How to Spot Healthy Foods (5 Principles)

  • Usman 

All weight loss tips would want you to stay away from unhealthy foods and eat healthy food. But it is not easy to make sense of healthy foods lists of 100 or 75 foods. Some of these foods on the lists are not even native to your place. What if I give you tips for spotting healthy foods regardless of whether they are on a guru’s healthy food list or not.

I understand that nutrition is a whole science in itself but these principles that I will list below will make your choice really easy to a large extent. So next time, when someone says why eggs are healthy and good for weight loss, you will clearly know that underlying principle of why eggs are healthy.

And whenever you come across any food, you will make a well-informed decision about healthy nature or otherwise of that food. Another benefit is that you will very quickly be able to identify which healthy foods are already on your weight loss diet and which unhealthy foods you need to say goodbye to and for what reasons.

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Calories

This is the first thing that is of concern to anyone who is trying to lose weight or preventing belly fat gain. Obviously, overeating is not something that is desirable in such a situation. However, there is a clear difference between overeating and stuffing yourself with calories.

We need to understand a term called calorie density. This is a number of calories that are present in a gram or volume unit of food. And foods may look of the same size on your plate but one would be loaded with calories whereas the other would be having a lot fewer calories.

For example, turkey meat as about 1.89 calories per gram and mixed nuts have more than 6 calories in every gram. Therefore, nuts are definitely a calorie dense food compared with turkey meat.

If weight loss is your goal, then your focus should be on food with low calorie density. Some of the greatest sources of such foods are vegetables. There are also certain foods which are almost zero calorie. Coffee is one such example.

However, it doesn’t mean that you should totally boycott calorie dense foods. You can still eat healthy calorie dense foods in moderation. Nuts and Avocado are good examples of such healthy foods.

Food satiety

Satiety of a food means how long you do not feel hungry after eating it. Mostly, healthy foods are also highly satiating foods too. There is a simple principle that if a food keeps you satiated for longer, you will eat less during the day and it will be easier to create a calorie deficit to lose weight.

You can check how well rated a food is when it comes to satiety by searching it on Satiety Index or Nutrition Database.

If a food scores more than 150 on the Satiety Index, it is a healthy food. You should avoid foods that have scored under 100. They are definitely unhealthy foods.

Nutrition Database gives fullness factor to foods from 1 to 5. Foods that have a fullness factor of 3 and above are healthy foods. You will note that liquid foods score low on satiety. Even seemingly healthy fruit juices are also low on the Satiety factor. Therefore, prefer to eat fruit in place of fruit juices.

Fiber in foods

Food with good dietary fiber are in the healthy foods list because of two reasons.

Insoluble fiber in foods is not digested by our bodies but it is important for a healthy digestive function. It helps against diarrhea and has benefits against cancer of colon and other gut diseases.

The other type of dietary fiber is soluble fiber which can be absorbed by our bodies and helps against buildup of cholesterol and improves cardiovascular health.

And third benefit is directly related to weight loss. Foods with good amount of dietary fiber have high satiety factor, which means weight loss as we discussed earlier.

Vegetables and fruits are excellent for insoluble fiber. Whole grain bread is also high in dietary fiber. For soluble fiber, oatmeal is a good choice.

Protein

Foods that have high protein percentage make their way to healthy foods lists because not only proteins have high satiating effect, our bodies consume more energy to digest proteins. This is called high thermic effect.

Another benefit of proteins is their importance for building muscles. Proteins help build muscles which means less fat from food and also higher metabolism because of more lean tissue in the body.

When it comes to quality, animal sourced proteins enjoy a higher stature because plant-based proteins lack certain amino acids. Plant-based proteins also do not contain enough of a chemical called leucine which triggers muscles buildup.

Good healthy protein sources are lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, lentils, beans and tofu.

Vitamins

Another characteristic of healthy foods is their micronutrients profile. Nutrient density makes a food superfood, which means minerals and vitamins found in a food per gram.

While vegetables and fruits are clear winners when it comes to micronutrients density but there are certain vitamins and minerals which are better sourced or exclusively sourced from animal sources.

For example, vitamin b12 is only available in animal sources, including dairy and poultry. It is a critical vitamin, therefore, vegetarians or vegans need to be careful. Similarly, iron is best sourced from animal-based diet like liver and meat.

Though leafy green vegetables like spinach are a good source but iron absorption from vegetable sourced iron is far less when compared to animal sourced iron, also called heme iron.

One critical vitamin i.e vitamin D cannot be had enough from animal or vegetarian diet. The best source is spending time in sunlight. Though milk has some vitamin D but that is not enough for recommended daily intake.

If you keep these five principles of healthy foods in mind while making choices, you are more likely to pick a healthier option over an unhealthy one. If your main goal is weight loss with healthy diet, then read our weight loss tips.

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Muhammad Usman

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