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This is a three-part post and it is very important because it is the base of this blog and it is also the base of my Program Designs that I do at my gym Planet Fitness. We are talking about the three must do’s to start being healthy
- Eat well.
- Sleep well.
- And a 4th extra: mental health (we will talk about this in future posts).
Today we’re going to do a deep dive on healthy and unhealthy eating, and hopefully kick that junk food for good.
We all have been told that junk food is bad. But have you ever been told why that is? And what exactly is junk food?
Junk food is defined as food or drinks with low nutritional value. That means they offer very few vitamins, minerals or fibre. They are also highly processed and therefore high in calories, saturated fats, sugar and last but not least salt or sodium.
What effect does that have on our bodies?
Let’s start from the top of your body: your head. Many junk foods are filled with sodium, which can increase your risk of suffering headaches. As well as sodium, junk food is full of empty carbs, specifically sugars, which can trigger acne breakouts. It also produces acids that can lead to dental problems, like dental cavities or gingivitis. You really don’t want to go through that!
Going down to your heart, we discover that junk food increases the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and thus, an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. The reason behind this is that they are filled with trans fats, those that increase the LDL (known as bad) cholesterol as well as the already mentioned sodium, one of the causes of an elevated blood pressure.
Very close to our heart, we have our lungs. The problem is that the extra empty calories can lead to extra kilograms (or pounds if you are from the USA). People that eat junk food tent to eat and average of almost 200 more calories per day than those that eat healthier. If we don’t exercise (point 3), we have the risk of becoming overweighted or obese, which causes shortness of breath even when we do very light exercise.
The mentioned empty carbs or sugars cause very frequent insulin spikes, which alters the natural response of our body to this insulin, and thus to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Do you know that feeling of puffiness or bloating? This feeling is caused by the water retained when we eat too much sodium.
So… what can we eat?
I would like to recommend you a couple of resources that I always recommend to my members in Planet Fitness.
https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-guide-healthy-eating This is the Australian guide to healthy eating. It’s a magnificent resource that we have for free with a lot of information about eating habits.
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/ This is the Harvard plate or the Healthy Eating Plate. And this is, so far, my favourite guide. It basically shows you how your plate should look like.
First of all, I would like to debunk the myth that all carbs are bad. In the Australian guide, you can see some pictures of some good types of carbs, but in the Harvard plate they go further and instead of talking about carbohydrates, they talk about whole grains. So, we DO need carbs; we are just taking the wrong ones and sometimes too much. Let me talk a bit about these carbs. Our body breaks down the carbohydrates into glucose, and it has a storage capacity for this glucose. If we don’t burn them with exercise, our body transforms this glucose into glycogen that is stored in our liver. When our liver capacity to storage the glycogen is full, our insulin converts this glucose into fatty acids that circulate to other parts of the body and are then stored as fat in adipose tissue. Now we know one of the reasons why we have belly even though we kill ourselves doing abs at the gym!
Under the whole grains, the Harvard plate talks about healthy protein. I would like to remark the word healthy. It says, “choose fish, poultry, beans and nuts; limit red meat and cheese; avoid bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats”. As a pescatarian, I will share with you my own story with the red meat and processed meats, as well as a lot of information about the composition of them, but today I would like to mention that the red meat has a high percent of the “bad” cholesterol whereas the fish is high in Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids, which are the good ones and very necessary for our brain and body function.
I get this question very often: should I have protein shakes to increase the protein intake? I will go further in this subject in future posts, but the answer is no, you don’t need to have these protein shakes if your goal is just being healthy. These sources of protein are very interesting for body builders or power lifters, and always under the nutritionist supervision, but for the average population there’s no need.
On the left part of the Harvard plate, there is plenty of vegetables and fruits. It says, “the more veggies – and the greater the variety – the better” and “eat plenty of fruits of all colours”. Every colour has different properties, so it is not enough to eat just greens or just reds. In my opinion, there’s no limit for veggies and fruits!
The last point I want to cover about food is that junk food and fast food is not necessarily the same. A salad with baby spinach, corn, tomatoes and nuts dressed with olive oil and a little bit of vinegar is my “comfortable” food. It takes 5 minutes to prepare but is a very healthy option. Fast and healthy food.
I get a lot of people that say that they have junk food because they don’t have time to cook, or they have to eat at work and the best thing to do is just get something from a fast-food restaurant. I also have to eat at work, but I don’t remember the last time I went to one of these places to have lunch. What my husband and I do is preparing dinner together and make extra so we can have something healthy the day after at work.
This is it for today! Next week, I will go deeper with the second point: sleeping well.
See you next Sunday!
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