For many of us, the thought of doing our own nutritional research by reading countless works of health-based literature can be daunting, if not completely overwhelming. Is whole grain the staff of life or can it damage the brain or the gut, or both? Is wheat a particularly scary bogeyman or a wrongly accused bystander? Is eating an egg really as bad as smoking a cigarette? What about meat? Fish? Dairy?? Soy???
With the seemingly endless deluge of nutrition and health blogs available today, countless hours are being spent sifting through witty commentary an attempt to ferret out the information needed to decide what foods are right for us. More often than not, however, we find ourselves drowning in a sea of dietary contradictions, finding that the only way to keep our head – and sanity – afloat, is to surrender our quest for true nutritional enlightenment for the path of least resistance instead. This usually translates to jumping on the bandwagon of the most popular fad diets covering the pages of current health magazines. Unfortunately, while programs like the Paleo or Raw Food diet may prove a perfect solution for some, even the most consummate of diets require a little tweaking to better support the bioindividuality in each of us.
In 1960, the United States was 16th in life expectancy compared to 191 other countries worldwide. Today, we rank 42nd.
We’ve reached a frightening turning point where children being born in the United States are the first generation whose lifespan is on track to be shorter than that of their parents.
One single medical recommendation — to eat low-fat foods — spawned a high-carb feeding frenzy that may be the single most expensive mistake, both in human suffering and economics, ever made in the name of evidence-based medicine.
So in a world with overflow, all-encompassing dietary instructions, what’s a body to do? Who should we believe and whose information should we take with a grain of (sea) salt? Here are some tips that truly anyone can follow, no matter your food preferences, dietary restrictions or health issues:
1. Nix fake foods
It’s time to call off our national love affair with “crap carbs,” as well as toxin-laden fast foods. Eat whole foods, organic when you can. For a list of the most important foods to buy organic, check out the Environmental Working Group’s 2014 list of the Dirty Dozen Plus (pesticide ridden crops) and Clean Fifteen (conventionally grown produce with low pesticide residues). You can even download an app to take with you while you shop.
2. Eat at least one pound a day of vegetables and fruits daily
Produce is rich in fiber and is a prebiotic (food that your probiotics — the good gut bacteria — need to thrive). When your bacteria are happy, you are too since they manufacture the lion’s share of your neurotransmitters.
A big salad for lunch and snacks like celery with nut butter or soft cheese, carrots and sliced apples can easily get you there. Try protein-infused stir fry for dinner (organic tempeh or tofu for vegetarians, wild-caught fish, free-range poultry or grass-fed meat for omnivores).
3. Say no to bad fat and yes to good fat
Since many toxins are fat soluble, make sure the fats and oils you eat are organic and prepared properly. Fats like omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish and flax seed oil, virgin organic coconut oil and grass-fed meat are good fats, as are olive and avocado oil. Omega-6 fatty acids from polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) — while good in small amounts — are over-represented in the American diet. Unless they’re cold-pressed and organic, the fats are frequently oxidized and dangerous to eat due to their highly unstable nature.
On average we eat a whopping 75 pounds a year of this stuff, whereas our ancestors ate about one pound annually. Safflower, sunflower, soybean and grapeseed oils (along with other PUFAs) are inflammatory in excess and due to aggressive processing methods, are dangerously oxidized and rancid before ever leaving the packaging plant.
4. Eat a carb-reasonable diet
Some folks can metabolize boatloads of carbohydrates without becoming insulin resistant. Other people have to cut out almost every last carb from their diet to lose weight, correct type 2 diabetes and stave off other chronic diseases. Insulin sensitivity is the most important consideration in choosing the right diet for your metabolism. See your doc or naturopath and ask for these tests to suss out your insulin sensitivity: fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin level, HbA1c, and an NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance lipid profile- Liposcience has a good one). The latter test provides a numeric score of your insulin sensitivity. The more insulin resistant you are the fewer carbs you can eat. For a more functional approach, visit Sam or Vicki here at Robust Life Center to get a more accurate picture of how your body is truly functioning, not just the level of hormones it is producing. These numerical values tell only a fraction your body’s story, and as such provide a very minute degree of help when repairing the body.
5. Personalize diet for your unique metabolism
There is no one size fits all diet no matter what people claim, and they claim a lot of very crazy things.
A diet rich in vegetables and at least some fruit is good for almost everyone. But it doesn’t have to be — and in many cases, shouldn’t be — all we eat. Whether you’re one of the 0.5 percent of Americans who prefer to be vegans, the 3.2 percent who are vegetarians or a member of the omnivorous majority, a diet based on whole, unprocessed foods with lots of nutrient-rich, calorie-sparse vegetables is a good starting point.
Personalizing your diet is an art based on keeping track of your food, mood, weight, medical symptoms and medical tests.
No matter what diet is right for you, eating it ought to be a pleasure. No one gives up what they love for something that tastes worse. So get thee to a farmer’s market, choose what’s fresh and use your imagination to create meals with pizzazz that can feed you and your family more than once.
The kitchen and sitting together at the table can do more than regularize your metabolism and stave off chronic illness. Cooking can reduce your stress, save you money and create sweet connection with the people you love.