It’s impossible to do this topic justice in a simple blog post. Plus, there’s no one-size-fits-all. So please know this is just the “intro” stuff.
But it’s enough to get you thinking and doing! And then we can delve deeper later.
Super Simple 101
I’m going to keep this simple but I really do think that if you are ultimately going to assume responsibility for your own individual health and food choices, you are going to need some basic nutrition knowledge. Why? Because (gasp) a calorie is NOT a calorie and it simply ain’t that simple!
Ultimate health is achieved only through loading your body up with nutrients. ALL of them (macros & micros).
Macronutrients = carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (calorie-carrying components of foods) NOTE: NO! All calories are not all created equally!
Micronutrients = vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, organic acids, and phytochemicals (non-calorie-carrying components of foods that are needed for your body to function properly)
See…that’s IT (for now)!
Build every meal around:
#1 – Vegetables – I’m not going to be super specific here except to remind you that corn is not a vegetable and that starchy veggies can be easily overdone (and more importantly, take the place of better choices). But let’s be honest, who’s really building their meals around veggies? So doing this is already a win for almost everyone!
Please note this is a pleural. It’s in your best interest to have numerous veggies. That’s all there is to say about that for now.
#2 – Healthy Fats – The truth is that in the Standard American Diet, our dietary fats are secondary, meaning they’re added to make food more palatable which isn’t, in an of itself, a no-no. The point here is that fats are necessary and we should be included them with intention which is probably a big ol’ shift in mindset for most people.
I’ve blogged about health fats here.
#3 – Protein – Odds are good that some of your fat choices (especially if they’re in the form of food & not just an oil) will also deliver you protein. As a rule of thumb though, animal proteins are more digestible (meaning you actually get the benefit of the food, not just the calorie!) than plant sources (beans, grains, fruits and veggies).
This is a list of proteins in order of “quality” (meaning they deliver a greater value and your body is actually able to absorb & use them):
- meat, poultry, seafood, & eggs
- dairy products
- fruits, vegetable, nuts & seed (good sources of micronutrients but not necessarily protein)
Note: All foods, but especially your protein sources, should be “clean”. OK, that’s a fake-ish word and definitely material for another blog post but, for now, foods should be responsibly & sustainably raised without synthetic fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and/or pesticides. Think “locally sourced” (not locally “sold”, locally “raised”). And for crying out load, no foods made in a factory!
#4 – Carbohydrates – If you’re doing #1 and maybe including a fruit or two, you’re likely getting plenty of high-quality carbohydrates. You may need to make adjustments over time based on how you feel, but generally speaking, #1 really does take care of #4.
One More Thing to Ad
Herbs & seasonings are powerful deliverers of micronutrients. Fresh or dried. Use them liberally if you tolerate them well.
How Much Should You Eat?
Contrary to conventional thinking, this is a lot less complex than it’s been made out to be. The same is actually true for what to eat.
You see, there’s this thing called “nutritional intelligence”. It’s not the result though of having “studied” something. Instead, it’s an inherent knowing of what and how much your body needs to fuel itself and thrive. I am all geeked about the subject and will definitely blog about it in the near future but for now, what I want you to know is that processed foods and low-quality factory foods (conventional meats, fruits & veggies) are interfering with our brain’s ability to tell us what & how much to eat. True story. Processed foods are making us dumb…
If you still feel like I haven’t answered the question of how much to eat, apply these two pricinples:
- Pay really close attention when you eat (I know…I am suggesting the insane!) and eat until you are full but not uncomfortable.
- If you find you are hungry between meals, consider that you either didn’t enough food or that you didn’t eat the right food. With the right nourishment, our bodies were designed to go for very long times without food.
One last thing to consider (maybe this should be first) is if you are dehydrated. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. I’m not saying you always need to drink something before you eat. I am saying you need to know your body well enough to know the difference.
How Frequently Should You Eat?
The answer to this question is very individual. But almost unanimously it’s less than we think. I don’t want to get all caveman-mentality on you, but our bodies were designed (as I mentioned just a bit ago) to go for long periods of time (if needed) without food. Think about it, we’d be extinct if we needed a steady supply of food, right?
The steady-stream-of-carbs dogma and mentality…it’s just not working. It’s not working because it’s not accurate. The theory behind all of this is worth exploring more deeply but not today. Just know that there’s science to support this. Unless you’re a one-off (and there are always those), you’re probably really safe to not eat every two hours!
Still. How frequently should you eat? I don’t want to give you an exact number but I will say that I think it’s best to shoot for no more than three meals a day. No snacks (not never, but not usually). If you’re hungry between meals, again, you either didn’t eat enough or you didn’t eat the right foods.
Snacking (for the Die Hards)
If you aren’t successful in transitioning away from needing a snack and you simply must snack, eat meal food instead of snack food. Have a mini-meal following all of the same meal-building above principles.
There’s still one small potential trap even if you follow all of the above principles. Most of us find certain food “hyper palatable” meaning they taste so good to us that we have a hard time moderating their consumption. Avoid those foods.
As usual, I am not saying “never”. But I am saying “not often”.
Almost Nothing is Hard & Fast – Or Forever
Conventional health fails to allow for all of the variable and individual differences that effect our nutritional needs. Quite bluntly, if you’re not ready to take personal accountability for your health and nutritional needs, the simplicity I’ve presented here likely won’t work for you.
Also, things will be different for you than for someone else and what works for you will change over time.
In that vane, most of the information I share is a good strong reference & foundation for a deeply nourishing diet. But it has wiggle room. And a lot of variability. Take responsibility for your results.
Individual Meal Science
What I really want to communicate here is that every meal doesn’t have to be “perfect” based on the above principles. For the most part, our bodies aren’t that fragile that one or two imbalanced meals will not cost us our health (if that were true the Greater America would be dead!). What’s more important is that “over time” you meet all of your body’s nutritional needs.
So What (About Nutritional Needs)?
This is definitely a topic for another blog post and I kind of trust that if you’re here & reading this, you are at least somewhat convinced of the power of food (despite what conventional thinking and modern medicine says about food). I guess my appeal to you if you have not yet experienced it’s healing powers is to stay open to the idea.
It really is a thing! And it can change your life in ways you cannot imagine if you are currently living with chronic bs-y stuff that has become normal but really isn’t.
To Give You an Idea
If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, you probably get a bit tired of seeing what I eat. I tend to post a lot of pictures. They’re intended to be helpful. But then sometimes I’m just so dang excited about how great my food is that I want to share it! Point being though, I walk my talk. Here’s what I had for lunch:
- leftover homemade ceviche (seafood cooking in lime juice with veggies & avocado) – fat, protein & a few carbs
- sliced bell peppers & broccoli & cucumbers & cauliflower dipped in dairy kefir cheese (homemade) with Italian herbs and elephant garlic – carbs, fat & some protein & full of micronutrients
- dark chocolate – yummy!
I’ve received some comments that the size of my meals is more like the size of their snacks. Two things I want you to know: 1-I am not walking around hungry! and 2-studies clearly conclude that lower calories lead to longevity. I really do believe this is all part of the nutritional intelligence piece.
What are your questions? I’m ready for them!!
DISCLAIMER: Some of the info in this post is fact and some is opinion. It’s a representation of the knowledge I’ve gained and my experience applying it over the course of my journey to health through food. None of my knowledge or experience is a substitute for your own. But I do hope you find it helpful and that it opens up some possibilities for you!