Low carb, slow carb, Atkinson, clean eating—there are so many diet and nutrition trends, it can be mind-boggling to keep up with the latest information about what our bodies need to feel healthy and happy. The good news is that if you boil all those diets and fads down, they often say a lot of the same things: eat vegetables, avoid added fats and sugars, and drink plenty of water. With a proliferation of food blogs, online recipes, and shirts proclaiming a love of kale, it’s never been easier or more hip to eat well. Here are 42 vital facts about healthy eating.
42. Thirsty Nuts
Many people are opting for a vegan diet to spare animals and to help the planet, and almond milk has become a popular replacement for cow’s milk. What some people don’t know is that almonds can be a major drain on the environment. It takes 1.1 gallons of water just to grow a single almond—that’s 4 gallons of water for 1 gram of protein. In drought-stricken California, where almonds have become one of the major cash crops, the industry is using up 10% of the entire state’s water supply. That’s bad news. However, it still makes sense in the long run, as it takes an estimated 1800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, which works out to 27 gallons per gram of protein. Almonds still win!
41. A Healthier Option?
Think you’re reaching for the healthier choice when you pass up a can of soda for a tall glass of fruit juice? Bad news—that fruit juice may have even more sugar than the Coca-Cola you just turned down. In fact, an 8-ounce glass of apple juice contains 115 calories, compared with 95 in a can of Coke. A cup of grape juice has 36 grams of sugar—that’s 6 more than the same volume of Pepsi. Fruit sugars are more natural than the corn syrup in most sodas, but at the end of the day, sugar is sugar.
40. Healthy Diet, Healthy Brain
Eating healthy now could protect your brain later. Diets high in vitamin E, vitamin C, flavonoids, vitamin B12 and fats found in fish have been linked to lower risk of dementia or cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease. If you want a delicious way to keep that brain healthy, pack that plate with spinach, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, wheat germ, and sunflower seeds.
39. Minor Vices
Eating healthy can sometimes sound like giving up everything good, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In moderation, some “bad” foods can even be good. Scientists have linked drinking moderate amounts of coffee and red wine with lower risks of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other late-in-life cognitive impairments.
38. Raise Your Glass
If a lower risk of Alzheimer’s wasn’t enough, moderate and responsible red wine consumption has also been linked to lower LSL cholesterol (aka the “bad” cholesterol), better blood sugar regulation, and a lowered risk of heart disease.
Did you know that produce imported from another country could have a higher nutritional value than produce from your local farmer’s market? Nutrition is derived from soil, water, and air content, and is also partly determined by sunlight and temperature. This means that depending on where you live, the produce shipped to you from far away might actually contain more nutrients than food grown locally, even when you factor in shipping.
36.But The Names Sound So Similar…
After actor Jeremy Piven claimed to have gotten mercury poisoning from tuna in sushi, people started to seriously question their fish intake. But tuna isn’t all made equally, and it’s not packaged equally either. Canned white tuna can have as much as three times the amount of mercury as chunk light. Why? The species used for white tuna is larger and older and accumulates more mercury than skipjack, which you’ll find in chunk light. Even better is canned salmon, which has less mercury than either tuna variety.
35. Making You Sick
Food-borne illnesses contribute to nearly 48 million illnesses, 3,000 deaths, and 128,000 hospitalizations in America each year. The culprits are often E. coli or salmonella on undercooked meat products, eggs and eggshells, and unpasteurized dairy products, although raw produce is playing an increasingly large part. Pre-washed lettuces and bagged salads have caused outbreaks of E. coli in the past years in the US and UK.
34. Strong Swimmers
If you eat right, your sperm will eat right. Men who followed a “Mediterranean” type diet, high in vegetables, fruits, olive oil, and seafood were tested alongside men who ate a typical “Western” diet, high in processed meats, fats, and snacks. The Mediterranean healthy eaters had higher sperm counts than the Western-diet followers, whose sperm counts were even lower if they were overweight or obese.
33. Natural Boost
Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders have never been more prevalent, but medication can seem like a drastic step. If you’re willing to make small changes to your diet that include eating more fruits and vegetables, you might be able to benefit from a natural boost. A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology reported that participants who ate 7 to 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day reported better emotional well-being and more stable moods. What’s more, they reported mood changes the following day, suggesting that it really was the food driving the mood changes (as opposed to them eating healthy because they were already feeling good). You can even grow your own with these helpful gardening tips.
32. Sneaky Loophole
The government allows manufacturers to label processed foods as having “no trans fats” if they contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fats—and they’re allowed to round down. That means even if you’re eating food with a “trans fat-free” label, you could still be eating a not-insignificant amount of trans fats. To make sure, read the ingredients. If it contains any amount of “partially hydrogenated oil”, steer clear.
31. That Explains the Buzz…
Think you’re staying away from caffeine by drinking decaf? Think again. There’s a reason they call it “decaffeinated” and not “caffeine-free”, and that’s because it isn’t. A decaf espresso can have as much as 16 mg of caffeine. A decaf cappuccino (which contains two shots of espresso) can have the same amount of caffeine as a can of Coca-Cola. Very bad news for those abstaining from caffeine for health reasons, or for religious reasons.
30. Changing Diets
Diets in America are changing, and not in a good way. The average American in 2010 ate one-third more grains than they did in 1970 and drank 43% less milk. They consume twice the amount of fats and oils than people did in 1970—including three times the amount of cooking oil. It’s no wonder that the average number of calories each person consumes per day has increased by 23% since 1970, to 2,481 calories. That amount is far more than most adults need to maintain their weight, and that can only mean that their waistline will expand as well.
29. Not So Sweet
Consumption of sweeteners (not including non-caloric sweeteners like stevia or aspartame) peaked in 1997, with each person consuming 90.2 pounds of added caloric sweeteners per year. That’s 26.7 tablespoons per day. As of 2014 those numbers had dropped a bit—down to 22.9 teaspoons per day, which is still way too much.
28. Perfect Pairings
Cutting down on meat is a great way to boost your health, and help the environment. If you want to maximize the benefits of a plant-based diet, you can pair up foods that lack certain amino acids with ones that contain a different complement of aminos. Legumes, nuts, vegetables, and grains can be mixed and matched for maximum nutrition. Try mustard greens with chickpeas, tofu with soba noodles, or red peppers with cauliflower
27. Natural Performance
It may be recommended to “carbo-load” before certain athletic events to keep your energy up, but don’t forget the fruits and vegetables along with that pasta or bread. The American Dietetic Association and the American College of Sports Medicine both recommend a healthy diet, including carbs, proteins, healthy fats, and vitamins to improve athletic performance.
26. Don’t Skip the Dressing
Some salad dressings can really pack in the calories, especially ranch, Caesar, Thousand Island, and other mayonnaise-based dressings. But there’s good news: you don’t need to eat that salad dry because eating healthy fats along with leafy greens can actually help you better absorb nutrients. A simple dressing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil will also make your salad taste great, and will be even more wholesome if you make it from scratch.
25. More & Better
Not only can eating healthy make you feel happier, prevent illness, and give you more energy, it can give you more time. The CDC confirms that eating healthy—along with other healthy practices like not smoking and getting regular exercise—can lead to a longer life. And the numbers weren’t insignificant: people who engaged in all four healthy behaviors cut their chances of dying early from cancer by 66%, and from cardiovascular disease by 65%. They also reported a 57% lower chance of dying early from other causes compared to people who did not engage in any of those four healthy behaviors. If that’s not a good reason to start living a healthy life, I don’t know what is.
24. Eat Your Broccoli
Mom was right, eating broccoli is definitely a good idea. Broccoli is one of the healthiest foods you can eat—it’s rich in fiber, potassium, calcium, folate, and phytonutrients, which reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. It’s also high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant. A single 100 gram serving of broccoli has 150% of the vitamin C you need in a day. It’s best to eat broccoli raw or lightly steamed—overcooking can destroy those necessary nutrients. And don’t even think of smothering it in butter or Cheez Whiz.
23. Less May Be More
Let’s be honest. While healthy eating is a smart idea for many reasons, many of us have a more superficial motivation: to lose weight. There’s an obvious formula for this: if you burn more calories than you’re taking in, you’ll lose weight. Simple, right? Maybe not. The body’s metabolism can slow down if you seriously restrict your caloric intake, and if you diet too much, your body can even kick into starvation mode and store more calories as fat. It sounds counter-intuitive but it’s true—eating way less can actually make it harder to lose weight and can make it far easier to gain any lost weight back, and then some.
22. Say No to the Yo-Yo
In addition to changing your metabolism, crash dieting doesn’t work because it can mess with your mind. A sudden drastic change in diet might be easy for a few days, but many dieters find their willpower cracks at a certain point and they binge on more junk food than they would have eaten otherwise. A better way? Rethink the word “diet.” Instead of a diet being a restrictive, un-fun way of eating for a little while, it can be a tasty, healthy way of eating all the time. Making even small changes to the foods you eat—including more vegetables and whole grains, and cutting down on sweets and junk food while not banning them altogether—will lead to a healthier (and maybe even slimmer) body.
21. Put Away the Calculator
There’s science that challenges the “calories in vs. calories out” equation and suggests that what you eat can affect your weight as much as how much you eat. Bodies process different nutrients in different ways, and there is science to suggest that taking in more calories on a diet that is low in simple sugars will lead to losing weight, as your body will process sugars differently. Spikes in blood sugar can cause crashes later, and a crash equals the metabolism slowing down. People who follow a “slow carb” diet or a “low glycemic index” diet eat starches that are not quickly broken down into sugars, which keeps the blood sugar more stable. Proponents of these diets swear that they lose weight even without caloric restriction, meaning they don’t have to worry about counting calories or portion control while still being able to eat delicious meals and healthy snacks.
20. Easier Than You Think
It’s almost too easy to pack on the pounds by eating sugary treats, fried foods, fatty snacks, and fast food or heavily processed items. Many foods are laden with way more calories than you’d think, and even if you’re not eating a high volume, you could be ingesting far more calories than you need. But dieting doesn’t have to mean restricting food and being hungry all the time: in fact, with the right food choices, you can eat as much as it takes to feel full while still coming out ahead in your calorie math. Eating a whole plate of broccoli (20 ounces) plus three and a half apples (13.5 ounces) equals the same amount of calories as one Snickers bar, but we’re betting you’d feel as full after just a single apple as you would after the candy bar.
19. D for Don’t Miss It
Vitamin B12 is getting a ton of press these days for the almost-instant energy boost and lasting mood improvements it can provide. But it’s not the only important vitamin, and Vitamin D should really be getting some much-needed attention. Vitamin D deficiency in childhood can lead to lasting bone growth problems like bowed limbs and fragile bones, but even adults can increase their chances of cancer or diabetes from chronic Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin in response to sunshine, and it’s especially difficult to get in the winter time, as it’s very difficult to get from diet alone. Taking a Vitamin D supplement or multivitamin could be very beneficial—after talking to your doctor, of course.
18. More Isn’t Necessarily Better
Labeling a food “multigrain” is a great way to make it sound healthy, but that isn’t always the case. On its face, “multigrain” simply means the food contains more than one type of grain—it does not mean that it contains whole grain. Whole grains or whole wheat can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, or digestive problems—but only if it’s the real deal. How do you know? The ingredient list will include the word whole—ideally as the first ingredient.
17. From Middle to Middle
If you want to avoid fat on your midsection, stay out of the middle. The middle aisles of the grocery store, that is. Sections with healthy, whole foods (i.e. produce, meats, dairy) are usually on the outside aisles of grocery stores, while shelves from the center aisles contain processed foods and snacks. So, when you’re shopping, stay in the perimeter of the store and don’t even venture into central aisles that feature tempting packaged and processed foods. This strategy has another benefit too—highly processed foods are often more expensive per ounce.
16. It’s A Trick.
Even in a health food store, you’ll still find lots of snacks that may not be terribly healthy. For example, it may seem like a good idea to pick up an energy bar to replace a candy bar or even as a meal replacement. The truth is, energy bars are often packed with fructose corn syrup, sodium, trans fats, and sodium, and while they might contain a lot of protein, they don’t have much else. And energy bars can contain as many as 350 calories—that’s even more than a Snickers. If you’re planning on swapping out a candy bar for a chocolate-covered energy bar, think twice.
15. Choices, Choices
Making healthy choices isn’t always easy, and can take some thought. Granola bars are another food that seem like a healthy option. And if you’re choosing between a bag of chips or candy bar and a granola bar, then definitely reach for the granola bar. But if you’re choosing between a granola bar and a piece of fruit or some veggies & hummus, maybe leave the granola bar on the shelf. Granola bars often contain high amounts of sugar, in the form of glucose or fructose syrups, barley malt syrups, lactose, and/or raw cane syrup. Plus, they can contain unhealthy fats and sodium. Another culprit? Yogurt-covered snacks like nuts or dried fruit. Yogurt-covered raisins can seem like a better bet than chocolate covered raisins, but you’re still going to be eating a ton of added sugars and hydrogenated oil in that sweet yogurt coating.
14. You Gotta Be Kidding Me!
Ok, this one might be a little hard to believe. If you were given the choice between a blueberry bran muffin and a chocolate cupcake, which would you think is healthier? The muffin, right? Wrong. Or at least, possibly wrong. Cupcakes are rich and sweet, made of flour, sugar, oil, and covered in delicious frosting—but, they’re often fairly small. Muffins are also made of flour, sugar, and oil, and though they might have carrots or fruit in them and are without the sugary frosting, they’re still very calorically dense and what’s more, they’re likely to be larger than the cupcake.
The Toronto Star studied two “healthy” muffins from cafes around their city and found that a popular mixed berry muffin contained 848 calories. That’s as many calories as three Egg McMuffins. The average cupcake, in comparison, is likely to contain only 350 calories. Of course, we’re not suggesting you eat cupcakes for breakfast as a way to eat healthier—just remember, “healthy” might mean more than meets the eye.
13. A Salty Reality
If your diet is too high in sodium, you’re not alone: about 90% of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet. Too much sodium can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart failure, and other cardiovascular problems, including premature death. It’s a serious problem—more than 800,000 people die each year in the US from heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues. Cutting down on sodium would mean sparing the salt in your home cooking, and skipping out on processed foods loaded with sodium that can’t be removed. The benefits could be huge: longer lives, fewer premature deaths, and an estimated savings of over $20 billion in medical costs.
12. No Replacement
It can be a pain to eat healthy sometimes. When you’re on the go, healthy options might not be available as fast food or prepared meals, and it takes time to prepare healthy lunches and snacks, not to mention the inconvenience of carrying food containers to work and back. It can be tempting to try and get those healthy nutrients in an easier way, but while multivitamins are a good bet for almost everyone, they are simply not a replacement for eating healthy. What makes a food “healthy” is more than just the sum of its nutrients. Your body absorbs vitamins from a pill differently than from eating whole healthy foods like vegetables, and veggies are full of a ton of other micronutrients that vitamins just don’t contain.
It’s estimated that 8% of the total population in rural America lacks access to healthy food, and nearly 35% of those are also low-income, making it even less likely that they’ll get the nutrition they need. Those numbers are even higher in African-American and Native American communities, and in very rural or remote areas, such as Maine, the study found some families have to travel up to 80 miles to purchase affordable and high-quality food.
10. An Age-Old Quandary
Cooked or raw? Which is healthier? Well, the truth is, it depends on the vegetable. Cooked tomatoes actually have more digestible lycopene (an antioxidant) than fresh tomatoes. Boiling carrots increases their carotenoids (another antioxidant). But—cooking carrots also decreases the amount of other healthy nutrients that they contain as well. Cooking spinach destroys the oxalic acid in the leafy green vegetable, which binds to calcium and renders it inert. But, cooking spinach also decreases the available vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, and potassium. It’s really a toss-up.
9. To Peel or Not To Peel?
For those of us who are picky eaters, vegetable peels can be a little hard to stomach, even if we did grow up being told that the peel is where all the nutrients are. Some of us might suspect that it was just a ploy to make us eat unpeeled vegetables, sparing our mothers the work—were you also told the bread crust contains all the nutrients? It makes no sense! However, it turns out Mom was right about some of them—apples, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers and grapes all have valuable nutrients located in the skin or just below the skin. It would be a shame to miss out on that vitamin K, iron, fiber, and folate… the list goes on. Just make sure to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly if you’re eating them skin-on—that’s also where any pesticides are located.
8. Complicated Yet Simple
Nutrition is a science, and sometimes it feels like you need to be a scientist to understand some of the jargon on food labels these days. Antioxidants? Free radicals? Huh? Okay, it is a little complicated: a free radical is a molecule with an unpaired electron that can interact with the ability of cells to function properly. An antioxidant protects the body against damage from free radicals.
It’s not really necessary to understand the science behind it. What you need to know is that free radicals can lead to blood vessel diseases and cancer, so antioxidants are an important part of a healthy diet.
7. Don’t Break the Bank
Many new and exotic foods like goji berries, açai berries, and mangosteens are being sold as “superfoods,” packed with the antioxidants we need to stay healthy, and the more exotic or hyped the food is, the more expensive it can be. The good news is that you don’t need to go broke to eat a nutritional diet. Inexpensive foods like kidney beans, raisins, cranberries, and oranges are packed with antioxidants. So are red wine and chocolate—just be sure to consume those two in moderation.
6. Start Early
Good nutrition is important throughout our lifetimes, but it’s especially important for growing children. Unfortunately, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2010 reported that kids between 2 and 18 years old are getting 40% of their daily calories from junk food. Half of those “empty calories” (i.e. from oil or sugar, with no nutrient value) are coming from dairy desserts, fruit drinks, grain flour desserts, and the top two culprits: soda and pizza.
5. Popular for a Reason
It’s almost obnoxious how in fashion kale is right now—even Beyoncé has a sweatshirt that says “KALE” on it! But don’t buck the kale trend just to make a point—you’ll be missing out on one of the healthiest foods in the whole world. It’s a top source of vitamin A, is full of fiber to keep the heart and gut healthy, plus is packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants. Kale may be a fad, but it’s popular for a reason. Eating kale is a trend we hope sticks around for a long, long time.
4. Keeping Track
Weight-loss programs like Weight Watchers recommend keeping a food journal of what and when you eat each day, but a nutrition diary is a great idea for anyone, regardless of whether you’re trying to lose weight. Keeping track of what foods we eat is a great way to make sure we’re getting enough of the good stuff we need to stay healthy and feel good. Even if you’re eating healthy whole foods, you may be missing out on key vitamins or nutrients like iron, potassium, or magnesium, and it can be a helpful reminder to mix it up and include foods with the nutrients that we lack. It’s even easier if you use a food/nutrition tracking app like MyFitnessPal or CalorieCounter, which have huge food databases and will tell you exactly what you are and aren’t getting enough of.
3. Liquid Health
Eating a diet rich in crunchy vegetables is a good way to stay healthy and hydrated, but it’s important to drink water as well—your body is 60% water, after all. The adage that you should drink eight 8 ounce glasses of water a day is well-known, but how much water each person needs depends on their body. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men drink at least 104 ounces of water a day—that’s 13 cups. And women should drink 72 ounces, which is 9 cups per day. And if you live in a warm climate or are engaging in vigorous exercise, you’ll need even more water to replenish what you’ll lose from perspiring.
2. Everyone Is Unique
There are lots of fad diets around, even ones that are healthy. The important thing to remember is that everybody is different, and every body is different. We each benefit from different things, and it’s important to find what works for your unique, specific body, be it a low-carb diet, a Mediterranean diet, or just the plain old food pyramid. There is no right answer, and trying out new healthy foods to see if they work for you is part of the fun.
1. Faster and Faster
The fast-food industry in the USA is absolutely booming. While the population has increased almost 140% from 1970 to 2000—from 203.2 million to 281.4 million. You’d expect fast food sales to increase proportionally, but they’ve actually ballooned. In 1970, Americans spent $6 billion on fast food, and in 2000, over $110 billion was spent on fast food. That’s over 18 times more. That means Americans spend more on fast food than they do on higher education, computers, or cars—plus more than movies, books, newspapers, and recorded music combined. No wonder obesity is on the rise.