A few days ago, I had a client ask me how they can "sort through the noise" when it comes to diet and health. Specifically, one day you'll hear that eggs are great for you. The next? Eggs are as bad for you as cigarettes (lolwut?)
I thought it was a terrific question, and definitely one I take for granted when I'm working on improving a client's diet. As such, a blog post was born!
Diet is unique as everyone has their own relationship with food. Everyone eats, and our relationship with food is usually a mix of health, sustenance, pleasure, and regret (which was me following my most recent trip to a local BBQ joint). Most of us intuitively know that apples are better the twinkies, and salads are better than sloppy joes. However, when we're constantly bombarded by information all day ("nuts are good for you....wait, no, now they're bad for you!") it gets harder and harder to go with your natural instincts.
Therefore, whenever someone wants to know how they can improve their diet, I usually fall back on the following three principles. They may seem simple, but they will help you cut through the bogus health headlines that come out every week:
The fewer animal products you consume, the longer you'll live.
As much as it pains me to admit, there's a wealth of evidence indicating this one to be true. Why? Well, no one really knows for sure.
Now, does this mean you should cease eating all dead animal flesh? Absolutely not, as it's a terrific source of many of the vitamins and minerals you need to live an active and healthy lifestyle. But, it does mean you should cut back on the amount you eat and focus on the quality of the food you're consuming.
Instead of having bacon and eggs for breakfast, spring for a couple of free range eggs paired with a side of fruit and peanut butter. Rather than cold cuts on a sandwich for lunch, try rice and beans on top of a salad. Cutting back your consumption of animal products really isn't as tough as it seems, especially if you're goal is to live as long as you can.
You can't overdose on fruits and vegetables.
I'm usually not one for advising specific diets, because everything works. But, the best diets are those that emphasize fruits and vegetables for a host of reasons. Not only are fruits and vegetables nutrient dense and calorie sparse, there have been multiple studies indicating that vitamins that are consumed in their true form (i.e. in produce) are much, much more effective than anything in pill form. Why? Because they are chock full of undiscovered nutrients that scientists have yet to chart, and do wonders for your health.
Furthermore, the sugar contained in fruit is much slower digesting than that you'd find in a processed food. Why? The fiber in fruit releases the sugar at a much slower rate into your digestive system. Plus, a piece of fruit is always a better option than anything that's processed.
Looking for a snack? Put down the crackers. Instead, grab a banana, as that's the original "100 calorie pack."
Stop counting calories.
Whenever I tell clients to stop counting calories, I get a range of different looks and expressions. While some agree when I tell them that it's a waste of time, others look at me as if I have 5 heads and just implicitly gave them permission to gain weight.
As I've written about before, counting calories is really good at giving yourself a headache, and very little else. Why? Because not all calories are created equal! Are 100 calories of an apple the same as 100 calories of gummy bears? Only if unicorns exist.
When all that matters to you is calories in/calories out, you're taking a very narrow approach to diet and health. Improving your health and diet means taking a holisitic approach to ensure you're getting enough REAL food. That's the only way your body can truly govern how much energy you need, and how much you should consume.
What next? Go forth with these three tips, and keep them in your back pocket the next time you hear a health claim. If it goes against these three tenants, it's probably bogus. If it doesn't, then feel free to give it a bit more weight....but only after you've read the actual study.