Simple Guidelines for Eating Healthy
I read a lot of nutritional advice, most of which is rarely supported by science and some of which is unfortunately flat out wrong. But in my role as a health coach (currently studying online at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York) I try to give my clients, friends and family solid guidelines for healthful eating which are backed by science and which, of course, I follow myself.
Before I list those guidelines here, I need to make it clear that none of them are “laws”, and in fact are not based on proper randomised control trials. Most dietary advice unfortunately isn’t. Equally important, none of these guidelines are “mine”. There are plenty of articles out there expounding the same principles. But I still strongly recommend these guidelines because of the tremendous personal health benefits I’ve received from them and because of their basis in science and not in fad.
Ok then, let’s dive in!
1. Eat a wide variety of completely unprocessed foods to get most of your nutrition. This means eating fruits, vegetables, meats, etc., that haven’t been cooked or otherwise changed from their original form. For instance, it is better to eat sugar from 2 apples rather than drink the same amount of sugar in a glass of processed apple juice.
2. Eat lightly processed foods less often. Obviously lightly processed foods like pasta, flour, and olive oil are normally bought pre-prepared instead of prepared at home from raw ingredients (try making your own pasta at home from raw flour!) These foods, however, should be eaten along with plenty of unprocessed foods, and they shouldn’t be eaten too often.
3. Eat heavily processed foods even less often. Foods that’ve been greatly altered from their original form should be eaten even less often than lightly processed foods. Such foods are high in calories and include bread, chips, cookies and breakfast cereals. Studies on health and disease have also linked heavily processed meats with bad health outcomes, nevertheless you should be slightly skeptical when referencing these studies. As I mentioned before, they don’t have high-quality evidence available (i.e. there simply isn’t enough funding available for large-scale independent trials) and most times don’t follow recognised standards for experimentation.
4. Eat as much home-cooked food as possible. This allows for more control over the ingredients and the quality of the food you consume. Eating at home also allows for control of portion sizes and the flavors you prefer. Just remember guideline number 1 above when you’re thinking home-cooked food (i.e. eat unprocessed foods.)
5. Season your food with salt and fats, including butter and oil, as needed. Salt and fat aren’t the enemy, so use these ingredients in moderation since they are often what makes food tasty.
6. When you go out to eat, look for restaurants that follow these guidelines. For instance, find nice restaurants that serve completely, or at least minimally, processed foods. This is so easy to do here in Japan.
7. Drink mostly water. There are conflicting studies out there that state the same food item as being either good or bad for your health (like red wine, for example.) But the bulk of the evidence seems to suggest that, unless you have a strongly adverse reaction, most things in moderation are fine, including beverages like alcohol and coffee (Full disclosure on that last one: I own and run an Internet cafe that serves awesome, high-quality coffee every day!)
8. Drink beverages with calories just as you would drink alcohol. Keep all drinks with calories in them, including milk, to a minimum. You shouldn’t consume them as if you need them.
9. Eat with other people, especially the ones you love, as often as possible. Eating with others makes you more likely to cook, more likely to eat more slowly and, of course, also makes you happy. 🙂
Completely avoiding certain food groups doesn’t seem to work. This is why the guidelines above don’t tell you to avoid this food group or that food group entirely. While some experts swear by completely avoiding certain foods, I haven’t found enough peer reviewed scientific evidence to support that stance. The goal of my guidelines above is simply to make you think more about what you put into your own body. Nowadays, it’s so easy to become distracted from the signals our bodies send us about what we’re eating. But it’s important to listen to those signals and to respond to our individual needs because everyone is different. It’s called bio-individuality.
In the same way, it’s important to try not to criticise what other people are eating, unless they are clearly damaging themselves. Some people may avoid carbohydrates, others may avoid eating meat. Clearly, everyone is different and has different needs. What one person thrives on, another may suffer from due to allergies, taste, or other reasons.
For example, I used to drink a liter of milk every day, because I was told for decades that it’d make me strong. Then I stopped drinking it, lost 15 kilograms, and cleared up a decades-long skin irritation. And I’m stronger than ever!
Finding what works for you like I have is key, but it does requires some experimentation. The guidelines above allow for that experimentation across the many wonderful foods available for feeling and staying healthy. Give it a try!
Reference Material :
1. Dietry Guidelines For The Brazilian Population – http://188.8.131.52/dab/docs/portaldab/publicacoes/guia_alimentar_populacao_ingles.pdf
2. Calorie counter: fruit vs. fruit juice – http://healthland.time.com/2009/08/07/calorie-counter-fruit-vs-fruit-juice
3. Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis – http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/179/3/282.long
4. Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion, Mortality, and Cardiovascular Events – http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1311889
5. The cardiometabolic consequences of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates or Ω-6 polyunsaturated fats: Do the dietary guidelines have it wrong? – http://openheart.bmj.com/content/1/1/e000032.full
6. Is everything we eat associated with cancer? A systematic cookbook review – http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/97/1/127.long