Knowing where to get started with healthy eating can easily seem all but impossible. There are an enormous number of diet-gurus and food-preachers out there, each with their particular ideas of what makes for the perfect dietary template to follow.
What’s worse, we now live in the internet age, meaning that all of these different ideas and suggestions are bombarding us constantly, from every angle. Logging into social media, checking your email, or looking for a music video, are likely activities to land you slap bang in front of some ad or article telling you that everything you thought you knew about food is wrong.
Fortunately, though, there are some fairly widely-accepted and culturally neutral healthy eating tips, which nonetheless have the potential to convey a wide range of benefits to you, the consumer. Anti-aging foods, anti-stress foods, and mood-boosting foods come in many different formats.
Here are some simple food suggestions for improving your health, without having to subject yourself to a radically restrictive and unfamiliar diet.
Eat foods that increase your circulation
Circulation is easily one of the most important functions of the body, to the point where poor circulation negatively impacts everything from sexual health, to digestion, organ function, and the beauty of your skin.
Blood is the primary way that your body transports bacteria fighting antibodies to where they need to be. It’s also the way your body transports oxygen to its various parts, and as we all know, oxygen is essential for our survival, never mind health.
Many people manage to chronically inhibit and upset their circulation, through destructive lifestyle habits such as smoking cigarettes, living sedentary lives, and potentially even drinking coffee — as caffeine has the potential to act as a vasoconstrictor (shrinking and narrowing blood vessels).
Luckily, it’s possible to aid your circulation with the right types of foods. As a general rule, any food that could be considered “spicy” is likely to have a positive effect on your circulation, but certain key foodstuffs do stand out.
Cayenne pepper, ginger, and garlic are all foods which are known to have a beneficial effect on circulation, not to mention various other assorted health benefits. Cayenne pepper, for example, has been suggested to have certain anti-cancer and blood-pressure-lowering properties.
Eat foods with anti-inflammatory properties
While foods that improve circulation are a major benefit to the body, foods that have anti-inflammatory properties are no less vital — and maybe even more so.
That’s a bit of a dishonest way of presenting things, however, since there’s a lot of overlap between foods that improve circulation and those that have anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger, cayenne pepper, and garlic have all linked with anti-inflammatory benefits, for example.
Additional anti-inflammatory foods include things like turmeric — particularly when mixed with black pepper.
So, what’s all the fuss about anti-inflammatory foods anyway, you might ask? Well, firstly, it’s important to understand that chronic inflammation has been linked with virtually all diseases in one way or another, ranging from diseases of the lungs (such as bronchitis and asthma) to neurological diseases (such as Alzheimer’s Disease) and more.
What’s more, there are some suggestions that chronic inflammation is an increasingly prevalent issue in society in general, partly due to environmental pollutants, unhealthy additives routinely consumed in processed foods, stress, and more.
You may find that simply introducing anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can have a tremendously positive impact on your sense of wellness and health.
Eat fermented foods
The gut doesn’t get as much respect as it deserves from most people, most of the time. Not by far, in fact.
Recent biological research has thrown up some startling revelations regarding our guts and, more specifically, the microbes that inhabit them.
For one thing, we have more genetic material in our body — by far — from the microbes that live within us, than from our own genetic blueprints.
For another thing, the different proportions, types, and amounts of bacteria in our guts — as well as the health of those bacteria — affect our lives in ways that are difficult to grasp fully.
Research has found, for example, that identical twins with different gut bacteria can have radically different susceptibility to becoming obese, with one twin staying slim no matter what, and the other gaining weight chronically, all while they both eat the same food and live in the same household.
What’s more, transplanting bacteria from the gut of a healthy person to the gut of an unhealthy person has proved an effective medical intervention in recent times, even in the case of critical illnesses. In fact, some patients have literally had their lives saved by such procedures.
Gut bacteria are also linked to mood, allergies, digestive capabilities, and more.
Eating fermented foods (especially when homemade) — such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and blue cheese — are a great way of introducing healthy bacteria to your body, as the fermentation process means that each of these foods will contain cultures of living bacteria that can be healthy for your gut. (Just avoiding cooking these foods, or the bacteria aren’t likely to survive).
Eat lots of fiber
While healthy gut bacteria — also called probiotics — can be introduced to your body through a healthy and balanced diet, they still need food of their own in order to survive, thrive, develop colonies, displace bad bacteria, and all the rest.
Providing food for these bacteria is one of the ways in which fiber can be a major benefit to your diet, as these bacteria thrive on the fiber found in various vegetables, grains, etc.
Other benefits of fiber have been noted, such as the fact that studies have found increased fiber intake to be associated with “automatic weight loss”, as well as well as apparently having a beneficial effect in protecting the body against certain types of cancer.
Fiber can be found in various types of fibrous vegetables such as leeks, as well as in whole grains, and fruits.
Eat only home-cooked meals
Well, alright, occasional exceptions are fine, it’s not likely to ruin your health if you have the occasional slice of pizza with friends, or a piece of store-bought cake at a family birthday celebration.
As a general rule, however, entirely avoiding processed foods and eating only home-cooked meals is one of the best ways of ensuring optimal health, and all that comes along with it.
Processed foods are routinely laced with substances known to be extremely detrimental to human health, including things such as high fructose corn syrup, and trans fats. As for all the other additives whose names you can’t pronounce, these may pose an as-of-yet undiagnosed threat to your health and wellbeing.
What’s clear is that, as the consumption of pre-prepared, processed foods has gone up, so too have the rates of obesity, heart disease, and more.
By cooking all your meals at home from whole ingredients, you know exactly what you’re eating, and almost certainly ensure that you’ll dodge the most blatant health offenders. Not only that but fresh, home-cooked food following a good recipe, is just about always better tasting than something bought in a microwavable plastic container.
Eat foods that leave you feeling nourished
Many of the most popular diets out there today involve completely restricting entire macronutrients, keeping calories chronically low, and sometimes even eating only raw food, or a particular type of plant.
As a general rule, you need to eat a good balance of foods, and end each meal feeling nourished. If you find that you’re starving throughout the day, or have immense cravings for a particular food group, it would be reasonable to conclude that your body is trying to send you a powerful message to stop your unhealthy dieting habits.
The consequences of eating unbalanced and highly exclusionary diets can be severe. Dr. Atkins, creator of the famous Atkins diet for weight loss — which emphasizes a meat-based diet, with little to no carbs — even warned publicly that sticking with the diet for a prolonged period of time would risk shutting down the thyroid gland and putting the dieter into a state of hypothyroidism.
Eat foods that make you feel nourished, and don’t adopt highly restrictive diets unless there’s a sound medical reason for doing so.
While you may be wary of the fat gain that might initially occur from eating this way, particularly if you’ve been yo-yo dieting for a significant amount of time, eating home-cooked and whole foods, to the point of feeling, nourished and fulfilled, is one of the best ways of ensuring that your overall health remains intact.