With all the conflicting information on what to eat, here are five simple rules for healthy eating that most experts can agree on.
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Last week I gave you the 5 essentials for balanced healthy living. I feel that these 5 elements are the building blocks for good health. And number one on the healthy living list is diet, so I wanted to dive deeper into the topic.
In my work as a Certified Health and Nutrition Coach, I see so many people in search of a magic bullet to make the pounds easily and effortlessly fly off, all while eating chocolate chip cookies.
There’s Keto, Paleo, Gluten Free, Vegan, and the Raw food diet just to name a few. Which one is best? I’m often asked. It’s a loaded question and one that can be difficult to answer without knowing a person’s individual health and background.
I’ve been eating gluten free and dairy free for many years now and transitioned to Paleo about two years ago (you can read more about my Paleo experience here). As someone who has digestive, thyroid, and hormonal issues, removing beans and grains (as well as gluten and dairy) was a huge help for my body and energy levels, but your body may work differently. So much of diet comes down to your genetics and how your system operates.
That said, there are a few healthy eating rules that most experts would agree on.
5 Simple Rules for Healthy Eating
1. Eat Food In Its Most Natural State
You’re not likely to find many Doctors or Nutritionists encouraging you to eat more processed food.
Acclaimed NY Times best-selling food author Michael Pollan’s made this simple, but powerful manifesto in his book In Defense of Food, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." If you want your magic bullet, there it is.
Sadly, we may need to define food. Pollan says, “Eat food, not food products.” Twinkie? Not food. It’s a food product. Things grown, created, or manufactured in a lab are food products.
A head of broccoli, freshly plucked from the ground, maybe with even a little dirt still on it – now that’s food.
In Mark Hyman’s Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? he states “Stay away from pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and GMO foods. Also, no chemicals, additives, preservatives, dyes, artificial sweeteners, or other junk ingredients. If you don’t have that ingredient in your kitchen for cooking, you shouldn’t eat it. Polysorbate 60, red dye 40, and sodium stearoyl lactylate (also known as Twinkie ingredients), anyone?”
Food should look like it does in nature. The healthiest food is usually one without a label. You know what’s healthy? Healthy is an organic head of cauliflower, and not fried cauliflower cheesy poofs.
Eat food that looks like it does in nature.
2. Ditch the Sugar
I’m going to bet that you’re going to have a hard time finding a health expert advising you to double down on your sugar intake.
In 2013, Paul Van Der Velpen, a senior health official in Amsterdam came down firm and said, “Sugar is a drug just like alcohol and tobacco.” He cited research claiming sugar creates an insatiable desire to eat, and keep eating, long after a person is full.
"Whoever uses sugar wants more and more, even when they are no longer hungry. Give someone eggs and he'll stop eating at any given time. Give him cookies and he eats on even though his stomach is painful."
When I interviewed Mark Sisson from Primal Kitchen, he said, “Giving up sugar is the number one thing anyone can do across any eating platform to benefit themselves.”
Got it? Sugar is not your friend.
And remember, sugar lurks in a lot of places under many different names like high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrose, and sorbitol. Read labels, and make sure you know all the ingredients, and can actually pronounce all of them.
You can find sugar hidden away in many condiments, snacks, soft drinks, and cereals so it’s important to be cautious and educated when purchasing food.
3. Eat Quality Food
So not only does the type of food you put in your mouth matter, but also the quality matters.
Eating seasonal, local ingredients has been shown to have more nutritional value. Wouldn’t you rather have produce picked at its peak a few days before you purchase it, instead of pulled up weeks early so it wouldn’t spoil when driven for weeks across country? Yeah, me too.
Then there’s the problem with chemicals in our food. Spinach, celery, and blueberries can be loaded with health benefits, but if they’re covered in pesticides, you may not reap the same rewards.
I recommend always trying to buy the foods on the “Dirty Dozen” organically. Read about them here. These are the items that have been shown to have the most chemicals on them. There’s also a Clean 15 list of produce shown to have less pesticides.
If you choose to eat meat or fish, your body will be better off eating grass fed and wild caught respectively. Ideally you want the animals to eat a diet that corresponds to what they’d normally eat in the wild. You also want to make sure that the animals are well cared for and free to roam open area. With a little research or even a trip to the farmer’s market, you can ensure you’re consuming quality products. And if you don’t have access to the farmer’s market, I order my fish online here.
If you’re concerned about cost, Michael Pollan offers a simple idea, “spend more, eat less.” He continues by saying, “The higher the quality of the food you eat, the more nutritious it is and the less of it you’ll need to feel satisfied.”
4. Avoid Refined Carbs
So there’s good carbs and not so good carbs. Yes, I’m avoiding the word bad because I don’t like to label food as good and bad. But the truth of it is that not all carbohydrates are created equal.
In the not so good carb category are your refined white products like bread, flour, pasta, and chips. The problem with these carbs is that they’ve been stripped of their outside grain, which is where the good stuff is like fiber and protein. When that gets eliminated, the nutrition goes out the door as well, leaving you with empty calories.
Worse still is that without the fiber and protein, you’re left with the sugar, causing your blood levels to spike and send you on a not so fun roller coaster ride. That ride ends in a big energy crash. (I’ve talked about this in my article on how to avoid a post lunch slump).
David Perlmutter, author of Grain brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers, talks about the impact of carbohydrates on your brain. Carbs are often packed with inflammatory ingredients like gluten that can do a number on your nervous system. Perlmutter says, “The damage can begin with daily nuisances like headaches and unexplained anxiety and progress to more sinister disorders such as depression and dementia.”
So with refined carbs you have the sugar crash and inflammation issues, both of which can lead to problems in your brain and nervous system. This is one of the reasons why I’m gluten free and grain free. And don’t worry, it’s not that hard to eat gluten and grain free. I have many recipes on Tasting Page without gluten or grains.
5. Eat More Vegetables
Now that you have an empty spot on your dinner plate since you’ve removed sugar and complex carbs, you can fill it up with whole plant foods.
The Mayo Clinic’s Integrative Guide to Good Health says, “Every day, researchers learn more and more about how vegetables and fruits supply the body with a variety of substances to ward off illness. People who typically eat generous helpings of vegetables and fruits are at a lower rise of developing many leading causes of death including: heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes.”
It’s also been shown that eating a variety of colors in your plant food can benefit your body. Different vitamins and nutrients are represented in different colors like orange and yellow fruits and vegetables tend to have a lot of Vitamin C and carotenoids to protect the eyes, skin, heart, and joints.
Leafy greens have lots of antioxidants to help detoxify the body and boost the immune system. So eat the rainbow of real food to keep your body and belly happy and healthy.
Bonus Food Rule - Chill and Chew
Not only does what you eat matter, by how you eat matters too.
Digesting food is no easy task. There are a multiple of complex processes that take place to turn your food into energy. So if you eat with a fork in one hand, electronic device in the other, while standing and pacing, you’re giving your digestion an even harder workout.
Eat sitting down at a table with minimal distractions. Also be sure to chew your food well. Avoid gulping big chunks down. Your body will better absorb the nutrients of your food if you chew it well and if you’re in a relaxed state.
Better still, share a meal with a co-worker, friend, or family member. Food can bring people together and be a wonderful shared experience.
As Pollan states, “Eat with pleasure, because eating with anxiety leads to poor digestion and bingeing.”
Need More Help With Your Diet?
If you’d like more help in personalized a diet that’s just right for you, reach out to schedule a free 20-minute exploratory call with me to discuss the details.
It can be difficult to make a big change in your life. Having someone to hold your hand, offer information, and hold you accountable can be really helpful. I’m here to help. Read more here.