The easy answer to this question is that everyone is different. Each person is biologically different from another person. True, we are all human with generally the same nutritional needs, but each of us has different requirements for how we get those nutrients and how much of each is necessary for abundant health. The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) is fond of saying, “One person’s food can be another person’s poison.” This demonstrates bio-individuality, which is a core concept at IIN. So when we’re talking about the perfect diet that’s universally ideal for everyone, it doesn’t exist. There is no miracle diet that is going to work for everyone.
“One man’s food – is someone else’s poison.” – James L D’Adamo
So how do you know what to eat? What a funny question. A buffalo doesn’t wonder what to eat. A chimpanzee doesn’t sit and think about she should have for breakfast. Neither does an ostrich. How is it that we have gotten so far removed from our true nature that we don’t know what we should eat?
I have a few theories on that.
First, “experts” are very dogmatic about the diet that they think is the best. Proponents of diets get very defensive when you try to say something else works better or maybe they’ve got it all wrong. I want to say, “Simmer down, people! We’re not selling religion here!” Even the person down the street is passionate about the diet that worked for her and wants to tell you all about it. Consequently, we hear about five miracle diets each week. Each of them cancels out the other!
Part of the confusion could be conditioning (which is a nicer word for brain-washing). From a young age, we are bombarded by advertisements for sugary breakfast cereals that say “Frosted Flakes is a part of a balanced breakfast.” Commercials depict Olympic athletes enjoying McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets and lattes. They are top performers, maybe you should load up on nuggets, too. Schools reward children with sugary treats for jobs well done. Food labeled fat-free, gluten-free, or sugar-free has become synonymous with healthy.
Meanwhile, people keep getting fatter, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is on the rise, kids have attention deficit disorders, and despite all of our modern technology diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease are at all-time highs. Could it be that this disconnect from what we should be eating is making us sick?
I am sure of it.
We are really in a sad state. And it’s all because nutrition has become so confusing that people have no idea what is good for them. One day we hear, “Avoid gluten!” The next we hear, “Gluten-free foods are worse for you than the original was!” Where we get into real trouble is when we get our nutritional advice from a morning show or magazine cover that is likely selling space to the highest bidder.
Which diet is the best to follow? The answer is all of the mainstream “fad” diets out there right now have redeeming qualities. I mean, to a point. There are some weirdo ones out there, too. Specifically, I’m thinking about the hotly debated ones: Paleo, Keto, Vegetarian, Vegan, Pescetarian, Mediterranean, Anti-inflammatory, Whole-Food Plant-Based, and I’m sure there’s more. Any of them could be the right diet for you if you do them right — there is a right way and a wrong way to do each of these and part of the confusion stems from people doing their chosen diet wrong. Where it gets confusing is that the diet that your best friend has huge success on might make be kryptonite for you. So what do we do?
I have a few simple solutions for you. These are easy steps that anyone can follow to make a dramatic difference in the state of their health. What I have listed below are universally accepted nutritional theories that transcend dogma. Meaning, you will find these concepts in almost every smart diet out there. I’m pretty sure I will find someone to argue these facts with me, but I’m on pretty solid ground here.
Now, let’s demystify nutrition!
Get rid of processed food. Do it now. Be very suspicious of anything in a box, bag, can, jar, and especially anything that is passed to you through a window. If it has been dehydrated, chemically preserved, or no longer looks like it did when it was growing you should consider it unfit for human consumption.
Choose whole foods. Not the store, although the store is great. This is so important that I could stop the list right here if you understood this one topic. The food you buy should still look like what it looked like when it was alive. Bonus points if it is still alive or you buy it from the person who grew it. Whole foods are vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grain, raw nuts and seeds, legumes, eggs, and meat. We get into a grey area when we start talking about dairy and oils. I think dairy is fine in limited quantities for people who can tolerate it. Contrary to popular belief, dairy isn’t necessary for vibrant health. See the section about fat below for my take on oils.
Eat more veggies. You know this one. During my free initial consultation, I always ask, “What is the one thing you can do to improve your health now?” Every potential client has said, “Eat more vegetables.” I try to get a cooked veggie and a raw veggie at every meal. At least half of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables.
Source quality protein. There is a lot of crap protein out there, and I’m not just talking about the powders you buy at Wal-Mart. This could be a blog all on its own — and will be I promise — but in short: find a source for grass-fed or wild animal protein (try Butcher Box or Wild Idea Buffalo Company). Yes, it’s more expensive, so eat less. Choose quality over quantity. You don’t need as much protein as you think you do.
If you choose a vegetarian diet, limit your soy consumption. There are many great vegetarian protein options besides soy. Choose nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy green vegetables instead. If you do consume soy make sure it is organic as soy is usually GMO and contaminated with glyphosate.
Choose quality fat. This is another area where quality counts. In fact, when we’re talking about fat, quality is a big deal. This is also one of the most controversial areas in nutrition. I could write a whole blog on this topic as well — and I will don’t you worry. You’ve heard the ongoing debate about types of fat and how one type of fat is bad and another is good. Super confusing, right?
The same whole food principle applies here that applies in the other categories. Avoid highly processed industrial oils, which are basically any fat stored in a clear or plastic container. That is most seed oils, vegetable oil, soybean oil, and anything made from them (like margarine and most mayonnaise — Sherlock the labels). Choose avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil (despite what the FDA says), grass-fed ghee or butter, or grass-fed or wild lard. Yes, lard, as long as it’s wild or at least grass-fed, is okay. The grass-fed (and finished) part matters when considering animal fat products. Take my word for it for now and stay tuned for a future blog about fat. You can see and taste the difference, though. Also, try avocados, olives, and coconuts, they’re delicious little fat bombs.
Choose carbohydrate sources carefully. I don’t have a problem with carbohydrates. Vegetables are full of carbohydrates, and I love them. I have a problem with sugar. The thing to understand is that your body doesn’t differentiate between a bag of pretzels and a bag of cookies. Going sugar-free is en vogue right now and I hope it is a trend that continues. This is another area I will write about in future blogs.
Make smart carb choices by choosing vegetables, berries, some fruit as a treat, and be decerning with grains. Only choose grains if you can tolerate them. Just like dairy, many people are sensitive to grain but don’t realize it. Try laying off the sugar and/or grain for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. Don’t replace sugar with a chemical substitute. If sugar is the path to doom, fake sugar is the shortcut. One note: If you are on medication for high blood pressure, diabetes, or an autoimmune condition let your doctor know about a sugar-free diet before starting it. Your medication may need to be lowered after only a few days. No, really.
Drink plenty of water. Clean water is one of the most important nutrients. There is plenty of debate as to whether water from a charcoal filter, reverse osmosis, spring water, bottled water, or ionized for alkalinity is best. There are, of course, pros and cons to all of these. The only thing the experts agree on is that if you live in a city without your own water source you shouldn’t drink the tap water. In order to ensure that your water is clean and healthful, the research I have read leans towards spring water or reverse osmosis water with minerals added back in. Unless you have a reliable source for clean spring water from a cold, running mountain spring, do your research to find a quality reverse osmosis system that will add minerals back in for you. You can also buy liquid minerals to add to your reverse osmosis treated water.
Don’t stress out about your diet. Remember how I said, “stress affects your well-being?” Stressing out about your diet can undo anything good your good diet may do for you. Nutrients don’t absorb as well in a body under stress. We all have enough stress in our lives without adding more to it.
Try some of these tips to improve your wellness today. Remember that this is just a start. You actually have to do some work to figure out what is the right path for you. There is no magical formula to follow. Unfortunately, it is largely trial and error. Start with one or two of these small changes and add more when you feel ready. If something isn’t working for you, don’t do it. Even if it is something “healthy.” Lifestyle factors matter, too. Like getting enough sleep, getting out for fresh air and sunshine, smart exercise (which is also very personal), your level of stress, career, and relationships all contribute to your well-being.
This is where a health coach comes in handy. You see, I’ve already done this work for myself and I know what you’re going through. I can listen to your difficulties and offer suggestions. I can tell you when something is expected or when you should see your doctor. If you are ready to invest in your health, I’m your Huckleberry!
Food should be an enjoyable experience. If possible, share your meals with family or friends you enjoy being with. Slow down and experience the act of creating and consuming your meals.
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