Updated: Oct 23, 2018
While I was becoming a registered holistic nutritionist, the one thing my school emphasized over and over and over again was the importance of eating “alive, natural, good quality foods.” If I had a quarter for every time I heard that phrase, I’d be driving a Tesla by now.
With its constant repetition, the concept of eating “alive, natural, good quality foods” started to feel automatic and insignificant. And yet, as I look at more food journals and nutritional assessments, it has occurred to me that many people are actually in dire need of this very simple piece of advice. Here’s how to include more “alive, natural, good quality foods” in your diet.
1. What are alive foods?
When talking about alive foods, I’m referring to the foods that contain live enzymes.
Refresher: Enzymes are protein-based molecules that act as catalysts, speeding up specific chemical reactions in the body. There are enzymes we naturally produce in our body like metabolic and digestive enzymes and those that we get through food and supplements, aptly named food enzymes. Avocados, bananas, and pineapples are particularly high in enzymes like lipase, amylase & maltase, and bromelain (respectively).
Enzymes naturally occur in fruits and vegetables but are destroyed when cooked above 118ºF. As such, snacking on raw fruits and veggies assures that your body is benefitting from the digestive enzymes they contain. After all, since the main job of food enzymes is to help break foods down into the smallest particles for absorption, problems can occur when we don’t have enough of them. Undigested proteins can stimulate allergic reactions, and the resulting malabsorption of nutrients from a lack of enzymes can lead to fatigue, constipation, gas, bloating, and other problems.
That being said, cooking fruits and vegetables is beneficial, too. A study published in The British Journal of Nutrition confirmed that those who consumed a raw food diet had significantly lower levels of lycopene, a potent antioxidant that has been proven to reduce one’s risk of cancer and heart attacks. In other words, just try to get a good balance of cooked and raw fruits and vegetables!
2. What are natural foods?
Natural foods are unprocessed, unrefined foods. With a few exceptions, if you can buy a food in a bag or package, it’s definitely not natural. I also once read a very helpful tip that said if what you’re about to eat has the same name in every country—like Pringles—then you should stay as far away from the stuff as possible. (Notice how apple translate to pomme in French and manna in Spanish.)
I made a pact with myself a couple years ago to try and make as much of my own food as possible and it made a world of difference. Instead of buying hummus, I’ll now whip it up myself. I do the same thing with peanut butter, salad dressings, sauces, kombucha, you name it! The truth of the matter is that the more snacks and meals you make yourself, the less preservatives, chemicals, sugars, trans fats, and additives you consume. And let’s not forget that making your own food comes with the added bonus of tailoring it exactly to your own taste and building your culinary repertoire tremendously!
It’s also worth noting that packaged “healthy” foods are filled with a ton of junk. From protein bars to granola or yogurt and fruit juices, the hiding places of sugar, fat, and salt are endless. Trust me, you’ll do your body a lot of good by making as many snacks and meals yourself rather than buying them at the grocery store or eating out. (Bonus: This helps your bank account out, too.)
Unrefined foods are those that are left as close to their natural state as possible. White bread, white pasta, and white rice are all examples of refined foods that your body would love to do without.
3. What are good quality foods?
Good quality foods are those that are organically grown, pesticide-free, and without the aid of synthetic fertilizers. Okay, I know what you’re thinking… Not everyone can afford to go all-organic, Kristina. And you’re absolutely right! As such, my opinion of what constitutes a “good quality” food is closely related to those that are alive and natural. They are foods that have been minimally processed with as short an ingredient list as possible. (One-ingredient foods are the best choice of all!)
Good quality foods, in my opinion, are also those that have been thoroughly washed. Yes, your non-organic apple might contain pesticides, but you’ll help yourself out a lot by giving that thing a good wash before eating it.
Lastly, I like to think of good quality foods as those that have been made with care and with as little processing as possible. Choose cage-free eggs instead of the cheaper ones. Cook your own whole chicken rather than relying on sodium-rich deli meats. Get a nice, dark chocolate rather than a $1 chocolate bar made of God knows what. Enjoying high quality foods will not only benefit your body, but your taste buds will also thank you!
The Bottom Line
If you’re someone who wants to become healthier yet has no idea where to start, this is the best tip I can give you: Start by increasing your intake of alive, natural, good quality foods. Enjoy a happy mix of raw and cooked fruits and veggies, swap processed and refined snacks like chips and cookies for natural options like an apple or avocado, and swap out cheaply-made ingredients for better ones that are not only more beneficial, but more satiating as well!