Healthy Eating is Difficult & How to Make it Easier

By Darren Stehle

Does healthy eating seem like a pipe dream to you? Do you struggle with wondering what’s the healthiest food choice?

At one time of another I think we have all wondered, what’s healthy? Have you searched online for an answer to a health or a diet related question, only to be even more confused?

We know that if we eat healthy food based on a balanced diet we’re taking care of our health. But what does “healthy” and “balanced” mean? OK, get ready for a long answer!

Healthy Eating: The 2nd Pillar of Wellness

In the last post we looked at the First Pillar of Wellness, Frequent Movement. Each of the four pillars work together to support your wellness, but the Second Pillar, Healthy Eating, seems to cause he greatest confusion.

Almost daily there’s a report about a new weight loss diet, a miracle supplement, or a fitness device. For example,

  • A questionable doctor with his own TV show endorsing a “miracle diet supplement.”
  • A big name company selling a new fitness product that combines four movement in one for 36 easy payments of $49.95.

How accurate or biased is the information we find online? If someone is promoting a product, are they using marketing tactics to stir up emotions of scarcity or fear if you don’t “buy now?”

What about a supplement company telling your how important vitamins are to your health? What social proof or endorsements are they using to sway your opinion?

One supplement company sponsors several Olympic teams, some of whom won gold after consuming their products. But what does sponsorship mean? Did the company provide cash for equipment and coaching? Was is the training that helped the athletes win, was it the supplements, or luck of the draw?

The Case of Cause vs. Correlation

We see a cause vs. correlation especially in media headlines, when it comes to grabbing people’s attention. Here’s an excellent example:

“Imagine you’re looking to buy a magazine. Which headline best grabs your attention:

  1. “One study on a limited population shows that when people do X, Y happens a certain percentage of the time.”
  2. “Link found between doing X and Y happening!”
  3. “New research shows that X causes Y.”

“If you ever read a scientific paper, you’ll find that almost all scientists make statements like that first one. However by the time this research hits the popular media, it’s often transformed to look a lot more like that last one.” [Source]

This is a great example of “correlation sensation.” But let’s consider the marketing language and claims of some popular food products. The Canadian Government allows food companies to make “Nutrient content claims for dietary fibre […] for foods which are considered to be sources of dietary fibre.” [Source]

So how does Kellogg’s do this online with their Nutri-Grain* cereal bars (Mixed Berry):

Nutrigrain Mixed Berry bars“Made with 8 grams of whole grain and real fruit filling, Nutri-Grain* Mixed Berry cereal bars provide a source of fibre and are a delicious snack you can feel good about eating.” [Source]

Why is this an example of cause vs. correlation? Well, since the cereal bar is made with 8 grams of whole grain (the cause) you can feel good about eating it (the correlation).

But can you really feel good about eating Kellogg’s Nutri-grain bar?

Let’s consider the list of ingredients: 

“Crust: Wheat flour, whole oats, sugar/glucose-fructose, whole wheat flour, vegetable oil, water, chicory root (inulin), dextrose, milk ingredients, wheat bran, salt, cellulose, potassium bicarbonate, natural and artificial flavour, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, wheat gluten, cornstarch, carrageenan, guar gum. Filling: Sugar/glucose-fructose, glycerin, apple puree concentrate, water, strawberry puree concentrate, natural and artificial flavours, blueberry puree concentrate, sodium alginate, modified corn starch, raspberry puree concentrate, citric acid, malic acid, methylcellulose, calcium phosphate, colour.”

And next the nutrient breakdown:

  • 130 calories
  • 3 grams fat
  • 25 grams carbohydrates
  • 2 grams fibre
  • 12 grams sugar
  • 2 grams protein

This cereal bar is not a very healthy choice and thankfully the company doesn’t make this claim. With over 20 ingredients in the crust and 16 ingredients in the filling, this product is not much better than a candy bar.

If you were to eat this cereal bar without any additional proteins or healthy fats, it would most likely spike your insulin and cause you to gain fat. Why? The carbs are sugars are too high and the protein and fat are too low to make this a balanced snack. The amount of processing, chemicals, different types of sugars, and colouring do not make this a healthy choice.

healthy breakfast oatmeal with fruit and nutsIs there a healthier alternative to this processed, high sugar snack bar? Yup, and you can easily make it every morning for breakfast! A simple, healthy breakfast oatmeal made with,

  • ⅓ cup dry, large-flake, preferably organic oats
  • 1 small banana
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • 1-1½ cups filtered water
  • 1 tbsp. organic all-natural peanut or almond butter
  • 1/2 cup whole milk organic yogurt
Read the complete post here, Healthy Breakfast Oatmeal, where I also dish the dirt on "instant oatmeal."

Here’s a screenshot of the nutrient breakdown for my healthy breakfast oatmeal via FitDay.com:

Healthy Oatmeal Caloric Breakdown

If you were counting macros (of which I’m not a fan) my oatmeal is a more balanced breakfast. The total amount of carbs is high, but there are also fats and proteins coming from healthy sources.

By the way, my recipe has only six ingredients with no added sugar (the sugar comes from the banana), and about 8 grams of fibre. Scroll back up and see the nutritional differences between the breakfast oatmeal and the cereal bar.

Instead of counting calories, check out this "visual calorie control method" instead.

MFruit juice smoothie frontaybe I’ll Just Have a Smoothie. That’s healthy, right?

While waiting in line at Starbucks (and, no, Starbucks is not my favourite coffee) my eye caught sight of this Defense Up fruit juice smoothie by Evolution Fresh. I took one look at the nutrition facts and knew I’d be breaking it apart in this post!

Take a look at the nutrition facts, especially the total sugars, found in 240 ml, or half of the bottle, in the image to the left:

Fruit juice smoothie nutrition facts

Damn! That’s a whole lotta sugar, shuga!

Is there any good news? Well, the product is cold-pressed and non GMO certified. The ingredients are: orange juice, pineapple juice, mango puree, apple juice, acerola juice, ascorbic acid. Heck, that’s good right? It’s all fruit?

Here’s the problem with most fruit smoothies that you find at many coffee shops, grocery and convenience stores.

First, one of the health benefits from eating a whole fruit is that you also get all the fibre contained in the fruit. Most people probably only eat one to two servings or pieces of fruits at a time. Fibre also slows down digestion of sugars. Fibre is a good thing!

Take the classic example of fresh squeezed orange juice. A small glass of OJ requires about 5 or 6 oranges, minus the pulp (the fibre). How often have you sat down to enjoy 5 oranges at once? Or six bananas? You’re not a monkey, are you? 🙂

The Defense Up smoothie has as much sugar (34 grams) as a regular sized can of Coke. Once the body breaks down fruit or table sugar in the digestive track, it doesn’t care what source it comes from. The issue becomes how much glucose and fructose is circulating in the body. Without fibre the sugar from that smoothie hits your blood stream lighting fast and spikes your insulin.

That much fructose is difficult for the liver to break down and it will signal a chemical process to move any excess sugar into storage, AKA body fat. And that is not what we want!

The Problem with Fructose?

Should you give up fruit to lose body fat?

There’s been a lot of reporting on the negative health effects of excessive fructose consumption. It would seem that fructose is the “devil” and it automatically gets stored as fat in the body. However, we can’t look at fruit consumption alone, instead we need to consider your overall diet. Meaning, at the end of the day, how much total sugars have you consumed?

If you’re nerdy and want to understand how your body handles the sugar from fruit, see the article, “Fructose metabolism in relation to atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.”

This is a “review article,” which means it’s looking at many scientific papers, as opposed to discussing a single study.

The main finding is that a too much sugar is going to have negative health consequences. There’s also some controversy in current research that has to do with the amount of fructose found with sugars and processed sugars, like high fructose corn syrup, commonly found in foods like desserts and some protein powder blends.

There are two important takeaways in this article. The first one is that there is nothing in the current research that indicates a normal consumption of fructose being unhealthy. For example, eating a few fruits per day is well under the average, normal consumption of fructose. The authors define normal fructose consumption as 50-60 grams per day.

The thing to keep in mind is that we get fructose from more than just fruit. If you eat dessert or other processed foods during the day, these might contain added fructose in some form, which would contribute to your total sugar intake.

The authors suggest that the big issue is eating too much fructose in combination with too many other calories coming from other sugars. In this case combining a large intake of fructose and glucose can stimulate body fat storage. When they say glucose, they mean the sugar that comes from starches in foods like rice and potatoes, and so on. Long term, the negative health effects of excess sugar consumption include bad cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

Let’s use a visual example. A single banana has about 7 g of fructose. A medium apple contains about 12 g. So if the only place you’re getting fructose in your diet is from fruit alone, you would have to eat four bananas and two apples to get to the “normal consumption” of about 55 g per day.

Where Are We Getting Excess of Sugar in Our Diet?

Consider the mixed berry snack bar and the fruit smoothie in the examples above. If you drink the bottle of juice (34 grams of sugar) and have two of the bars (say a morning and an afternoon snack, at 12 grams of sugar each) you will have consumed a total of 58 grams of sugar.

This is where things get interesting. What else do you eat in the day? If you had an individual sized fruit yogurt (pick any popular brand) you’ll easily add another 10 g of sugars or more. It’s difficult to determine how much of the total sugars come from either fructose or white sugar since it’s not usually indicated on packaging.

Did you add sugar to your coffee or tea? Add 5-10 g (1 teaspoon = 5 grams but many individual packages of sugar run 1.5 to 3 teaspoons in size or 7.5-15 g!) Did you eat out? Many fast foods have added sugar to make them taste better and to make you come back for more. Let’s ballpark 10 g. Did you drink a can of pop? Add 35 g.

Total sugars consumed in one day from the above example = 118 grams!

Now this is just an example. I’d suggest that more than 5 out of 10 people consume more total sugars than this example every day, which is why there are more incidences of type II diabetes, childhood diabetes and fatty liver disease.

Are there Government Guidelines on Controlling Sugar Consumption?

“The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that Canadians decrease their consumption of added sugar to no more than 10 per cent of their total daily calories. This does not include sugar that occurs naturally in fruit, vegetables, milk, grains and other foods.

“For an average 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, 10 per cent is about 48 grams, or 12 teaspoons of sugar. One can of pop contains about 85 per cent of the daily added sugar limit.” [Source]

In fact, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada goes one step further in their “Position Statement” where they, thankfully, recommend an even lower consumption of sugar:

“The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that an individual’s total intake of free sugars not exceed 10% of total daily calorie (energy) intake, and ideally less than 5%.”

How Can You Minimize Processed Sugar in your Diet?

It’s worth checking out the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s links for their recommendations on ways to reduce sugar consumption. Here are some ways of making these changes easy to manage:

  • Choose a plain, whole milk yoghurt and add your own fruit instead of buying a processed, low-fat, sugar-added, fruit-bottom kind.
  • Eliminate soda pop consumption or reduce to no more than 2-3 individual servings per week.
  • See if you can enjoy coffee or tea without added sugar. Often adding milk will provide enough sweetness. Or limit sugar added to ½ a package.
  • Read labels and avoid where possible foods with added sugar.
  • Eliminate fruit smoothies bought at a store. As explained above, this is too many fruits in one serving, which equals too much sugar/fructose for the liver. Instead make your own protein smoothie with one serving of fruit, healthy fats, green vegetable and protein, for a more balanced meal. Try my Kale Protein Smoothie recipe.
  • Eat fewer mass-produced processed foods and limit the amount of restaurant or take-out meals.
  • Cook more meals at home and learn how to cook in bulk. Get my book, Cook a Week in 4 Hours for an easy-to-follow method and healthy recipes.

False Advertising & Misleading Information

If you’re interested in how mass food companies skewer data, mislead, and fund scientists to “prove” how their products are healthy, watch the documentary about the sugar industry, Sugar Coated. Watch the trailer, below:

Another great example of how we are being mislead into eating foods that are killing us can be found in junk food marketing and research. Millions of dollars are spent every year to determine how to best persuade, how to affect taste, how to decrease fullness (so that you eat/crave more = spend more) and all because of corporate greed.

For an excellent review read Christopher Clark's article, Appealing to Authority: How Tobacco Advertising Parallels Modern Junk Food Marketing.

So how do you know what’s healthy? How much should you eat at a serving? What should you put on your plate? Go ahead and fill-in-the-blank with any of your frustrations about eating, diet, and nutrition.

The Next Big Question: Why Should You Trust Me?

Here’s the thing: you’re a smart person. Maybe you’ve done some research when something wasn’t clear to you about a health topic. You’re also busy and you don’t have the time to read lengthy articles and peer-reviewed papers to find out the “truth.”

We become experts to varying degrees based on how much time and attention we give to a subject area. I have focused on health and fitness my entire life. I started out as a sickly baby and child. As I grew older I was exposed to a myriad of tests and protocols to improve my health. When I was 20 I went to cooking school, which turned out to be one of the most important influences on my health for the last 30 years. Knowing how to cook has allowed me to eat healthier by minimizing the amount of processed foods in my diet.

For 30 years I have been focused on my fitness and for the last 15 years I’ve been coaching health, fitness, and wellness at a professional level.

At 50 I’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge from studies, observation, and real-world practice with clients. I’ve maintained my health and fitness at a relatively high level and I’ve done the same for my many clients.

But let me ask you the question again: Do you trust me?

If you’ve been following the 4 Pillars of Wellness Free Course and the last few posts, you’ll see that I’ve provided a bird’s eye view of the various factors that influence your wellness.

At this point in the program I will be bold enough to suggest that nutrition and healthy eating are incredibly contentious subjects.

Everyone Has an Opinion, But Opinions Don’t Get Results.

Using simple habit based health strategies, I can help you decide what steps will work best to fit your needs, lifestyle and health goals.

There will always be new discoveries, but will the information reported stand the test of time? Education and discernment are key, and this is the reason this article is so long. I want to show you why we need to be more critical of our food choices and food marketing.

The Decline of Health in the Western World

Over the last few decades we have witnessed a steep decline in our health and a dramatic rise in obesity rates. This decline in health stems from changes in diet and the many “incorrect” dietary protocols suggested by experts.

Here is a general list of the culprits for our declining health:

  • Over consumption of processed foods (leading to more blood sugar and body fat gain).
  • Over processing of raw ingredients removing essential nutrients.
  • Changes to grains (like wheat) through decades of genetic modification.
  • Over use of chemicals in the growing and production of food.
  • Over use of hormones and steroids in the feeding of livestock.
  • Fewer people cooking their own meals.
  • Over consumption of processed sugars.
  • Over consumption of Omega-6 fatty acids (fewer healthy, whole grains, fish, certain vegetables, etc.).
  • Increase in portion sizes in everything from soft drinks to restaurant meals.
  • A society that sits longer and moves much less. This decreases your metabolic rate, leading to weight gain in the form of body fat, and causes a host of other health and mortality issues.
  • Higher stress levels than ever before and less quality sleep. High stress and work demands require long hours, both of which lead to an increase of the hormone, cortisol, which regulates the fight or flight mechanism. When cortisol runs high too often, the body prioritizes lipid storage. Translation: high stress and lack of quality sleep is a recipe for getting fat.

Wow, that is one ugly list indeed! So much doom and gloom.

Fortify Your Second Pillar of Wellness: Make Informed, Healthier Eating Choices

So what should you eat to improve your health, lose body fat and strengthen your Second Pillar of Wellness?

I can’t tell you…

Here’s the thing, I can offer general guidance, but you will need to do the work to decide what parts of your diet need improvement to support your goals.

You may have health issues, you may choose to not eat red meat, perhaps you’re a vegan, or you believe you have a gluten intolerance. If I make a generic dietary suggestion, I might not be serving your needs.

This is where you,

  • Either need to do the work on your own and test and measure, or;
  • Chose to work with someone like me so that I can coach and guide you step-by-step to determine how we can improve your nutrition and body composition.

How to Get the Healthy Eating Worksheet

In order to help you make measurable change, I would like to ask you a few questions. These questions offer some of the most common and easiest eating habits to change.

To get the free worksheet and resources, Click here to sign-up for the 4 Pillars of Wellness Free Program.

Pick one area that you would like to improve and choose only one of the options provided, the one that you think will be the easiest to carry out.

You want to ask yourself, on a scale of 1 – 10 (10 being most likely) how likely you are to make this change. Your best chance of success comes from choosing a 9 or a 10 on the scale. Anything lower and the likelihood of you committing or forming this habit and dietary change is less than ideal.

Once this new habit has become routine for you, come back to the list and chose another option using the same selection process just described.

In the next post and video lesson I’m going to tell you about the importance of Rest and Recovery: The 3rd Pillar of Wellness. In the meantime, pick one of the easy actions detailed in the 4 Pillars Course Worksheet to improve your healthy eating.

Eat healthy, move often, be well.

Darren