If you find yourself in a position where you truly desire to start eating healthier but you just don’t know the right way to do it, you are not alone. There are so many diets out there and everybody claims theirs is the best. There are articles supporting a particular diet and then another that refutes whatever claim was made and lists another diet in its place as superior. All this does is leave most people confused about what exactly they should or shouldn’t eat.
The purpose of this post today is to give general recommendations about how to get started on healthy eating. This is written for the average man or woman who is probably a little (or a lot) overweight, has low energy and wants to live life with more vigor, has brain fog and fatigue and/or wants to just use nutrition as a tool to improve overall health.
I’m going to do my best today NOT to use the word “diet” in reference to a particular dogmatic approach with a label for a diet. I am writing my personal and professional recommendations to getting starting on healthy eating. Now, to be clear, I do believe our genes are programmed to eat (and live) in an ancestral way and that modern life (including food) has more or less sabotaged this. Mimicking our hunter-gatherer ancestors as much as possible does lead to optimal gene expression and we do need to do this as much as possible in our modern world. That being said, it is 2018 and life is what it is. We have busy schedules, work and social demands, social media, deadlines, kids, relationships and all sorts of environmental toxins and influences (like blue light from our tablets) working against us. I believe in a realistic and practical approach to starting healthy eating. Many diet plans are intimidating due to their rigid rules and structure. Although some people may be able to follow these for a period of time it is not something practical for extended periods of time (after all, “diets” tend to have a temporary sort of feel to them) and people stop following it and go back to their previous ways (think Weight Watchers, Atkins Diet and other similar plans). My recommendations are GENERAL in nature and you may have specific health or food tolerance issues that will need to be individualized.
- Eat more plants: if you don’t like veggies it’s time to put your big boy and big girl pants on and figure out how to eat and enjoy them. You don’t have to start off eating them raw (if you don’t like raw veggies) but figure out SOME way to eat them—steam, sauté, roast, soups, crockpot meals, fermented….whatever. I recommend the “Big Green Salad” (click to read about this) for lunch every day if possible. Vary your color of veggies to maximize the various nutritive benefits. Veggies are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (healthy things found only in plants) and most are quite low in calories so you can eat lots of them with minimal calories which then fills you up. Aim for at least one giant salad a day and at dinner at least half of your plate full of veggies. If it helps you to eat veggies, add a bit of butter (real butter) or cheese or whatever to make it more palatable.
- Eat animals: Animal products (meat, organs, marrow, etc) are vital to complete nutrition and health. If you are vegan due to your love for animals that is fine but don’t be vegan/vegetarian JUST for the sake that you THINK it is healthier, cause it’s not. NOT eating animal products deprives you of not just good protein sources but other vitamins/minerals found only in animals (I’m not going to go into detail on this but look this up yourself or maybe I’ll post about this in the future). I’m a big fan of eggs for breakfast, some chicken or left-over steak on my salad at lunch and some sort of meat for dinner. I also try and eat bone broth and will also experiment with some of the organ meats (such as deer heart) from time to time. Our ancestors ate the entire animal, head to tail, where we typically just eat the muscle. The muscle is fine but we are missing out on other nutrition benefits by not eating the ENTIRE animal. Don’t overdo it on meat and try not to burn it too much on the grill since that can produce carcinogens. Serving sizes should be about a fistful at a time. A total of 100 grams of protein per day for the average person should suffice (if you are a small woman then maybe 80 g would suffice but if you are a bigger guy then up 150 g might be necessary) but I am just giving general guidelines. Animal products are the easiest and most complete source of proteins (contain all 9 essential amino acids—plants only have some of these)
- Don’t fear fat: Fat has received an unfair and negative reputation based off of some bad science and 50 years of bad press. The “fat-free” era of the 80s and 90s spawned a bunch of fat-free junk food loaded with simple carbs and fat fear mongering among the public. What’s the result of this? A nation full of obese, sick, diabetic/pre-diabetic people consuming massive amounts of fat-free simple carbs. Healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, grass-fed meat, pastured eggs, full-fat dairy, coconuts and grass-fed butter, have many health benefits. Consuming enough fat is vital for satiety and overall health. Adequate fat, moderate protein and not too many bad carbs will train your body to burn body fat for fuel! My personal recommendation is to focus on the unsaturated fats such as from extra virgin olive oil and avocados but do not purposely avoid saturated fats (these have been under unfair scrutiny for too many years) such as butter, coconut oil and from animal products. I am NOT in support of purposely adding lots of saturated fat to your diet for the sake of making a “bulletproof coffee” or eating spoonfuls of coconut oil or anything silly like that. Just because something might be beneficial in small quantities doesn’t make it better in large quantities. Avoid transfats which are oftentimes found in processed foods and fast foods—these are artificially and harshly created fats that have negative health effects. Also avoid vegetable oils, canola oil, grapeseed oil, soybean oil and corn oil due to the harsh processing these typically endure and high omega 6 fats—due to both of these reasons these can be proinflammatory in nature.
- Nuts: a handful or two of nuts a day provides additional nutrition including healthy fats and some protein and various other vitamins/minerals. Just don’t overdo it as they are quite calorically dense.
- Carbs: yes, you can eat carbs. Not all carbs are created equal, just like not all fats are created equal. Carbs from fruit, tubers (starches), plants and legumes (beans) are nutritious, tend to be higher in fiber and slower digesting. Carbs from sugary sources such as candy, soda, desserts, breakfast cereal, most bread products, pastries, fancy coffee drinks, sports drinks and other products similar to this really have no place in anyone’s day-to-day diet. These sugary, or simple carbs, are the ones that are over-consumed by our society and wreaking our health. That being said, I still believe in limiting the total number of carbs in order to lose/maintain low body fat and prevent blood sugar spikes. As a general rule, patients who are at a healthy body fat level typically need no more than 150 g carbs per day. People looking to lose bodyfat will probably do better keeping carbs under 100 g/day. Keep in mind these are just GENERAL recommendations and there will be individual differences.
- Fasting: don’t let this scare you. Our bodies are meant to fast for periods of time. Not too many generations ago food was fairly scarce much of the year and required lots of time and effort to hunt and gather. We didn’t have food at our disposal like we do now. Fasting does several positive things but I’ll just go over it briefly (I’ve written about this before click here). During a fast, there are many positive effects that take place in the body that can help the body build and repair, it’s associated with health and longevity, when you are fasting you are not eating so this helps keep your calories under control, when our bodies are fasting and/or feeling hungry this prompts us to move—more movement means better health (our hunter gatherer ancestors would have starved to death if they didn’t move when they were hungry). What do I recommend? Try at least a 12 hour fast every day with an occasional longer fast of 16-20 hours. For example, if you typically finish dinner by 6:30 PM then don’t eat again until at least 6:30 AM but don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry, just eat again when hunger ensues naturally (WHEN).
Sample single-day eating plan:
I usually keep breakfast and lunch fairly low-carb with a little higher fat to prevent blood sugar swings and this helps keep energy levels stable and prevent mid-morning or mid-afternoon crashes.
Coffee: black or with a little heavy cream if needed
2-3 eggs prepared however you like them. Cook them in butter, avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, etc. Feel free to throw in some veggies, a little sausage, a little bacon if you like them.
A small serving of fruit–½ cup of berries, maybe a handful of almonds
Multiple greens of choice (not lettuce)
A hard, dry cheese such as feta, blue cheese (or no cheese if you don’t like cheese)
Throw some nuts or seeds on top
Sliced avocado on top
2 tbsp of olive oil or avocado oil. Use some apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar if you’d like. avoid most commercial salad dressings.
Throw some leftover meat, such as chicken breast or steak, on top or eat it separately.
4-6 oz of meat
Steamed cauliflower and/or steamed broccoli with grass-fed butter (I like Kerrygold) or shredded cheese on top. Fill your at least half of your plate with veggies.
Fistful size portion of potatoes or rice or a single serving of fruit—ok to omit this
If you are really looking to maximize fat loss I recommend avoiding snacking. If you need a snack grab a handful of nuts, put some nut butter on an apple or eat some low sugar beef jerky or something like that. As I’m writing this I am eating some carrots and hummus.
Sugar and all its evil forms, pastries, breakfast cereal, bread products (sliced bread, rolls, bagels, etc), pretty much anything packaged with multiple ingredients (most of which cannot be pronounced). If you stick with real food you pretty much can’t go wrong. Definitely avoid drinking your calories. Drinks such as sugary coffee drinks typically contain a lethal combination of sugar and unhealthy fats that are rapidly absorbed and spikes blood sugar and stores fat in your liver and other organs as well as bodyfat. Alcohol really has no benefit and can contribute to excess body fat and multiple other health concerns. A drink or two now and then is probably ok as long as it’s infrequent.
That’s about it. Keep it simple and eat real food. Stay hydrated with water or tea. Liberally use herbs and spices. Try out some different recipes and experiment a bit. If everybody ate like I described then chronic disease would mostly disappear and most people would be healthy and vibrant instead of unhealthy and tired.