Define: “Healthy Eating”

When I see patients in the office we often start discussing “healthy eating,” as if we both are on the same page! However, I follow-up my question by asking “What exactly do you believe is healthy?” The majority of the time, the conversation feels like we are speaking two different languages.

The truth of the matter is, everyone’s definition of “healthy eating” is different!!

Not a difficult choice here!

Not a difficult choice here!

Now, what exactly is “healthy eating” or “eating clean?” How can this be accomplished?

Although eating healthy comes in all shapes and sizes, I personally follow a “Personal Paleo Code” as described by Chris Kresser. This isn’t necessarily the only “eating healthy” lifestyle change that exists, but I do believe that a “Personal Paleo Code” is a good basis for people to start on. I have seen excellent results from friends and patients that adhere to the principles.

A great basis to start on!

A great basis to start on!

I believe that “eating healthy” starts on the premise of removing processed foods, sugar, and grains from someone’s lifestyle.

Removing sugar sweetened beverages is a great start!

Removing sugar sweetened beverages is a great start!

The biggest issue I find when I discuss lifestyle modification is the last part of this lifestyle change – the grains. People look at me dead in the face and say, “Why can’t I have grains?” Well, the short story is that bread, pasta, and any other grain-laden product is easily converted into sugar. Once this process happens (the Krebs Cycle, etc.), the laws of adiposity take hold. Insulin is released from the pancreas to regulate blood sugar. Once insulin is released, sugar is broken down into immediate energy where needed by the body, and into fat stores for the excess. People look at me and say, “Sugar makes us fat?” The simple answer is yes. Insulin is a “fat storage hormone” If our bodies can’t immediately use the energy from food (which is usually the case), we store the sugar as fat. This is the fat most commonly seen stored in our abdomen.

Visceral Fat is the biggest enemy!

Visceral Fat is the biggest enemy!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of coming home to Florida, and witnessing my family try and transition to a “healthy eating” lifestyle. I have seen some of the common pitfalls and that I will discuss a few of them in depth.

Juices (yes, even “Naked” smoothies) are a huge pitfall. The best way to tell if the juice is real juice is if you juice it yourself, or you look at the nutritional label to see how much dietary fiber is in the beverage. Most juices will have no dietary fiber – this means the beverage is simply pure sugar water. Avoid all juices unless you can reliably say that they have dietary fiber in them. In theory, fiber slows the digestion of the sugar in the intestinal tract so as to not inundate the pancreas with a huge amount of sugar for processing. Drinking beverages like the ones I described above are the same as, or even slightly worse than drinking a Coca-Cola or Pepsi.

Popular beverage nutritional facts.  Notice the absence of Dietary Fiber!

Popular beverage nutritional facts. Notice the absence of Dietary Fiber!

Processed foods are generally laden with ADDED SUGAR. Check out my previous blog for these pitfalls. Take the time to look at the nutritional label, and if you can’t pronounce the ingredient, you probably shouldn’t eat that item. Companies like to break up the amount of sugar in the ingredients label by using sugar synonyms such as but not limited to:
Brown Rice Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cane Sugar, Coconut Sugar (just because it is from a coconut doesn’t make the sugar any better for you), Brown Rice Syrup, Sucrose, etc. This concept is discussed extensively in Robert Lustig’s book “Fat Chance”. My summary of his analysis of all the “Diets” of the 21st century breaks down to this:

All successful lifestyle modifications/diets have one thing in common, they eliminate SUGARS and PROCESSED FOODS from them!!

In general, labels with a laundry list of ingredients are usually processed and composed of unhealthy ingredients. The closer from the earth the item is, the better it is for you.

Since I will be publishing this just before we all gobble down a few pounds of Thanksgiving Turkey here is my method to having a healthy, fun, and fulfilling Holiday!

Number one priority: TURKEY (Probably a pound or two for myself… lol)
Number two priority: Veggies
Number three priority: Everything else

Fill up on meat and veggies before you get into the sugar laden sweets!!

Eat plenty of Turkey and Veggies!

Eat plenty of Turkey and Veggies!

Finally, just because the box says “low fat”, “low sugar”, or “low carb” doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for you. Always read the nutritional labels on the boxes!! “Low fat” typically = loaded with sugar!! “Low carb” or “Low sugar” may mean that the food is packed with fat. Fats can be good or bad (I will discuss this in a future blog), but sugar is responsible for the epidemic of obesity.

As they say, “Eat to live, but don’t live to eat!!”

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About rontorrancedo

Sports Medicine Fellow. Co-owner Crossfit Love. Director Love Nutrition. Medical Director CEC. Physician at Ondemand Urgent Care.

2 responses to “Define: “Healthy Eating””

  1. Gary Amici says :

    Great Segment – Very helpful and I appreciate your continued insights!!!

  2. rosannunplugged says :

    As a health and fat loss coach I try my best to educate my clients on reading a food label correctly. Many people don’t understand even if it claims to be 100% whole wheat, that the bread will ultimately turn into SUGAR!! I personally believe sugar is the major culprit of American obesity. The biggest challenge is having all that acidity in your body. Cancer cells thrive on that acidic environment. #CutOutTheSugar

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