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How to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy foods?

The food choices you make really define your health in the long run. Healthy food can improve your immune system, ensure good physical and mental health and keep you energised throughout the day. But how do you determine if the food you are consuming is actually healthy? Especially when we have a plethora of foods labelled as ‘healthy’ in the market. 

To know if you are making the right choice we need to first understand what makes food healthy or unhealthy. Keep reading to find out if the food you are consuming is healthy or not and how to differentiate between the two.

So, what is healthy food?

Healthy foods are those that are nutrient-dense, not processed and provide the body with the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs to function properly.

Here are some examples of healthy foods:

Fresh fruits and vegetables: Rich in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, and super low in calories. Include a variety of colors and types of fruits and vegetables in your list of healthy foods for excellent gut health and reduce risk of bowel cancer.

Fresh fruits and vegetables: Rich in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber

> Whole grains: These provide the body with fiber, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients. Examples include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, and quinoa.

Whole grains

> Lean proteins: These include chicken, turkey, fish, beans, lentils, and tofu. They are low in saturated fat and provide the body with important nutrients like iron and zinc.

Lean proteins

> Healthy fats: These include sources like avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. They provide the body with essential fatty acids and are important for brain and heart health.

Healthy fats

> Dairy or dairy alternatives: These provide the body with calcium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients. Examples include milk, yogurt, cheese, and plant-based milks fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Dairy or dairy alternative

> What are unhealthy foods?

By definition, Unhealthy foods are those that are high in calories, added sugars, saturated or trans fats, and/or sodium, and low in essential nutrients. These foods are often highly processed and lack the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are necessary for optimal health.

Unhealthy foods are those that are high in calories, added sugars, saturated or trans fat

Here are some examples of unhealthy foods:

> Sugary drinks: This includes soda, fruit juices, energy drinks, and sports drinks, which are often high in added sugars and provide little nutritional value.

> Processed snacks and sweets: This includes candy, cookies, chips, and other packaged snacks that are high in calories, sugar, and unhealthy fats.

> Fast food and fried foods: These are often high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium, and can contribute to weight gain and other health problems when consumed in excess.

> High-fat meats: This includes processed meats like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs, as well as fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb. These are high in saturated fats and can increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems.

> Refined grains: This includes foods made from white flour, such as white bread, white rice, and many types of pasta. These are low in fiber and other important nutrients.

It's important to note that occasional consumption of these foods is not necessarily harmful, but a diet high in these foods can contribute to a range of health problems over time, including obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

So, how do you differentiate between healthy and unhealthy foods?

Now that we know the definitions it is also important to note that a healthy diet is all about balance and moderation. Healthy food doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of eating tasty food or only eat raw fruits and vegetables.

Differentiating between healthy and unhealthy foods can be challenging, as it depends on a variety of factors such as nutritional value, portion size, and personal dietary needs. Here are some general guidelines that can help you make informed choices:

1. Nutritional Value

Healthy foods are typically those that are nutrient-dense, meaning they are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Unhealthy foods, on the other hand, are typically high in calories, sugar, and/or saturated or trans fats, and low in essential nutrients. Make sure you check the labels of the healthy packaged food you pick off the shelf.

2. Portion Size
Even healthy foods can become unhealthy if consumed in excess. Pay attention to portion sizes and aim to eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods from all food groups. Remember moderation is the key!

3. Processing

Processed foods can often be high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and sodium. Try to choose minimally processed foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, whenever possible.

4. Personal Dietary Needs

The definition of healthy food can vary depending on individual dietary needs. For example, someone with celiac disease may need to avoid gluten, while someone with lactose intolerance may need to avoid dairy. If you are experiencing allergic reactions for any foods consult with your healthcare provider or you can even take a food tolerance test at A.J Hospital in Mangalore to determine which food to avoid.

5. Labels

For everything that comes in a package try to read food labels carefully to determine the nutritional value of the food you're considering. Look for foods that are low in saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium, and high in fibre and essential nutrients.

In summary, choosing healthy foods involves selecting nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods in appropriate portion sizes, and paying attention to personal dietary needs and food labels. Eating a variety of foods in appropriate portion sizes is key to getting the nutrients you need while maintaining a healthy weight. Consult with a registered dietitian or your healthcare provider to determine what is healthy for your specific needs.