As a personal chef, nearly every client says “we want to eat healthy”, but healthy has become a really broad term that can mean a myriad of different things. Do you mean weight loss, heart healthy, organic, whole food, vegetarian, vegan, wheat free, dairy free…. the list is endless?
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What’s your definition of healthy?

We have food companies touting their products somewhat nefariously, the press spinning every new report and study into sensationalized “facts”,  and contradicting “experts” bandying about their interpretations of “healthy”. It is information overload. We are making the wrong choices due to confusion, and for the sake of convenience. Health, and therefore healthy eating, is not the same thing for everyone. You have to ask yourself (and the client if you are a personal chef) “what do I want to accomplish with my choice of foods?” Only then… will you be able to determine which foods are right for you. This is my ten commandments or guidelines for navigating the healthy information highway:

Cook your own food

Cook your own food

1). Learn to cook. If you can read, you can follow a recipe. It really is not that complicated. The only way to be 100% sure of the ingredients in your food, is to make it yourself.

2). Use common sense when shopping… real food, whole food, preferably fresh, and organic food will be a healthier choice than anything processed. Look at the ingredient list, and if there are words you can’t pronounce… it is not going to be the healthiest choice. Avoid it, and cook from scratch whenever possible.

Shop wisely

Shop wisely

3). Get real… stop with the supersizing everything unless your goal is to supresize yourself. Learn what the correct portion size is for you. It is not a one size fits all equation. We need food to fuel our bodies, so the 6′ tall 200 lb. man is going to require different amounts of fuel (calories) than the 5’2″ 110 lb. woman. Likewise, your level of activity will effect your daily caloric goals. Obviously, the more calories you burn, the more you will need unless your goal is to lose weight. Stay within your fuel budget.

4). Do the balancing act… eat mostly vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains with the correct portions of lean protein. And no, french fries do not count as a vegetable. They are a fat ridden starch!

5). Do healthier versions of your otherwise less healthy cravings. If you must have the fries… do an oven fried version, or better still do sweet potato oven fries (sweet potatoes have more fiber than white). Lighten up on the salt by using herbs and spices to flavor food, cook with healthy oils like olive oil or peanut oil, and choose leaner cuts of meat. Roast a chicken with the skin on, and rub spices  under the skin, so you still have tons of flavor when you remove the skin along with the most of the fat before eating it. Use fat free dairy products in place of heavy cream in recipes, but don’t forget to read the label… some low fat options like fat free half and half have so many scary looking ingredients that full fat may well be the healthier option, in which case eat less of it to compensate. That is an example of when “healthy” becomes your personal interpretation. The American heart association would tell you to opt for the lower fat, but there are scores of people that would argue fat is not the enemy, and chemicals are. I tend to agree with the later.

Sit down to dinner as a family

Sit down to dinner as a family

6). Stay hydrated, and I mean at least 6-8 cups of water every day, more if you are exercising intensely. Avoid sugary drinks like sodas and many of the new “health” or “energy” drinks on the market, and limit your alcohol and caffeine consumption. Remember to include the calories from what you drink as part of your daily budget. Eating an orange is going to give you the benefits of fresh juice, but in more economic proportion… much less sugar and therefore, less calories (if you do drink juice, choose one without added sugar).

7). Knowing your overall health is key… adapt your diet accordingly. You could avoid, and sometimes reverse the effects of many life threatening diseases like diabetes and heart disease. If you know diabetes runs in your family it is probably wise to follow a low sugar, low fat, low salt diet. Eat tons of high fiber vegetables, healthy fats (i.e. olive oil, peanut oil, avocado etc.), moderate quantities of whole grains, and lean proteins as a preventative measure. I highly recommend seeking advice from a qualified nutritionist if you are diagnosed with something serious, so you know specifically what foods can help, and which ones you need to avoid.

8). Our bodies are programmed to let us know when we need to eat. Know the difference between real hunger and eating for other reasons such as comfort, stress, and boredom; and listen to your body. It doesn’t matter how many times a day you eat so long as you eat the right amount (staying within your caloric budget) of the correct foods. Most people eat three meals a day, but many prefer five smaller meals to keep their blood sugar level throughout the day.

9). Moderation! Following a healthy diet does not have to mean deprivation. If you crave a cookie, have one occasionally. One and occasionally being the operative words… it does not mean you should grab the whole batch, and I don’t mean have one every day. If you do over-indulge, get back on track right away.

Read the labels

Read the labels

10). If you absolutely must buy packaged foods… always read labels to be sure you are buying what you think you are. Most products today have advertising key words like low fat, low carb, high fiber, and heart healthy boldly printed on the packaging to seduce you. Many people think protein bars are a healthy choice, yet most contain high quantities of fat and sugar, and are really no better for you than the  candy bar you really want. I’ve seen cereals with heart healthy in bold print across the box, only to find high amounts of saturated fat on the label! Don’t let packaging deceive you. By the time you’ve struggled to read that small print in the label, and figured out what it is telling you… you probably could have cooked from scratch.

Five Spice Sweet Potatoe Fries
Five Spice Sweet Potato Fries

Of course you can omit the spice or swap it for others, but Chinese five spice powder perfectly compliments the natural sweetness of the sweet potato, will make your house smell divine, and is surprisingly kid friendly while adding an exotic dimension. I highly recommend trying it!

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