What comes to mind when you think of the words 'eating healthy'? Is it simply a salad with grilled chicken draped across the top? Maybe a low-fat dressing on the side? Is it a snack bag filled to the brim with carrots and colorful vegetables? Are these the keys to a long, healthy life?
Our research would argue that while these may be healthy compared to some alternatives, simply cutting calories is not enough. Individuals who are guided to eat healthier for specific health issues need to be taking those issues into consideration.
A study by Denise de Ridder summarized the findings of research that was done to better understand the physical and psychological factors of healthy eating. It was found that in general, consumers have a poor understanding of what a 'healthy' diet even means. Most consumers think of healthy as less calories. No consideration of sodium levels, fat levels, or any other food ingredients. This shows how the intentions, habits, self-regulatory skills, social environments, and physical environments are all important when it comes to efforts of being healthy.
This excerpt from the article shows the broad definition of healthy eating. A healthy diet can be defined as a pattern of food intake that has beneficial effects on health or at least no harmful effects (Stevenson, in press). Although it has proven difficult to specify the exact nutritional elements that contribute to health, as we will discuss in the next section, there is consensus about the essential features of nutritionally poor quality diets. These are characterized by higher intakes of processed foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans and saturated fats, and added salt and sugar, and lower intakes of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains (Willett, 1994; Wirt & Collins, 2009).
The given definition and details show us how calorie counting is not enough. Processing, sugars, sodium, and fat levels are all things to be paying attention to when the effort is put towards a healthy diet. Increases in sodium and fat levels is proven to increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases in individuals. Increases in sugar levels of foods, even foods viewed generally as healthy such as fruit, can be damaging to those diagnosed with diabetes. This goes to show that what is healthy for one individual, may be proven as unhealthy for the next. Eating according to your health track record is of highest importance.
It can be difficult to know what meals are best for you without discussing at lengths with your doctor or a certified nutritionist. For someone with an average food education, it can be extremely difficult to dissect the marketing of products labeled as 'good for you' when they do not align with an individual's specific health needs.
According to corporate dietician Sandra Vaughan, the following recommendations are suitable for Cardiac Friendly, Diabetic Friendly, Kidney Friendly, and Vegetarian Friendly diets. Items with the cardiac-friendly designation should be tailored toward protecting the health of the cardiovascular system. These meals utilize healthy fats and provide a moderate amount of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Items with a diabetic designation are carbohydrate controlled and provide consistent carbohydrate servings at each meal to assist in the management of the blood glucose level. These items also are cardiovascular protective in that they provide a moderate amount of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Kidney-friendly items are offered as options that moderate the intake of protein, sodium, potassium and phosphorus with the goal of protecting and/or maintaining kidney function by managing the waste products of digestion. Items with the vegetarian designation should be tailored under the traditional definition of lacto-ovo specifying that only milk, milk products and eggs are present with no other animal products in the ingredients. These meals are designed to provide varied nutrients while recognizing the vegetarian preference.
Sandra is also a spokesperson for the new brand, Meals to Thrive. Meals to Thrive encourages health within by creating need-specific, ready-to-eat meals for individuals with or without health diagnoses. Brands like this bring together the convenience of heat-and-eat meals with the nutrition intelligence of nutritionist guidelines for those in need.
Overall, it's clear that cutting calories alone isn't going to solve the issue on overall health issues. Eating in tune with your body and its needs will make a bigger impact on your health and quality of life. Check back to our Scavenge-ology podcast to learn more, and to hear our upcoming interview with a Meals to Thrive spokesperson! Check out the Meals to Thrive website, where you'll find meals for your specific dietary needs.