Granola bard, protein shakes, or vegan milk alternatives. There are many foods that seem to be healthy but are actually loaded with sugar or unhealthy fats. Consuming foods like these may make you feel tired, hungry or unfocussed as they cause your blood sugar to spike and drop rapidly. We took a closer look at some foods and collected a couple of tips to make your foods and snacks healthier and switch them for healthy food alternatives. This way you will know what to choose to feel energized and focussed throughout the day. But before we dive in let’s define what “healthy” means to us.
What are healthy foods?
A healthy diet is one that supports energetic and physiological needs without excess calorie intake. This means a healthy diet pattern is rich in health-promoting foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables packed with antioxidants and essential micronutrients.
Typically, healthy foods are ones that are:
- Low in saturated fats
- Do not have added sugars
- Are unprocessed, or minimally processed.
Healthy food and snacks are considered to be rich in nutrients and beneficial to your overall health. Remember, if foods are based on simple and refined carbohydrates, they may not be the healthiest option, as these carbohydrates break down easier and faster into glucose Which results in a sharper glucose spike.
What is a healthy and balanced diet?
A healthy balanced diet is one in which macronutrients i.e. proteins, fats and carbs, are consumed in adequate, unexcessive proportions to support your body’s energetic and physiological needs, while providing sufficient micronutrients and hydration.
Still not sure what that means? Let’s try that in a bit more detail.
Macronutrients are the things you see when you look at the nutritional values on the label on the back of a packet of food in the supermarket.They are proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
For a meal to be healthy and balanced, it needs to include elements of all three of these macronutrients. These give the body the energy it needs to perform essential cellular functions, such as muscle repair.
Micronutrients are things like vitamins and minerals which you can get from food. Your body requires relatively low amounts of these, yet they are still essential for your body’s growth, development, metabolism and physiological functioning. The more varied – think colorful – your diet is, the easier it is to catch all essential nutrients on your plate.
Hydration is simply the amount of water in your body, which is essential for it to function. Make sure you are drinking around 1.5 to 2 liters of water per day. You can also healthily hydrate your body with herbal teas. Avoid things like coffee, alcohol, or sugary drinks as these are not as effective at hydrating the body, and can sometimes even have the opposite effect. Also, fruit juice is not the go to choice to quench your thirst. They look super healthy but unfortunately spike your blood glucose in an instant.
How to choose healthy foods
Healthy foods are typically characterized by these 3 key features we mentioned above :
- They are unprocessed, or minimally processed
- They are low in saturated fats
- They contain no added sugars
Generally speaking, foods are healthy if they are rich in nutrients and beneficial to our health. However, sometimes foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals are also high in carbohydrates and fats, which is not ideal.
But we have some good news: Some foods that are rich in fats may actually contain monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fats which are known to be good for our health, as long as they are consumed in moderation.
Avocados, for example, are a powerhouse source of nutrients and are high in vitamins E and K, folate, potassium, and B vitamins. The fat in avocados is monounsaturated, which can lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and may increase ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease.
However, avocados contain a lot of calories, which means that eating too many of them may cause you to put on weight. One avocado contains 32g of fat, which means 400 calories.
Healthy hacks for unhealthy foods
We are sure you already heard about some myths around “healthy” foods which turned out to be actually bad for your health. But no worries, you don’t need to cut them completely from your diet. We took a closer look at 5 of these presumably “healthy” snacks and will give you some advice on how to make them actually healthier or give you an alternative.
Smoothies have gained something of a cult-like status in recent years due to their delicious flavor, yet fairly misleading promises of healthy and nutritional value. In general, blending fruits actually cuts out their fiber and carbohydrate qualities . When the fiber and carbohydrate in whole fruits are reduced, this speeds up the rate at which the simple sugars contained in fruit juice enter your bloodstream, and cause a glucose spike.
Make it healthier
- Use a ‘nutrient-extraction’ blender instead of a normal blender that homogenizes whole fruit to create ‘smoothies’ without the removal of fiber
- Choose green smoothies with a kale or spinach base. These are packed with vitamins and minerals, yet are low in simple sugars, like glucose. Add some lime juice and mint for more flavor.
- Throw in some berries, which are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Berries are also known for limiting your blood glucose response.
- Don’t add sugars, syrup, agave nectar or honey.
Add a source of fat and protein to your smoothie to slow down the rate at which glucose and other simple sugars are digested and absorbed into your blood. Milk, coconut, almonds, peanuts, additive-free peanut butter and walnuts are great options.
2. Energy bars
Energy bars may seem like a simple, convenient and even healthy way to get an energy boost throughout the day, but the reality is that they are a small bomb in terms of calories. Many of them also contain hidden added sugars, and artificial sweeteners such as xylitol and mannitol. People who are not living extremely active lifestyles, such as professional athletes, generally do not need this level of caloric intake throughout the day, and by eating energy bars run the risk of weight gain.
Make it healthier
- Make your own energy bars with real food ingredients, such as nuts, fruit and whole grains.
- Throw in some flaxseed, whole cereals and pulses to really increase the nutritional value.
- Go easy on the dried fruit and/or nuts.
- Do not eat them regularly
3. Plant-based drink
Plant-based drinks (known as plant-based milk outside the European Union) can be lower in calories than full-fat cow-based milk, but not necessarily lower than skimmed or semi-skimmed milks. However, many plant-based milks are loaded with added sugars in order to make them taste better, and more milk-like. Plant-based milks are also often low in fiber, as much of the fiber is lost in the processing required to achieve the final product. Most plant-based milks are lower in saturated fats and higher in unsaturated fats, but only if they are not coconut-based. In terms of nutrition, plant-based milks often lack vitamins A, D and B12 entirely, although many go through complex systems of processing in order to fortify them and artificially add them.
Make it healthier
Of all the plant-based alternatives to cow milk, the best option is soy milk. This tends to have higher quantities of the essential amino acid lysine than other, cereal-based alternatives such as oat milk or rice milk, although it may have lower quantities of the essential amino acids cysteine and methionine.
Granola is another one of those breakfast options that looks healthy at first glance, but is actually packed with unnecessary and unwanted added sugars, and often unhealthy simple carbs.
Make it healthier
Don’t buy commercial granola. Making it yourself is easy, healthy and fun. This way you can avoid adding excess sugars, use wholegrain cereals, and mix it with moderate proportions of raisins, seeds and nuts.
5. Protein shakes
Protein shakes may seem like the average gym fanatic’s best friend, but actually are not necessary for anybody exercising less than 5 hours per week. In addition to their protein content, shakes often contain added sugars, artificial thickeners and flavorers. More worryingly, a report has shown that many commercially available protein shake options contain dangerously high levels of toxins, such as heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury), bisphenol-A or BPA (used to make plastic), pesticides, and other contaminants which have been linked to cancer and tumor growth.
Make it healthier
Read, read again and then read the label for a third time to make sure you know exactly what is in your protein shake before you drink it. And if you’re not exercising for more than 5 hours per week and already eating a healthy, nutritious and balanced diet, chances are you are already getting enough protein and do not need to supplement at all.
It’s difficult to navigate the food choices. Just remember that you should have a balanced diet including macro- and micronutrients. When you choose food make sure it’s not processed and no sugar is added. Our tip: Always check the label and make sure you know what you eat. Some things might appear healthier than they are.
If you want to find out more about how you can change little things in your diet or lifestyle to have a positive impact on your glucose levels and thereby your overall health and wellbeing, start your journey with Hello Inside today.