imagine
eating any other way. Granted, health food does tend to be more expensive than
the cheap, unhealthy stuff. These days, however, a large number of
stores online are offering great prices and online-only deals.
Obviously, health food is that which promotes and maintains health. And according to the World Health Organization, the word "health" is a state of not only physical well being, it is also a state of mental and social well being. In other words, health is a holistic state of being. So why the need to designate "holistic health" as being something other than "health"? The reason is that this definition is not met without criticism from other voices in the health industry who think that health cannot be likened as a state, but rather, is a continually changing process. These critics claim the World Health Organization's definition of "health" is too idealistic. Why all the fuss guys? Can't a "state" be continually changing into new states? If you ask me, both of these definitions sound pretty much the same, although here at SaveWithGreen.com we like to lean more toward the notions of holistic health, taking into consideration the interconnectedness of the mind, body, emotions, spirit and yes, societal and environmental influences.
So to bring things back to health food, we think eating healthily does more than just maintain one's physical health. What good is eating health food if you are going to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day. Granted, every little bit helps, right? We all have to start somewhere. Just be sure to keep in mind that the efficacy of health food on one's physical being will be mitigated if other areas of health, such as mental and spiritual health, are being neglected.
Before going into detail about the benefits of health food, and what best designates food as having the right to call itself health food, let's first all be thankful that we even have food on the table or at least have access to healthy foods. Besides malnutrition, the other primary obstacle to healthy eating for at least 20% of the world population is a lack or scarcity of food to begin with. In other words there are fellow human beings just like you and me who still perish to this day from starvation. This is no guilt trip folks - just a little reality check.
So now that you are filled to the brim with heaps of gratitude, what then best designates a healthy food? Well, if you are like Whole Foods Market (one of the largest, if not the largest healthy food store chains in the world), health food is that which is highest quality, least processed, naturally flavored and naturally preserved. We think this a very suitable definition ourselves, and think it makes for an easy guideline to use when shopping for health food. And yes, while you can always shop at Whole Foods, there are many more health food stores in business these days - many of which are local, independently owned stores. Even mainstream grocery stores are carrying a large selection of health foods, some of which have their own designated health food section. Better yet, you can order many of the more hard to find health foods via online health food stores who will ship directly to your door.
One other thing worth mentioning before we talk about the nutritional benefits of health food is the other alternative we briefly mentioned: eating junk food. It isn't news that highly processed foods (which make up the bulk of fast foods being industrially processed these days) are directly linked to heart disease and other life threatening conditions like diabetes.
Junk Food is all about the Bad Fats...
Some of the specifics to look for are foods that are high in trans fats and
saturated fats - both of which raise LDL cholesterol levels and increase chances
of heart disease. Saturated fat is increasingly found in meat, animal products
(whole milk and butter), as well as many oils like hydrogenated cooking oil.
As for trans fats, these are commonly found in baked goods like cookies and crackers, fried foods and certain margarines. Trans fats are the same as hydrogenated fats and come from adding hydrogen to fat (called hydrogenation) in order to preserve and solidify the fat. It is then either melted down an used for frying and/or is mixed directly into food products.
Keep in mind that you can also get elevated levels of LDL cholesterol from products that contain dietary cholesterol. These include dairy products, eggs, butter, meat, poultry and seafood. Remember folks, balance is the key. You don't have to stop eating eggs, but you certainly don't want to consume cheese, ice cream and half-and-half every day.
In regards to food additives, dyes and preservatives, although many governmental agencies like the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. claim these approved additives are of low toxicity and are safe to consume, just the fact that they even deem these products of low toxicity should be a warning flag. Furthermore, wasn't it the EPA (another major governmental regulator) who said that the pesticides Diazinon and Dursban posed no risk to humans? And didn't they allow the home use of these products for thirty years before they changed their mind and banned the chemicals from being sold in retail stores because of new concerns they might cause harm to developing fetuses, infants and such? Yes indeed, they did. And this is the same branch of governmental oversight that says additives and preservatives are not bad for you!
So what about the nutritional benefits of health food you ask? Well, hopefully we can agree on why junk food is classified as junk food, although we only touched the tip of the iceberg. Let's move on and take a look at what health food has to offer from a nutritional point of view, or rather, what it does not have to offer.
Health Food is all about the Good Fats...
mentioned, the main culprit in junk food is saturated fat. And health
food is low in saturated fat. Keep in mind, however, that we still need
fat in our diet, and that good fats abound in many healthy foods. Good fats are vitally important and necessary for energy
production, cell membrane production, regulating blood pressure, heart rate, and
the nervous system, as well as maintaining healthy skin and hair. Without
good fats, we would not be able to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
from the natural food sources - all of which are imperative to proper health.
The healthiest fats are unsaturated fats, which actually help to lower LDL cholesterol and thereby reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, avocados and nuts), polyunsaturated fats (found in vegetable oils and soy oil) and Omega-3 fatty acids (concentrated in cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, as well as flaxseeds and walnuts). And speaking of salmon, did you know it is named as one of the ten healthiest foods by the Mayo Clinic? The nine others are apples, almonds, blueberries, broccoli, red beans, salmon, spinach, sweet potatoes, vegetable juice and wheat germ. Obviously, raw foods, such as fruits and vegetables carry large amounts of vitamins and minerals, and therefore take a seat at the top of the healthy foods pyramid.
Nutritional experts agree that the best way to maintain a healthy diet is by eating healthy foods in a balanced manner. Eating more of one particular health food that is labeled as being good for you, does not make you more healthy overall. A proper balance between protein-based foods, grains, fruits and vegetables is essential to getting all of the nutrients the human body needs for optimal health. For more information on the healthy foods diet please see our green living guide for details on Vitamins and Minerals as well as the Vegetarian Diet. You can also get the healthy foods scoop in our Health Food Tips archive.
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