There are so many fad diets. How do I make healthy food choices?
If you’ve been in the fitness space for awhile you probably know by now that nutrition is key to living a healthy life and performing at your best. You might have even gone deep into the rabbit hole of nutrition and started tracking your macros and/or tried one of the many popular diets including paleo, keto, Whole30, or another elimination diet. All of these work when strictly adhered to over extended periods of time. But for the beginner or someone looking to simplify the process, I believe it’s easier to follow some basic guidelines.
The approach I like to take comes from a book I read called In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking to hear an unbiased opinion on the food industry, our habits, and simple guidelines to use to become a better consumer.
Pollan puts nutrition into one blanket statement of “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
Let’s break this up.
“Eat food” is eating REAL food.
This includes vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds and meats and excludes the processed foods. Real food usually lies on the perimeter of the grocery store. This type of food will rot relatively soon. Food that has a shelf life of months or years is not real food. Real food has a short list of ingredients. Pollan recommends to aim for food that has a maximum of 5 ingredients and does not contain ingredients you cannot pronounce.
Think about this next time you grocery shop. When you pick something up ask yourself, “Will this rot soon if I don’t make a point to cook or eat it?” “Does this have an expiration date months or years from now?” “Does this ingredients list take too long to read?”
Would your grandmother know what that is?
An interesting guideline he uses is “don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize”. I love how that makes perfect sense. If I gave my grandmother a box of protein bars or the newest whey protein powder for lunch I think I’d get a few questions from her. But she’d gladly take a chicken salad with a side of fruit. That’s real food.
“Not too much”
Using this guideline helps us avoid overeating. Eating too much is a slippery slope that can easily become a bad habit. Consistently overeating may lead to unwanted weight gain and lack of progress if you are trying to lose fat. “Not too much” means eating just enough to feel like you’ve had a meal but stopping just short of your stomach feeling full.
This one can be tricky and harder to implement if you are someone who eats massive portions of meat and believes protein is the most important macronutrient. Pollan puts this in with the intent to lower the amount of meat on your plate. You can still have a healthy portion of meat but your plants should take up most of the plate. These plants include leafy greens, nuts/seeds, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, fruit etc. Mix it up and fill most of your plate with colorful veggies and fruit.
These guidelines are meant to simplify the way people look at food. Some of the fad diets listed above may stick to these guidelines and some do not. These suggestions are meant to keep most people generally healthy. They are not specifically meant to change your body composition or increase your performance (although this may happen naturally from the dietary changes i.e. naturally going into a caloric deficit, better recovery from increase micronutrients and lower inflammation, etc.). What you eat matters and how much you eat matters.
Pollan also makes a point in saying “All things in moderation, including moderation.” You don’t want to be the person that has to pass up on the birthday cake. There’s no problem with indulging in the food you really love that may be outside these guidelines. Do the best you can to eat healthy nutritious food most of the time and give yourself the room to indulge a little.
If you’re new to learning nutrition and you need some simple guidelines to make healthy choices I believe these are a great place to start.
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
If you have questions or found this helpful let me know in the comments!