Nutrition can be incredibly frustrating. I am deeply fascinated by the science and love my job. But, sometimes it is the friggen worst. It changes every three seconds, and each week there's some new food to demonize or praise and way too many competing opinions out there. It can be a serious challenge to feel confident about our eating patterns and to truly know if what we are doing is best for our health in the world we live in today. The internet can be a horrifying place to find information about health and wellness (she says, while giving health and wellness advice on the internet), the shear amount information out here is absolute madness. And somehow, we are expected to process and sort through information
and then determine if it is actually worth our time. It seems almost impossible.
So, let's step back and consider this mess for a minute.
Where are all the healthy people?
In my eyes it makes the most sense to follow in the foot steps of those who have succeeded before us.
There are a handful of places around the world that contain some very healthy people; regions where people are living into their 100's and have very low rates of chronic disease. Each of these places have diets that actually look quite different; though there are some common themes (produce, whole grains, beans, nuts). While the actual food each region consumes is quite different, and the food culture is very different, there is a tiny invisible string that connects them all. This little secret that keeps them going. They are eating and cooking actual, real, whole foods.
And more importantly, they are not eating the packaged processed stuff that has taken over the grocery stores these days, especially in North America. At the end of the day, if you can cook it from scratch, it's going to nourish you more than anything we can buy from a company. Plus, in theory, if we only ate ice cream, pasta, bread and chocolate bars as often as we were able to make it in our own kitchens, they would likely happen WAY less often, 'cause who's got time for that? The point is: to not get weighed down in the details and we can't assume there is only one way. There are so many paths to health these days, but not all of them work for each person. However, if we can keep whatever we do rooted in whole, real foods, we are probably going to be okay.
In addition to eating real whole foods, there is often a strong sense of community and family networks, a strong sense of purpose, and natural activity built into their days.
In other words, the worlds healthiest and longest living people do not diet. They do not go to the gym. They do not try to lose weight. They do not work 70 hours a week at a desk job and come home and flop on the couch and watch TV and eat recreationally. Instead, the environments around them support their factors for health.
How do I know how to determine what's right for me?
When you are sorting through all of this information about food, diets and health, I want you all to make the decision for yourself about whether it's good for you, rather than listening to the always conflicting newscasters, banner adds about bananas, Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, or your office mate (who apparently knows everything about everything).
In order to determine what you should put in your body: ask yourself some very important questions before choosing to eat something or choosing a particular diet:
Real food is the road to good health
Whole, real, fresh food that you or another person cooked is always better. That doesn't mean being a little dirty and eating off the beaten path is not okay every now and then. Sometimes a burger and fries is just necessary, I get it.
Perfection is not required, but persistence is.
However, when it comes to determining what exactly will nourish our bodies in the best way, when confronted with a hundred different views: whole, real, fresh foods are king. Not to mention, they fit beautifully into a diet that is focused on making your body feel good.
I now use this mentality across the board, and I have even used it to start questioning the multitude of supplements out there. So now, instead of blindly adding a weird tasting or gritty protein powder to my morning smoothie, I started wondering, where can I get some whole food sources of protein? Greek yogurt? Hemp hearts? Nuts? All three? Yep. Because the great thing about whole foods is that you also get 100 other nutrients in there to support your health, and they almost always taste better.
What does a whole foods diet look like?
This is a starting point. If gluten or dairy or meat or ANYTHING doesn't jive with you and your body or personal beliefs, simply don't include those things. If you aren't sure, create a food log and experiment until you figure it out what makes you feel the best.
Having said that. If you are experiencing any food troubles, chances are, most of the problem is actually processed food (rather than gluten, meat, dairy); so fix that first before you start messing with anything else.
The following list might give you a good start, I would try not to skip steps as they are in order of importance, for the most part. Also, try not to do too much at once. This process can (and probably should) take months, if not years. Remember, this is a lifelong process. There are no quick fixes when it comes to sustainable changes to the quality of our diets.
Cut out pop (all forms) and work towards making your beverages mostly water. This might also include removing juice, adjusting your coffee routine, cutting back on sugar, artificial sweeteners and flavoured beverages.
Avoid fast food and other chain restaurants. If you go out for dinner, try small locally owned restaurants. They make their food fresh for the most part, and they need our business!
Starting to cook more at home, even if its not perfectly healthy, just practising and increasing your comfort in the kitchen. I will try to help with this one.
Choose foods that are minimally processed (little to no strange ingredients). Aiming for most of your groceries to be single ingredient products (produce, meats, eggs, beans, nuts).
Start shopping at your local farmers market and choose seasonal produce whenever possible
Start experimenting with making your own pantry staples: granola, yogurt, cheese, bread, salad dressings, BBQ sauce (this one really helps with #4, and happens to be the most delicious)
Don't seek perfection, start somewhere you're comfortable and chip away at it. Good luck!