I often get asked the question “how do I start eating healthy?” and what usually goes along with that question are other questions such as…
♥ how do I eat healthy on a budget?
♥ what food do I buy?
♥ how do I prepare my food in a healthy way?
♥ what is actually healthy?
In this post, I will answer each of these questions by briefly sharing what I have learned on my journey so that you can successfully build a healthy diet and lifestyle for yourself that is easy, manageable and sustainable.
“How do I eat healthy on a budget?”
Starting a healthy diet on a budget: I find that generally people have the preconceived idea that maintaining a healthy diet will be extremely expensive, and so they are not even willing to give it a try. While healthy food can be very expensive, so can unhealthy food be. There are equally affordable and expensive options for both.
I know that when I really started to pursue health a few years ago, I would freak out when I learned that something I was eating was not as healthy as I had previously thought – and so I would no longer want to eat it at all. All I wanted to do was clear out my food pantry, get rid of everything “unhealthy” in it and restock my kitchen cupboards with healthy food.
If you can afford to do this and want to do this then that’s great, but if you cannot afford to toss out everything from your kitchen and restock its shelves right away then here are some tips that will help you.
1. Don’t freak out. Keep calm. You have been eating that “unhealthy” food up until now anyway, and so unless you are having a strong negative reaction to a certain food (like an allergic reaction) then you should continue to eat it until it is finished. If you are having negative reactions to a certain food then it is better to toss it out.
2. Once that particular food item is finished, replace it with a healthy alternative. For example: You may have decided to start following a gluten-free diet but you have just purchased a bag of pasta (which contains processed wheat), so instead of throwing it away and going to buy special gluten-free pasta you can just finish consuming the pasta you already have and then replace it with gluten-free pasta.
3. You will gradually get rid of all of that “unhealthy food” stocked in your pantry and start to build a healthy pantry over time. This process will also help you to gradually adjust to a new healthy diet.
4. Don’t exceed your budget or go into debt to follow a healthy diet. This will cause stress which will only lead to worse health. Work with your budget and purchase food that is affordable for you.
“What food do I buy?”
Here are some basic healthy food guidelines: I know that many times I have been confused about what food I should be buying and what food I should not be buying. Here I will outline some basic principles that I have learned over the past few years:
1. Vegetables & leafy greens: I suggest to people that they build their diet with mostly fresh vegetables and dark leafy greens as they are filled with very important nutrients. Most people that I talk to about this don’t want to eat these at all because “vegetables and leaves don’t taste nice”. I used to be one of these people but I have learned that this statement is not true. It is about how you prepare your vegetables that will determine the taste. Purchase organic vegetables if you can afford it, otherwise buy the best quality that you can afford. Avoid frozen vegetables.
2. Fruit: Fruit is naturally delicious just the way it is and is full of important nutrients and vitamins. However, I do warn people that while fruit is definitely healthy, it does contain a high amount of sugar. Natural sugar is not bad and is definitely better than processed sugar, but it is processed in the body in a similar way. Buy and eat fruit but in moderation. Organic fruit is preferable if you can afford it (especially fruit where you eat the peel/skin) but if you cannot afford organic then get the best quality fruit that you can afford.
3. Grains: If you decide to include grains in your diet then whole, unprocessed and unbleached grains are the way to go – purchase 100% wholegrain or wholemeal grain products. Use wholegrain and stone ground flours to make your own bread or find the healthiest bread that you can find in a store near you. Do the same with pasta’s. If you have decided to follow a gluten-free diet, then buy good quality gluten-free flours, breads and pasta’s. Keep in mind that gluten-free does not always mean “healthier”. Gluten-free products often contain a high amount of sugar (often more than wheat products) and highly-processed GMO corn. Look around for good quality gluten-free products that are made with good quality wholegrain flours and a limited amount of corn and sugar. For about 2 years I would not eat any grains because I believed that they were all unhealthy, but I no longer believe this. A healthy diet is all about moderation. Avoid polarizing (far too much) grain products in your diet. Instead, find a good balance that works for you. At this point I am eating a portion of grains 2-4 times a month, but for someone else a healthy diet may include a portion good quality grains once or even twice a day. Work within your needs and your budget. Wheat, rice and corn are not the only grain options out there – try rye, quinoa, barley, bulgar, millet and oats!
4. Eggs, meat, fish and poultry: Only eat good quality eggs, meat, fish and poultry. Try to purchase grass-fed, free-ranged meat, and grain-fed, free-ranged poultry. Avoid farmed fish and seek out fresh fish that is caught wild. It is not necessary to consume a huge amount of animal protein but there are some very important nutrients that can only be obtained from animal protein products. I have (briefly) tried a vegan diet (a few times) because I believed that animal protein was unhealthy. However, after a long journey I no longer believe this. I don’t have a problem with anyone following a vegan diet and believe that vegan cleanses can be very beneficial for the body. Do what works for you and your body’s needs. But remember that if you eat animal protein, it needs to be good quality. Only eat animal fat if it is from organic meat.
5. Dairy: Dairy is anything that has been made from milk such as yoghurt, ice cream, cream, butter, kefir, some chocolate and milk itself. I personally do not consume any dairy because I have an intolerance to it but I do not have a problem with other people consuming dairy. If consuming dairy causes you to have any negative symptoms such as sinus, sore throats, headaches, muscle pain, stomach pain or digestive issues then I would suggest removing dairy from your diet completely. Another option is to try raw milk or raw dairy products instead of pasteurized ones. Great alternatives to cow’s milk products are goat’s and sheep’s milk products. If you do use dairy products then buy products that are as unprocessed as possible such as full cream and not fat free or 2% products. Buy good quality dairy products from good sources that contain no added refined sugar, artificial flavours and colorants or preservatives. Please note that if you want to try raw dairy products, you should thoroughly research the source that you intend to get it from too.
6. Nuts and seeds: Consume raw, activated or sprouted nuts and seeds. Avoid nuts and seeds that have been roasted at high temperatures (this can turn the oils in the nuts rancid) with oils and lots of salt. Easily dry roast your own nuts, or activate and sprout them at home. The nuts used to make nut butters are often roasted at very high temperatures, so make sure the products you purchase are good quality nut butters made with raw nuts or nuts roasted at low temperatures. Be certain that the nut butter you purchase contains no added sugar, preservatives or additives and little salt.
7. Legumes: Legumes are a good source of both protein and carbohydrates. Avoid canned legumes that have been soaked in oils with too much salt and preservatives. If you do buy canned legumes, choose a brand whose cans are BPA free and whose contents are soaked in plain water and sea salt.
8. Oils: Contrary to popular belief, oils and fats are actually very healthy. However, it is very important to only use cold-pressed oils. Add cold-pressed oils to salads or make your own salad dressings using oils as the base. Cook and bake with macadamia nut oil or coconut oil – these oils can withstand high heats while other oils turn rancid when heated.
9. Seasonings, spices and sauces: Always read the label of any seasoning, spice mix or sauce that you buy. Avoid anything that contains refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, wheat, gluten, artificial flavours and colorants or preservatives. These days most seasonings, spices and sauces contain a list of unnecessary ingredients (like gluten, wheat, sugar and preservatives) and so you should keep an eye out for this. Buy simple herbs and spices and make your own seasonings and spice mixes if you can’t find any healthy ones. It is very affordable to do and takes very little effort. Easily learn to make your own healthy sauces or get good quality ones that contain no unnecessary ingredients.
10. Sugar and sweeteners: Avoid all white, processed sugar. Use raw honey, 100% pure maple syrup, pure agave syrup or coconut sugar to sweeten food and drinks. Use these natural sugars when you bake and cook (keep in mind that these are still processed in a similar way to refined sugar in the body and should be eaten in moderation). Avoid all artificial and non-nutritive sweeteners, these are made with chemicals and are like poison to the body, they have been known to cause some serious negative side effects. Artificial sweeteners have many different names, so you should get to know them and read food labels before you purchase any food items. Some names include: non-nutritive sweetener, artificial sweetener, Acesulfame K and Aspartame. Most diet or sugar-free products such as diet sodas, sweets and sugar-free chewing gum contain them instead of regular sugar.
11. Salt: Do not consume iodized salt or regular table salt. Buy good quality sea salt or Himalayan sea salt. These salts are unprocessed and contain important minerals. Iodized salt is highly processed and contains no nutrients. Salt is important, but be sure to use it in moderation.
12. Natural & organic: It’s always best to buy organic and natural food, right? Yes! Well, almost always. Organic food can be harder to find and more expensive than non-organic food, so if purchasing organic food works with your budget then it is definitely best to buy organic food. However, please note that contrary to popular belief, organic food is not always more expensive. I often find organic products that are more affordable than the non-organic options. It’s usually easy and affordable to order fresh, organic produce online and have it delivered right to your door! Do some quick research online to see what organic food options are available near where you live (to be ordered online or to be purchased at a store near you). Also note that products often claim to be organic while only one ingredient in the entire product is “organic” and all of the others are not. Read the labels of the products that you buy to see how many ingredients are organic and how many are not. Natural means a product that was created with plant-based and all-natural ingredients, right? No, not always. The term “natural” can actually mean just about anything because most governments don’t regulate what it means. Take care when purchasing products that contain natural colorants and flavourings or natural sweeteners. Make sure that products which claim to have natural ingredients are actual naturally derived plant-based products.
“How do I prepare my food in a healthy way?”
How to prepare your food right: It doesn’t really matter how healthy the food is that you are buying, if you are preparing it in a way that destroys its nutrients then there really isn’t much point of purchasing healthy food. Make sure that you are getting the most from your food. Here are some important lessons that I have learned about food preparation:
1. Raw vs. cooked: In the health industry, there is a big debate about whether raw vs. cooked is better. I have tried a fully raw diet and have found that balance between raw and cooked food is the best. Yes, nutrients can be destroyed while cooking but in certain foods (like tomatoes for example) certain nutrients can only be absorbed by the body when the food is cooked. Too much raw food can also make it difficult for the body to digest. Certain foods like hard root vegetables are best broken down and absorbed by the body when they have been cooked and other soft foods such as spinach or bananas are best absorbed by the body when eaten fresh and raw.
2. Vegetables: Lightly steaming vegetables or eating them fresh and raw are best but no not torture yourself & limit your intake of vegetables to only raw or steamed vegetables if you hate it. Yes, lightly steaming vegetables are healthy but if you don’t enjoy it then don’t eat it all the time (and please do not feel the need to drink the steam water or re use it to make soup – it’s okay to lose a few nutrients and I promise that it’s not even that many). Oven roasted vegetables are a delicious and healthy alternative – if in doubt how to cook them, just roast them! Slow roast your vegetables at a low-medium temperature with sea salt, cracked pepper and a little drizzle of macadamia nut oil. Vegetables are also delicious added to soups and stews and in these forms they are easily absorbed by the body and are still filled with healthy nutrients when cooked at a low to medium temperature. Spice things up sometimes and lightly sauté your vegetables in a frying pan (if you like to) with a little macadamia nut oil, sea salt and some fresh herbs. Careful not to overcook or burn your vegetables – this will destroy nutrients. Do not boil vegetables as this causes almost all nutrients to be lost. Learn to love vegetables and find a healthy balance between eating raw, roasted, steamed, stewed and souped veggies!
3. Fruit: Fruit is delicious eaten fresh and raw. There is no need to cook it, you can stew it if you want to (really yummy) but it is not necessary. Good quality frozen fruit (without added sugar, syrups and preservatives) is also healthy and is great for blending into smoothies. Be aware though that very cold frozen fruit or cold ice cold smoothies can be difficult for the body to absorb. If you make smoothies with frozen fruit, have a good mix of fresh and frozen fruit in the smoothie and don’t add any ice to make it colder. This makes it more digestible for the body and so all of the nutrients in the smoothie can be more easily absorbed.
4. Meats, fish and eggs: Stew, roast, grill or BBQ meats and poultry but always remember to use good oil like macadamia nut oil when cooking them and use healthy seasoning or sauces to flavour them. Grill or bake fish and boil or bake eggs. There is nothing wrong with making scrambled or fried eggs every now and again or pan frying meat occasionally – just remember to use good oil & good salt!
5. Grains, nuts, seeds and legumes: If you feel like your body struggles to digest nuts and seeds then you can activate them by soaking them overnight in salt water and then drying them out at a low temperature. Activating nuts and seeds destroys the phytates found in them which can make them difficult to digest. Legumes, nuts and seeds can also be sprouted which makes them even more nutritious and kills phytates in the process. Grains are more nutritious when fermented (phytates are destroyed) and fermented dough makes delicious sourdough bread. If you have stomach or digestive issues you may want to try fermenting, soaking, sprouting and activating the nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that you consume. Otherwise eat unbleached, whole and unprocessed grains/ flours, soaked legumes and raw nuts and seeds. If you purchase canned legumes, rinse the beans well for about 30 seconds to remove the excess sodium.
6. Oils: Remember to only use good quality cold-pressed oils and to only cook and bake with macadamia nut oil or coconut oil. Drizzle other cold-pressed oils over salads and add some coconut oil to your smoothie to make it extra creamy!
“What is actually healthy?”
Feeling confused about what food is actually healthy and what kind of a diet you should be following? I have tried many different diets over the past decade and have come to these simple conclusions:
1. Learn to listen to your body and what it needs. Learn to assess how you feel after eating your food and you will soon learn what food is most beneficial for your body.
2. Have a well balanced diet. After many years of trying almost every kind of diet (that usually caused me to consume a high amount of one food and a low amount of another food), I have realised that a balanced diet really is the healthiest kind of diet. Aim for a good balanced of vegetables, dark leafy greens, fruit, meats, eggs, fish, grains, nuts, seeds and good oils.
3. If it is unprocessed, whole, completely natural and fresh – eat it. Make up the bulk of your diet with this kind of food.
If you want to know more about what is actually “healthy”, and about how you can build a diet that is perfectly suited to your body and your lifestyle – you can read my article about how to easily find a healthy diet that is perfect for you.
I hope that this info helps you!
Liezl Jayne xo
Photographs by Ross Charnock – for liezljayne.com