Knowing how to eat well isn’t as easy as it used to be. In the past, we considered eating a home-cooked meal relatively healthy and any fast food or processed food to be less good for you. It was as simple as that.
Now you only have to go on social media to be told that the salad you’ve prepared for lunch isn’t healthy enough because the dressing is filled with saturated fats or the avocado is too high-calorie.
Everyone has their own opinion about everything and there’s more and more “facts” to back it all up. This is so confusing. We’re told to eat meat, don’t eat meat. Eat carbs, don’t eat carbs. Eat nuts, don’t eat nuts. Eat raw food, don’t eat raw food.
What do we do?
With all this information overload, we sometimes forget to listen to our own body. We forget the basics. What makes you feel good while you’re eating? An hour after eating? Four hours later? A lot of the time it’s simpler than we make it out to be.
Home-cooked food does tend to be better for us. Processed food and fast food aren’t great but having them every once in a while is probably better for us than the stress you put yourself through in avoiding anything “bad” altogether.
My own feelosophy (see what I did there?) is that wholefoods should be the biggest part of your diet. Eating natural foods most of the time will serve you well. If you have processed foods from time to time, that’s not a big deal unless you make it a big deal. The bigger a deal we make it, the more stress and the more likely we are to develop unhealthy eating habits and possibly even eating disorders.
Like many people these days, I can get hooked on the advice of others. I see a post, read a book or listen to a podcast about some kind of nutritional hack and I’m hooked on learning more. I’m fascinated by the way natural foods fuel our body and mind to perform at its best.
But sometimes I fall down the rabbit hole. In fact, I did it a few weeks ago.
As a vegan, I eat a lot of nuts and seeds within my diet (think of me as more like a chipmunk than human). I recently listened to a podcast which said that all nuts should be soaked, sprouted or roasted before eating or it could cause real damage to your gut. I needed to know more. I lined up a bunch of podcasts to listen to and was hovering over the buy now button for books on Amazon.
During my research, I found that I had an upset stomach, something which never happens to me. I began to think of all the nuts I was eating each day without soaking them. I realised I may have eaten more Brazil nuts than usual and thought this must be the reason for my out-of-the-blue stomach problems.
For a few days, I continued to eat nuts but stuck to walnuts and almonds. I monitored how I was doing. The stomach ache persisted.
I went on to listen to another podcast which gave recent research evidence to confirm that there was actually no scientific evidence to prove benefits for soaking nuts (The Whole View: Episode 452: New Science on Soaking or Activating Nuts). The phytic acid in nuts which causes stomach problems for some people, did not decrease after soaking. In fact, in some instances, it increased. The point being that digesting nuts well was determined by whether you could ordinarily handle nuts or not and had nothing to do with the preparation.
I felt relieved. I no longer had to worry about nuts or soaking them. I carried on with life but it was a day or two later that I realised the stomach pains were gone and my digestion was it’s normal happy self. Turns out that the stress of thinking something hurt me, actually hurt me.
The placebo affect is powerful.
You might wonder why any of this is important. I have two main points to make about how we perceive healthy or unhealthy food.
- Research can’t always be trusted. Take everything with a pinch of salt (please don’t take that literally and add salt to everything). New research is happening all the time and each time new research is released, it changes a fact we thought we knew before. Chances are the next lot of research will change it all again. The problem is people take all of it to heart when there are lots of factors that could be miss-leading within research. It could be that the studies are on rats rather than humans (believe it or not, rats and humans have very different dietary needs and digest things very differently). It could be that all of the research is on men and doesn’t take into consideration a woman’s dietary needs (again, men and women have very different needs). It could be that research is focused on short-term findings rather than long-term findings. It could be that the statements you hear on social media or in podcasts are founded on hypotheses rather than genuine facts. So please, don’t take everything you hear to be 100% truth.
- The way we feel about the food we eat might be just as important as what we actually eat. When I thought nuts were hurting me, they actually hurt me. When I thought they were nourishing me, they were nourishing me. We need to stop telling ourselves what we should or shouldn’t eat. Stop calling food good and bad. Stop stressing over the best version of healthy food. Instead, we can consider the foods we have as nourishment. If something isn’t very nutrient-dense, it’s not going to kill us in one-sitting. I’m not saying eat crap all the time. I’m just saying to keep things in perspective. The stress of labelling something “bad” and being tormented by it is sometimes worse than any “bad” food actually is.
Ultimately, you are the best judge of what is healthy for your body and mind and what causes problems. If you are so out of sync with your body, that you don’t know anymore, keep a food diary. Learn to listen to your inner intuition over anyone else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Dr, scientist, nutritionist or anyone else, deep down, you know best.