It’s become very popular as of late to categorize particular foods as either ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy.’
Well, I’m here to tell you that ‘healthy’ is pretty much a loaded word.
There isn’t anything you can eat that will magically melt off pounds of fat (without eating less).
Many of the typical ‘health’ foods are calorie dense foods, but for some reason, people tend to give them a free pass because they’re supposedly good for you.
In this article, I’ll aim to clear up any confusion on a handful of ‘health’ foods that could very well be killing your fat loss progress.
What is Healthy Anyway?
Ask 10 random people what healthy means to them and they’d all probably provide slightly different answers.
In the fitness and health sense, the term ‘healthy’ is a very, very loaded term.
Sure, some foods contain nutrients and vitamins more so than others, so you could say they’re healthier… maybe.
I think the biggest problem we face is that basic nutrition guidelines are being tossed out the window because of trends and ‘healthy’ foods.
Maybe the answer to getting healthier is to take a closer look at these so-called ‘health’ foods.
Flashback 5 years
I was still playing baseball at the time, and I was huge into the low-carb scene.
Don’t ask me why or how I became obsessed with that #lowcarblifestyle but I did (I’m pretty positive now that following a low-carb diet isn’t optimal for an athlete).
I was eating healthy foods like coconut oil and eggs all the time. I’d eat lots of veggies loaded with bacon and eggs. It was low carb so it worked, right?
I got shredded and the low carb diet solved all my fitness problems.
But, actually not at all.
Although I wasn’t eating a ton of carbs, I made up the difference and more in the amount of fat I was taking in.
My breakfast consisted of eating 6 whole eggs and 6 strips of bacon almost every morning. Some rough math has my healthy, low-carb breakfast coming in around 960 calories and almost 70 grams of fat.
That’s a ton! Especially for one meal.
The point isn’t to say that eggs or bacon are either healthy or unhealthy. The point is to show that regardless of whatever is trendy, foods still contain calories, and calories matter a ton.
One of the first things I talk to my online coaching clients about is calorie balance. I explain to them that no matter what you’re eating, calories still matter most for losing weight.
How I Became Bulletproof
Still during my low-carb craze, I heard that you could literally fuel your entire day by drinking your coffee with coconut oil and butter mixed in. I was such a sucker back then.
So I did it.
HAHA. If only I knew then what I know now.
I thought it was ‘healthy’ so I mixed it up every day.
But what I failed to realize was that I was literally drinking a cup of coffee containing hundreds of calories. Probably 300 or more each time I’d make ‘Bulletproof Coffee.’
Here’s a video I’ve enjoyed once I realized how silly I was being with my beverage choice:
The accent makes it even better, too.
The Magic of Coconut Oil
I failed to mention earlier that I would cook my eggs in coconut oil. You know, to get those healthy fats in. That probably took the fat up to ~90 grams or so 😉
No wonder my body composition wasn’t getting any better.
Now I’m not saying coconut oil is bad for you.
But I’m also not saying it’s a magical health food that will give you superpowers.
It still contains calories and therefore should not be given a free pass within the scope of your diet.
I’m not sure why but some people still think calories don’t matter and that as long as you eat certain foods you can eat unlimited amounts.
Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that.
That would be kinda nice though.
I use coconut oil occasionally as a fat source but in amounts that fit within my calorie allotment. Let’s take a look at the nutrition label real quick:
120 calories for 1 Tablespoon. If you aren’t familiar with how little 1 Tablespoon is, it’s not very much.
So how in the world could this particular ‘health’ food be stalling your weight loss?
Well, it all comes down to calorie balance. Coconut oil is perfectly fine to have in moderation within your diet but you need to pay attention to the amount you’re consuming.
It’s very calorically dense for the serving size.
So if you cook with it or add it to coffee, and do that several times per day, you could very well be consuming an extra 500 or so calories by the end of the day.
As long as you factor in the calories and the fat into your own macros, you can still use it, just not in unlimited quantities.
Another popular ‘health’ food is nuts. Foods like almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts and other mixed nuts are often touted as being good healthy snacks.
I probably eat some kind of nuts every day. Currently, I’m enjoying some roasted and salted cashews.
Nuts contain vitamins and fiber and are loaded with antioxidant minerals as well.
So, yes you could consider them a healthy food.
With one caveat: The amount you’re eating doesn’t cause you to exceed your calorie goals. Like coconut oil, nuts are very calorie dense. So, include them into your diet but keep the portions under control.
But because they are just so dang easy to overeat, you’ve got to be aware of how much of them you’re eating.
*Also, while nuts contain some protein, they are not a great source of lean protein. So make sure you’re still getting complete proteins from meats, fish, dairy etc.
Some people are sensitive or allergic to gluten. These people should avoid gluten be all means.
But, for the majority of people, simply avoiding gluten because it’s supposedly ‘healthier’ is just downright silly. Unless you have an allergy to gluten, you can incorporate whole grains, bread, and pasta into your diet.
If you go to the grocery store nowadays everything is labeled gluten-free. Heck, stuff that never once contained gluten now has a label that says gluten-free on it.
For marketing reasons, really.
‘Gluten-free’ is the popular health buzzword right now so the gurus are trying to cash in on the public’s lack of knowledge.
But, just because something is gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s ‘healthier’ or anything like that. Many times gluten-free products contain more calories than their gluten-containing enemies.
Let’s compare a couple products, one GF and the other with gluten:
Nutrition Comparison: Gluten-Free vs. Triscuits
- 140 cal gluten-free versus 120 cal Triscuits® (one-ounce serving)
- 2 grams sat fat versus 0.5 gram
- 23 grams carbohydrate versus 20 gram
- 320 mg sodium versus 160 mg
- less than 1 g fiber versus 3 grams
- less than 1 g protein versus 3 grams
So although the difference in calories isn’t huge, many people think gluten-free means fewer calories or ‘better’ for you food. And that’s just not the case.
So why do people lose weight when they go gluten-free?
It’s pretty simple, really.
They’re cutting out a big portion of foods, basically an entire macronutrient (carbs) or at least limiting themselves to fewer choices. Anytime you cut out almost an entire food group you’ll probably lose weight. It’s not just a cause and effect type thing here.
You’ve got to look at your diet as a whole. If your calories aren’t in line with your goals you can cut out all the gluten you want and still be stuck.
But I’d argue that you don’t need to do that to get into better shape.
Don’t demonize gluten because that’s the trendy thing to do. If you account for your total daily caloric intake then you should be able to incorporate many gluten-containing foods into your diet and still get great results and be healthy as well.
All-Natural and Organic
All-natural and organic are another couple popular health buzzwords going around right now. Most of the time the nutritional difference in ‘all-natural’ versus regular products is minuscule.
Again, it’s marketing at its finest.
It’s up to you to understand that calories are going to be the number one determining factor in increasing or decreasing your body weight.
Regardless of whether you’re eating all-natural and organic every single meal, those foods still contain calories even if those ingredients come straight from the Earth 😉
Products with this kind of labeling don’t contain artificial ingredients or preservatives and are often minimally processed. But that doesn’t always mean they are any better for you than other foods.
Always look to the calorie count of certain foods first and foremost and then make your decision from there.
So What’s the Best Approach?
I don’t know that there is a ‘best’ approach for everyone.
But what I do know is that people love to cling to fads and trends as gospel for how they should be eating.
I would know because I did some of those silly things with my diet for extended periods of time.
Here’s what I’d recommend you do: try to find a moderate approach.
What I mean is try not to swing so far to one side or the other that you forget what matters the most for getting results.
You can avoid carbs like the plague but if you’re eating a 900 calorie breakfast like I was you might be in for trouble.
You can eat handfuls of nuts as your ‘healthy’ afternoon snack and quickly rack up 400 calories.
You can go gluten-free but you’d be missing out on foods that are perfectly acceptable to have as part of your entire diet.
It’s crazy to think that some people believe diet sodas are worse for their health than smoking cigarettes.
Get your calories and protein intake taken care of and the rest you can fill in as you go.
Try not to make the same mistakes I did and get caught up in the fads going on.
Nutritional basics are still the same as they were 10 and 20 years ago. The only thing that’s changed are the trends.
There’s always going to be a new trend that’ll suck people into believing it’s the next great health miracle.
But there are no shortcuts and there are no magic tricks.
Start and end with the basics and you’ll be well on your way to better health.