There are official recommendations. Then there are cultural traditions. Cook books. Blogs. Celebrity chefs. Magazines. Many of these recommendations are not supported by science. What many people are telling you may be inaccurate. In response, many people throw up there hands and put good nutrition in the ‘too hard’ basket.
We are going to put ourselves on the line. Here are 10 simple rules for healthy eating we at Eat Real Food can agree on. They’re the ones we share with clients, friends and with family. They’re the ones we support as health services professionals. However, we acknowledge up front that they may only apply to healthy people without metabolic disorders.
These suggestions are not all supported by the scientific weight of rigorous randomised controlled trials, because little in nutrition is. They are not “laws” and should not be treated as such. No specific nutrients will be demonised, and none will be held up as miracles. These are the recommendations that make sense to us, and they’ve helped us immensely.
Full disclosure: We did not invent most of these. We’ve developed them from reading the work of others, both research, experiment, implementation and trial and error. We also strive to incorporate intelligent suggestions from readers.
1. EAT REAL FOOD
Get as much of your nutrition as possible from a variety of completely unprocessed foods. These include fruits and vegetables. Include meat, fish, poultry and eggs that haven’t been processed AND/OR get well educated on nut/seed combinations for nutrients.
2. MINIMIZE PROCESSED FOOD
Eat lightly processed foods less often. Most people aren’t going to make everything themselves. Pasta, for instance, is going to be bought already prepared. Most people aren’t going to grind their own flour or extract their own oil. These are meant to be eaten along with unprocessed foods, but try to eat less of them.
3. AVOID EDIBLE FOOD-LIKE SUBSTANCES
Eat heavily processed foods even less often. There’s little high-quality evidence that even the most processed foods are dangerous. However, keep your consumption of them to a minimum, as they can make it too easy to stuff in calories. Such foods include bread, chips, cookies and cereals. In epidemiological studies, heavily processed meats are often associated with worse health outcomes.
4. YOUR HOUSE, YOUR [KITCHEN] RULES
Eat as much home-cooked food as possible, which should be prepared according to Rule 1. Eating at home allows you to avoid processed ingredients more easily. It allows you full control over what you eat and allows you to choose the flavours you prefer. You’re much less likely to stuff yourself silly if you eat home-cooked food. We’re not saying this is easy. Behavioural change takes repetition and practice. It also, unfortunately, takes time.
5. FAT AND SALT ARE NOT THE ENEMY
Use salt and fats, including butter and oil, as needed in food preparation. Things like salt and fat aren’t the enemy. They are often necessary in the preparation of tasty, satisfying food. The key here is moderation. Use what you need. Seasoning is often what makes vegetables taste good. Don’t be afraid of them, but don’t go crazy with them either.
6. HAVING RESTAURANT STANDARDS ISN’T “BEING FUSSY”
When you do eat out, try to eat at restaurants that follow the same rules. Ideally, you should eat at restaurants that are creating all of their items from completely unprocessed foods. Lots and lots of restaurants do. Follow Rule 1 even while out to dinner. Some processing is going to be fine, but try to keep it to a minimum.
7. LIQUIDS MATTER TOO
Drink mostly water. Some alcohol, coffee and other beverages are fine. You can find a study to show that everything either prevents or causes cancer – alcohol and coffee included. But our take is that the weight of evidence supports including moderate consumption of most beverages. Treat all beverages with calories in them as you would alcohol. You can have them because you like them, but you shouldn’t consume them as if you need them.
8. FOOD IS SOCIAL
Eat with other people, especially people you care about, as often as possible. This has benefits even outside those of nutrition. It will make you more likely to cook. It will most likely make you eat more slowly. It will also make you happy.
9. NOTHING IS BLACK AND WHITE
No food is the devil.
Trying to be a saint rarely works.
Many diets and recommendations work under these rules.
All of these rules are subtly trying to get you to be more conscious of what you’re eating. It’s far too easy these days to consume more than you think you are, or more than you really need, especially when eating out. We’ve found that it’s impossible to tell any one person how much he or she should be eating. People have varying requirements, and it’s important for all of them to listen to their bodies to know when they should eat, and when they should stop.
Oh, one other thing:
10. DON’T JUDGE WHAT OTHERS EAT
People are very different. Some may have real problems consuming even the smallest amount of carbohydrates. Others may be intolerant of certain foods because of allergies or sensitivities. It will most likely take a bit of experimentation, on an individual level, to find the actual diet within these recommendations that works for you. But the above rules should allow for a wide variety of foods and for remaining healthy.