Is it delicious? Is it easy and cheap? Wrong questions.

Delicious Healthy FoodI was with a friend of mine the other day. We were in his apartment, which is about a 15 second walk from mine, working on a school assignment. As any human knows, you will inevitably need to eat. Yes, that troublesome need for some fuel, else you wither away and stop living*. My friend found himself in quite a predicament. He could either work on his school assignment in a low productivity hungry state, or fuel his body up for another period of time dependent on the amount and quality of the fuel. As most of us do, which is why you’re able to read these words, he chose to eat. Now he is in another predicament.

“What should I eat?” he asked out loud to himself.

He looks around his apartment – and I see little fuel to suggest. He scurries through his kitchen some more. I gasp as I observe a yellow phallus shaped object.

“A BANANA! Perfect!” I exclaimed.

“Eh, I don’t feel like eating a banana. I’m going to make buttered chicken. This jar of sauce was really cheap, it was even on sale. When I first bought it to try I wasn’t sure if it would taste good**. I was a little worried but thankfully it tastes delicious!”

Here is the ingredient list of that sauce (I biked to the store to take a picture for you!):

Ingredient List

Water, Tomato Paste, Sugar, Milk Ingredients (BHA, BHT), Modified Milk Ingredients, Canola Oil, Modified Corn Starch, Spices, Salt, Paprika and Tumeric (Colour), Dehydrated Garlic and Onion, Phosphoric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Dehydrated Cilantro

All I could think was: “HOLY CRAP! That food BETTER taste good with all of those non-food components. Over 5 of those linked to cancer (BHT, BHA, Canola Oil, Modified Milk Ingredients and Modified Corn Starch). As if the production of milk (profuse amount of chemicals + animal domination) wasn’t bad enough, just what kind of creepy modifications have they done under that ‘modified’ guise? If you’re gonna eat something that unhealthy, it better give your tongue the equivalent of an orgasm (or two!). Because I can go grab a raspberry that would taste sublime and make my insides jump for joy.

All I did was sit there quietly, changing topics and intending to leave before his food filled the air with a noxious aroma. I’ve had many discussions of the sort with many people of many walks of life. Sometimes having the same repetitive conversation is not interesting and sometimes I choose not to engage. My opinion wasn’t exactly asked for in this moment, and this particular friend is already aware of my views. So, I didn’t give him a big speech about his choices – I saved it for the readers here! Don’t you consider yourself lucky?

The title of the article is a bit misleading, I’ll admit. Because those are good questions to ask. They just aren’t the first. When you are hungry, don’t look around for food that is delicious first and foremost. Or food that is quick to prepare. Worst of all, don’t try to save money by picking the food that costs the least amount.

The first and and most important question you should ask when choosing what to eat is the following:

“IS IT HEALTHY?”

That should be a yes or a no answer. If it is at all questionable, the answer is “NO”. No funky chemicals, artificial flavors, wheat (gluten is linked to all sorts of problems, you can google it), animal products (especially dairy), and anything you don’t know about (unless it is a product of nature).

If it doesn’t pass that filter, don’t eat the food object. It is not food or fuel. It will weigh you down and require your body to struggle. Your internals will be stressed as your body attempts to eliminate the non-food from your body before it can damage you more. It will adapt to the poisonous environment if you eat unhealthy habitually. At that point you are always operating in a sub-optimal state and you don’t even realize it because you never feel optimal. Your body has accommodated for the daily influx of poisons and is doing the best it can to just stay alive.

Organisms are very persistent in their will to live. Take a plant for example. If you try to grow a full-sun plant in a shaded area, it will likely live, but it won’t reach it’s full potential. It will be lanky, floppy, and sparse. Likewise if you give it less water. It will be wilted and eventually drop leaves as they dry up, but it will still grow and hold on to life as much as it can. Organisms will do whatever possible to keep the system’s integrity, in the face of adversity, at the expense of overall health. Degeneration will occur. This is why people feel like crap when they don’t treat themselves well. What you want to do is give the plant (and your body) the best condition possible so it can thrive. You will have a much higher quality of life if you are eating high quality fuel because you will be operating in an optimal state. Being alive will feel different than it does for you in a sub-optimal state. I’ve personally experienced this. Rather than struggling with hard to digest foods and large amounts of toxins, your body will have more energy to spend on making you feel good. Emotions need energy, and happiness isn’t as crucial to survival as fear. If you had to make a trade off between taste and health, choose health. You are eating for far less time than you are not eating. So I’d personally have short periods of eating something that tastes bad if it meant every other moment of my life was improved.

LUCKILY, healthy food and good tasting food are not mutually exclusive, AND your body even adapts and begins to like food that you may not like right now. How cool is that?! It learns what is good for it and begins to crave that, but it needs a bit of help from your conscious brain to kick the unhealthy food habit once and for all.

Only if you answer that question with a genuine “YES!” and you are not tricking yourself and using all of your knowledge (and keeping yourself purposefully ignorant isn’t a proper strategy) then and ONLY then you can proceed to the next questions. Treat each question as a filter, or a net if you will, that will catch any food that you shouldn’t put in your body before it gets there. You can give each question their own weight, add your own, or remove any (at your own risk). These questions are not as cut and dry, and don’t all need a resounding “YES!” to pass. The main point to remember is that any food that passes all of these filters can be safely considered to be highly efficient super-powered fuel for your body. And you can eat it until your heart’s content.

Here are some more filters that you can ask yourself after the first one:

  • “Is it delicious?” – This one should be yes. There is a lot of delicious and healthy food out there so you don’t really need to eat things you don’t like the taste of. But you can. I still don’t eat brussel sprouts though.
  • “Does this choice negatively affect other living beings?” – This should be a resounding “NO”. Your food choices should not demean others or degrade the quality of life for any being. Are you eating palm oil, which has huge implications in destroying rainforests and harming the animals whose home it was? Was an animal treated horrifically and slaughtered for your meal? Was a cow raped?
  • “Is it simple to prepare?” – This one is really up to how you feel in the moment. Maybe you don’t feel like whipping up a 12 course meal and just want some quick vegetable fried rice. Don’t go for microwave dinners though because they don’t pass your first filter. Also, generally the more you prepare food the more unhealthy it is so try to lean towards food that is simpler to prepare. The healthiest food you can eat is delicious and simple to prepare: raw fruits and vegetables! I love grabbing some berries as a snack and sitting in the sun eating them.
  • “Does it cost little?” – Cost should be taken into account. How much money we spend directly affects our life because we need to devote time to earning that money. But the cost of food isn’t as simple as the amount of dollars you pay for it. There are many unseen costs such as the opportunity cost of having a headache due to low quality food. Or the high medical bills when a disease develops and thrives in an organism compromised by dead, processed food. A $7 bag of organic kale chips every second night beats a $3.50 bag of oily potato chips every night. But don’t go spending $20/lb on the new exotic hype or brand name food that is easy to prepare yourself. Multiply the cost of unhealthy food by 300x (depending on how much you love yourself) for the real cost.

*Plants got it right, absorbing energy directly from the sun and all. Not sure where evolution went wrong*** and decided to eat things. Think of all the starving people with the sun brightly shining on them!

**Taste testing unhealthy food is one of the dumbest things you can do. You end up eating a lot of unhealthy food you don’t even like. Doesn’t that seem silly? You might as well be eating brussel sprouts. And when you find something you like it is just an extra craving developed that you will need to overcome. From this point forward you should only go out of your way to try HEALTHY foods. Don’t add any new unhealthy foods to your palette. Just eat the unhealthy things you already crave, and wean yourself off of them while adding new healthy food to your diet. If you never ate the unhealthy food in the first place you would not crave it. I once found myself wishing I didn’t even know what some unhealthy food I like tastes like, and realized at that point that I should make sure I don’t eat any NEW unhealthy food.

***I don’t actually think evolution “went wrong”. It went perfect. The only way it could.

P.S. Yes, I was definitely ‘inspired’ by Mr. Money Mustache for the title of the article. It is a tribute to the great blogger who is adding a powerful voice of reason to the cloud of internet chatter. Read his post here: Is It Convenient? Would I Enjoy It? Wrong Question. but don’t stop there. There are tons of great articles and content on his site.