Although I’m not a trained dietician, I’ve read extensively on what foods to eat and avoid, and worked in some common sense. Here’s what I share with friends and with family. Please understand, these suggestions may apply only to healthy people that without metabolic disorders. I haven’t looked for any scientific studies or clinical trials regarding these suggestions. These aren’t “laws” and shouldn’t be treated as such. These 11 nutrition recommendations for optimal health make sense to me, and I believe they’ll make sense to you too.
Most of what I present here comes from the work of others, including what may be the most impressive “official” nutritional guidelines, those of Brazil. It’s really based on the simple advice of Michael Pollan, who came with the essence of good nutrition sense: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
1. The bulk of your food intake should include a variety of fresh, whole, unprocessed foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, eggs and cheese. Focus on unprocessed foods: foods that haven’t e been cooked, prepared or altered in any way. Whole grain bread instead of white bread. Brown rice over white rice.
2. Lightly processed food is OK, in moderation. Let’s face it: nobody makes everything from scratch. You’re not likely to make your own pasta, for instance – or your own cheese. When you do include lightly processed foods into your diet, just try to make sure they include only ingredients you can buy yourself.
3. Heavily processed foods should be avoided as much as possible. Not only do heavily processed foods often contain empty calories, but they frequently also contain ingredients that you can’t purchase yourself, and often, didn’t even exist a hundred years ago. Do you think that’s going to bring you optimal health? Think of it this way: we’ve evolved over thousands of years to eat whole, unprocessed foods. Why take a chance on something that’s only been around for a few decades? Foods to avoid include chips, cookies, cereals, heavily processed meats, etc. These items are frequently cited in epidemiologic studies and are often associated with poor health.
4. As much as possible, eat home cooked food that includes fresh, whole, unprocessed foods. When you eat at home, you are in control of your ingredients. You also get the benefit of choosing exactly what you’re going to eat, what flavors you’ll enjoy, and have the freshest food possible. And as a cook, I can tell you that it’s amazing how easy that can be, and what great foods you can prepare with just olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon, and balsamic.
5. Use salt and fats, including butter and oil, as needed in food preparation, but with focus on the Greek maxim “moderation in all things.” The fact is, things like salt and fat aren’t bad, and contribute to making food tasty and satisfying. The key here is moderation. Use what you need. Seasoning is often what makes food taste good. So don’t be afraid to use them, but not to excess.
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6. Choose restaurants that prepare food from fresh, whole, unprocessed ingredients. Lots and lots of restaurants do. Stay focused on eating fresh, whole, unprocessed ingredients, recognizing that some processing is fine, but try to keep it to a minimum.
7. Drink mostly water, but some alcohol, coffee and other beverages are fine. If you look, you’ll find studies that show that nearly everything either prevents or causes cancer — alcohol and coffee included. But from what I’ve read, the key is to be moderate with your consumption of beverages other than water. Some beverages have positive effects, including red wine and green tea.
8. All beverages with calories should be consumed moderately. This includes things even like milk. And if weight management or weight loss is something your concerned about, then avoid calorie containing beverages as much as possible. I quit taking cream in my coffee when I realized that I could cut 12,000 calories per year from my diet by drinking black coffee.
9. Eat with other people, especially people you care about, as often as possible. This has benefits beyond just nutrition: it makes you more likely to cook, more likely to eat slowly, and also makes you happier.
10. Please avoid treating any food like it’s forbidden. I know that lots of nutrition experts do, and it may turn out they’re right, but at this point I think the jury is still out. I like the concept of “cheat days” and while I eat fresh organic food 99% of the time, I’m also know to stop at In and Out Burger for a double-double from time to time. The point is, total abstinence rarely works. I firmly believe it’s what you do most of the time that counts. I think you’ll find that many other diets and recommendations work under these rules. These are much more flexible and, I hope, reasonable than what some might prescribe.
11. The real point is to be conscious of what you’re eating. It’s easy to consume more than you should, especially when eating out. You just have to pay attention to how much you need – and that varies from person to person, depending on factors including metabolism and daily exercise. People have varying requirements, and it’s important for all of us to listen to our bodies to know when we should eat, and when we should stop.
One other thing: Don’t judge what others eat. A friend of mine experienced great results by drastically limiting carbohydrates. Another friend became a vegan, and had great results. And think about this: I had one friend who was in the habit of regularly consuming sodas, and within 5 months of quitting soda he lost over 30 pounds. Personally, I don’t avoid any foods, but stick primarily to fresh, whole, unprocessed foods.
Remember that people are very different. Some may have real problems consuming even the amount that is smallest of carbohydrates. Others may be intolerant of certain foods because of allergies or sensitivities. It may take a bit of experimentation to find the diet that works for you, but I urge you to follow the nutrition recommendations here, in the spirit of leading a long and healthy life.
As always, your comments are welcome.