These days it seems like no one really knows what's healthy. One week, the news is promoting a miracle diet proven to drive results. The next week, a study declares that same diet is detrimental to your health. One moment, nutritionists rave about the benefits of a miracle food, then months later we find that the food has links to cancer if not eaten in moderation.
You especially can't follow all the "fitness gurus" on social media for food advice. They often push miracle teas and diet pills that seem to be temporary fixes and a complete waste of your money. These influences all make it really hard to understand what food are actually healthy.
The two ideals I live by as is pertains to food and dieting are: 1) Food is fuel for your body and 2) Food can impact different bodies, differently. Once I came to these two realizations, I understood why so much confusion exists about food and decided that to an extent, what is healthy is relative.
1) Food is fuel for your Body
This is probably the single most important gut check I make for myself before making a food or meal decision. It is so critical to understand that your body is a machine. It's designed to fight disease, perform physical and mental tasks, along with a host of other things. We all know how miserable it feels when our body isn't functioning properly due to illnesses like the flu, lack of sleep, etc. Food is a core piece of ensuring our body can perform at it's optimal level. Just like a luxury car that recommends, if not requires, premium gas to perform correctly, the fats, proteins, and carbs that comprise food is the fuel that helps our body perform at it's best. So when you choose to fuel your body for performance with Cheetos, fries, and soda rather than water, greens, and fish, you deprive your body of the best fuel throughout the day.
This has led me to focus on the nutritional value of foods to determine what is healthy. For me, understanding the overall benefit of the foods I am eating, is it vitamin or mineral rich, low or high in fat, etc., helps me determine the quality of the food and whether it is fuel or just fill.
Furthermore, whether I thinks it is healthy or not. When you focus on fueling your body versus what people deem as healthy, you see the full range of healthy food options and become independent from the marketing message that inundate us everyday.
It's important to start to do your own research. Focus on the labels of packaged foods and nutritional profiles of non-packaged foods with sites like http://nutritiondata.self.com. On this journey, you must educate yourself on what your body really takes away from the foods you eat.
2) Food performs differently for different bodies
Yes, it's true that protein is protein and broken down by your body to help build muscle. Yes, it's true that fat tends to be highly caloric and can easily be stored as fat in your body if not burned off during the day. However, whether these attributes are good or bad for your body should be determined by your body.
Of course I recognize there are some things that are likely very healthy for everyone such as fresh vegetables and fruits, but we should always also verify that we believe these foods to be healthy for ourselves. Too often, people listen to others to determine what's best for their body, despite their body telling them otherwise. The repercussions can be seen with those who have gluten sensitivities, lactose intolerance, etc. Though research may show diary as critical for a balance diet, if every time you have a piece of cheese your bowels act up, you feel sluggish, weight gain comes on a bit or you feel great discomfort from bloating, recognize that is your body telling you they don't like it. This is where doing your own research on nutrition becomes critical because it can help you identify exactly what your body is reacting negatively or positively to and you can easily find similar foods to exclude or add to your diet.
I personally suffered from this early in my eating plans. I was so adamant about eating more apples because they are affordable, popular, an easy go to snack high in fiber, and of course they say "an apple a day keeps the doctor away". However, i could not deny the extreme and immediate discomfort that came from eating them. Bloat and irregular movements made me say "screw it!" and completely avoid them. Knowing that I was primarily missing out on the fiber benefit, I started eating more beans which have proven to be much more friendly to my stomach and digestive flow. Similar story with potatoes and so on until my incidence of this sort of discomfort was reduced to occasionally.
Recognize that a "miracle food" declared by the masses just may not be the best for you. Allow your body to give you feedback on what's working and what's not. The sleepiness after eating may not be good, the bloat you feel may not be your body in transition. Be sure to test and listen so you can discover your limitations and find what's healthy for you.