In this first article in a series on healthy eating, we define what is meant by "healthy eating" to be sustainable in our real lives. Plus what you can expect from the series that includes healthy, whole food recipe ideas, tips for eating in moderation, shopping on a budget, and more.
Want to save this?
Enter your email below and you'll get it straight to your inbox. Plus you'll get easy new recipes, gardening tips & more every week!
The first article in this series on healthy eating defines what healthy eating means - both what it is and what it's not - and how eating with healthy principles in mind can make a difference in our lives.
Other articles in this series include healthy recipe ideas, tips for health and weight loss, healthy shopping tips, cooking tips, and stocking a healthy kitchen and pantry (scroll to the bottom to find links to the entire series).
Why a healthy eating series?
In surveys I've taken over the years, many readers have mentioned eating and living healthier as a goal they have.
I know from personal experience that it's not a "one and done" type of deal, but an ongoing lifestyle that we constantly need to educate ourselves about and find new tips and techniques to make eating healthier work for each of us.
So in this article, I thought it would be good define "healthy eating" in a general sense (is it low fat? high fat? keto? Mediterranean?).
I also want to talk a bit about what "healthy" means to me, as a whole-food, most-things-in-moderation, but-still-needs-to-be-frugal-and-easy, kind of woman.
What is healthy eating?
While it seems a bit vague since people can define it in a number of ways (though usually eating styles), the term healthy eating does have specific definitions.
"Eating healthy means following a healthy eating pattern that includes a variety of nutritious foods and drinks. It also means getting the number of calories that’s right for you (not eating too much or too little)."
"A healthy diet is essential for good health and nutrition. It protects you against many chronic noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Eating a variety of foods and consuming less salt, sugars and saturated and industrially-produced trans-fats, are essential for healthy diet."
The common denominators in these two definitions is variety and eating more of the nutritious foods and less of the no so nutritious.
Based on these and what we know, our own definition could be:
Healthy eating is a way of life that is not a type of diet, but a lifestyle where you choose to eat more vegetables, fruits, and nutrient-dense foods and less sugars, industrial foods, and other highly processed foods.
And this goes really well with a simple, homemade life, don't you think? Our simple, homemade meals will be naturally healthier!
Healthy Eating and Real Life
So, how does this play out in real life?
If you've been reading An Oregon Cottage for awhile you may know of my history with weight loss.
Basically I tried pretty much every diet/eating plan out there, from my teen years on, to lose weight and it wasn't until about 10 years ago, when I simply concentrated on eating less of real, whole foods, that I was able to reach a healthy weight that I never thought I'd see!
AND I've kept most of it off, even as I've gotten older - a lot easier than any of the other things I tried.
Here's what healthy eating looks like in my regular life:
- I am not 'against' any real food - I think butter, bacon, dairy, and red meats are as 'healthy' as are any foods that you can grow/raise/make on your own if you chose to.
- I eat pasta, bread, and tortilla chips sometimes, though I've cut way down on them.
- I try to cook with honey and maple syrup, though I have a teaspoon of homemade chocolate syrup in my morning cappuccino (actually, I've cut out the morning chocolate now, too!) and a piece of dark chocolate after dinner. I try to limit sugars as a whole as much as possible.
- I've always eaten a variety of vegetables, but I try to include as many at lunch and dinner as possible (mornings are still for my beloved granola with berries on top).
The only thing I'm 'against' are all the processed bagged, packaged, & canned foods that you can find throughout most of our grocery stores.
Some are fine and good to have in a real food pantry to make things easier like canned beans, tuna, artichoke hearts, bagged salads, even a healthy cracker or bagged meat sticks or something.
When I say processed and packaged, I mean chips, snacks, cookies, cereals, "meals" in a box or can, frozen meals, and the like.
I'm sure you know what I mean, even though the wording isn't always cut-and-dried (I realize that when I preserve something from the garden, I've just "processed" it, lol).
The 80-20 Rule for Healthier Eating
Here's the thing: I'm not all-or-nothing about it.
I will eat anything we're served at other people's houses without questioning the ingredients (unless it's bananas, ha!). And if there are dark chocolate mint M&Ms in my Christmas stocking, I'm most definitely eating them! (Though a few at a time, over the course of the next few weeks.)
I live by sort of an 90%-10% to 80%-20% rule (I aim for 90%-10%, but don't beat myself up if it's 80-20) because if it's one thing I've learned, it's that a diet (lifestyle, way to eat, whatever...) won't work if you obsess or worry over some food(s).
And it definitely won't work if you tell yourself you'll never eat again for the rest of your life.*
*I should add "for most people" here - I have heard from a number of people that it IS easier for them to be all-or-nothing as one taste will lead them down the unhealthy path. You need to find what works for you, though I still think in the long haul of our lives, NEVER eating bread again isn't really as doable as limiting it.
With these things in mind, lets make a "Healthy Eating Manifesto" - what eating with health in mind means for us:
- MODERATION. I know - it's not sexy, new, or revolutionary. In fact, it's hard, because it looks different for each person (Brian's serving size is 2-3 times mine, for example). This is even harder today with our country's out-of-control portion sizes, but it's doable and KEY. (*Since first publishing this I have heard from people that this is harder than just elimination diets. I want to emphasize that while you do have to do what works for you, there will ALWAYS be foods you can eat in moderation. Eliminate the big triggers (chocolate cookies, for example), but work on reining in the portion sizes of meals.*)
- REAL, WHOLE FOODS. All the fruits, vegetables and protein you'd expect, but also including healthy fats, whole-milk dairy, and sugars like honey, and maple syrup on occasion.
- LIMITING CHOICES. One-dish meals are easy, as is eating the same thing for breakfast, snacks or lunch - and when there are less options to taste, there's less to overeat. This is especially true to think about as you're stocking your pantry.
- AS LITTLE JUNK/PROCESSED FOOD AS POSSIBLE. But again, nothing is totally off-limits (unless it's easy for you to say no to) because then it gains some kind of power over your life. #nopowertofood
- AS FEW INGREDIENTS ON LABELS AS POSSIBLE. When I do eat or buy premade foods, I look for options with less ingredients, preservatives, and are things I could make at home if I wanted. For example, looking at cooking oils I could press olives or sunflower seeds if I wanted to, but I could never get oil from corn, canola, or "vegetables" without a factory machines, so I don't buy those oils (plus those crops are heavily GMO, but that's another story...).
- ENJOYING EATING. Savor the flavors of roasted vegetables, as well as the piece of bacon or birthday cake, without feeling guilty or like I'm being 'bad' is empowering! It puts food back where it's supposed to be in our lives: as sustenance and pleasure, but NOT controlling.
The rest of the series goes into more details on some of the above 'DO' topics in our manifesto and how we can make eating healthy a lifestyle with tips for quick meals, shopping strategies, and more.
The Healthy Eating Series:
- What Is Healthy Eating (you are here!)
- Healthy Eating Tips: Making Time to Cook
- Healthy Grocery Shopping Tips: Shop Smart & Stay On Budget
- 17 Essential Cooking Tools for Healthy Eating: Cookware & Small Appliances
- 18 Essential Tools, Knives & Gadgets for Healthy Kitchens
- 25 Healthy Family Favorite Main Dishes
- 19 Healthy Soups, Stews & Slow Cooker Dishes
- 22 Healthy Bread and Breakfast Recipes
- 19 Healthy Snacks and Desserts
- 60+ Quick Healthy Recipes
- 17 Healthy Pantry Staples For Quick Meals + 55 Recipes & Healthy Pantry Printable!
- Healthy Low Sugar Recipes
- 35+ Costco Must-Buy Items for Healthy Kitchens (+lots of recipe ideas)
Your turn! Are you on board with the healthy eating manifesto? Any tips and ideas to share?
This article has been updated - it was originally published in January of 2016.