Making Healthy Food Choices

The word food brings to mind the well-known packets of popcorn, steak, chocolate and other treats that we eat while enjoying a movie in the theater or sitting in front of the television. Although the primary function of food is to nourish us, the word has also become associated with particular cultures, cooking techniques and sometimes health claims. As a result, food is often confused with foodstuff, which in fact refers to any of the following:

Sugar is a monosaturated fat found in certain vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains. Sugar is not a sugar. Sugar is commonly used to sweeten food, but it can also stimulate the release of insulin, the hormone that causes diabetes. Most refined sugars are stored as fat, which leads to obesity and other health problems. While food that contains sugar can be delicious, sugary foods should be eaten sparingly because they deplete the nutrients in your food.

Dietary fibre is anything found in foods that is not starch. Common dietary fibre includes whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, apples, brussel sprouts, spinach, carrots and brown rice. These foods are rich in nutrition without the high calorie count that most people come to expect from most packaged foods. Fiber provides a number of important benefits to the body, including strengthening of the immune system, better digestion, reduced risk of colon cancer, improved circulation, improved kidney function and lower blood pressure.

Fatty acids are a significant component of real food, but may mask the effects of other nutrients. Natural fatty acids found in fish, nuts, olives and some seeds have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. Other beneficial fatty acids include omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and tuna. They may also reduce the risk of breast cancer, gallbladder disease and stroke. There is some evidence that certain types of fatty acids may help prevent diabetes.

Vitamins are either found in fruits and vegetables or in fortified food. Some foods, including milk, contain vitamins A, D and K. The recommended daily intake of vitamins is established by the government and varies according to age. For healthy bones and teeth, however, it is recommended that you eat enough vitamin D, which can be gained from dairy products, red meat, poultry and fish.

Finally, when it comes to good health, you cannot get enough of the antioxidant called beta carotene. This nutrient is found in many different fruits, vegetables and legumes, but some types of vegetables and fruits are particularly high in it, including broccoli, squash, carrots, cauliflower, kale and tomatoes. Cooking destroys most of the beta carotene, so it is better to eat real food with as little processing as possible. Even better, make sure you prepare your own cooked food at home if you can afford it. Cooking nutritious real food is worth the effort, even if it takes a little more time than the alternatives.