Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Healthy foods and tiered food

A healthy diet is obviously important to having a streamlined lifestyle. Energy for doing daily activities comes from a healthy diet. Preventing diseases is possible through a healthy diet. Looking and feeling great also comes from a healthy diet.

In terms of the 4 attributes for a streamlined lifestyle, let's look at how the food you eat can come into play:

Health: Obviously, your health is largely attributed to your diet. No more needs to be said on this.

Cost: Eating healthy can cost more if you don't go about shopping for healthy foods with strategy. It's important to note that to some people, the health benefits of some food are worth a higher price. If you think of food in terms of relative costs, then this makes sense. For example, cancer treatment will cost a lot more than buying healthy foods to begin with that may prevent cancer. A more extreme example is someone who believes in the anti-cancer properties of antioxidants; that person would not be concerned that blueberries may cost $4 a pint if they strongly believe it will keep them healthy longer. This is a personal preference.

Education: Eating healthy won't necessary make you more educated. You may need to do research to find out what is personally healthy for you to eat. You should always consult a doctor before trying anything radical with your diet.

Time: Eating healthy can definitely take more time. Hopefully this blog will help reduce the time needed to research healthy foods, but undoubtedly, eating whatever you like takes no time at all.

So are there general guidelines for what foods are healthy to eat? Here are the guidelines I try to follow, although you will want to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet:

  1. Start with trying to incorporate the healthiest foods you can afford. There are plenty of lists on the internet regarding what the healthiest foods are. One simple list I like to follow is the list on health.com. Shorter lists are not only easier to remember (so you'll be more likely to follow it), but there's a lot to say about short lists in general. They're not easy to make(!), so the author most likely put a lot of time in condensing the list to those he/she found to be most important. So yes, I incorporate olive oil, kimchi, lentils, yogurt, and soy in my diet as much as possible. Cook with olive oil. Put lentils in most meals. Eat yogurt every morning. Think of these 'healthiest foods' as Tier 1 foods that are great to incorporate as much as possible into your daily meals.
  2. Add other foods that are healthy for certain benefits and do not take much time to prepare. That means blueberries, oatmeal, salmon, almonds, walnuts, spinach, black beans, bananas, eggs, chicken breast, grass-fed beef, carrots, and tilapia are all great to add into your diet. This list is not comprehensive, as they are literally hundreds of foods that could fit in this category. These are tier 2 foods.
  3. Add other foods that are healthy, but may have some drawbacks. Work these more sparsely into your diet. Orange juice, for instance, has many health benefits from folic acid to vitamin C, but it's high in sugar content. Whole wheat bread (make sure it says 100% whole wheat) is packed with nutrients, but in the end, it's still a lot of carbohydrates that may not work in your diet. Carrots have vitamin A and fiber, but are high on the glycemic index scale. Ribeye steak may be good for iron and protein, but it can be high in saturated fat. These are tier 3 foods that you should stray away from, but can eat from time to time (diet permitting, of course).

Now the trick is to combine tier 1 and tier 2 foods as much as possible into simple meals that you can make quickly. For instance, if you can buy blueberries cheaply (or frozen blueberries), combine with oatmeal in the morning for a quick meal. Throw in some yogurt for it's digestive properties and you have a great start to your day. And since it only takes a minute to put together, you will be more likely to stick to it. Another example is to cook an egg, combine with black beans, kimchi, and some protein such as lean chicken or turkey. For dinner, you could put together frozen vegetables, some chicken breast, and a fried egg. For a salad, you could put together romain lettuce, sliced almonds, blueberries, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Focus on foods that are quick to make so that eating healthy doesn't become a chore.

Add tier 3 foods from time to time to keep your diet interesting, but don't go too overboard. At the same time, if you're an athlete or are extremely active, you may not be concerned to eat tier 3 foods routinely. And hey, at least they offer some health benefits, right?

Food such as chocolate cake, pork fat (often added to soup), candy bars, deep fried oreos, potato chips, etc. are not even considered to be a tier of food. Why? Because chances are you can find several, if not more, foods in the first 3 tiers that you enjoy. The food could be chicken breast that you like. It could be whole wheat bread, a fried egg, and a slice of deli turkey, topped with ketchup (lycopene!). There's so many ways to work relatively healthy ingredients together that are also easy to prepare.

Sample meals and snacks that are quick and healthy:

  • oatmeal with blueberries and peanutbutter
  • omelette made with 2 eggs, stuffed with black beans, brown rice, deli turkey, ketchup
  • spinach salad, walnuts, blueberries, topped with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • salmon soaked overnight with orange juice and soy sauce, grill the next day
  • edamame (soy beans in the frozen section of most asian markets), microwaved for 90 seconds. Very addictive for snacking!
  • tilapia with lentils on the side, steamed asparagus on the side
  • Japanese seaweed salad (available at most asian markets, ready to eat), brown rice, tomatoes

Be creative and share any quick and healthy recipes you know. The key is to find healthy ingredients that take very little time/effort to prepare.

No comments: