What’s the best diet?
This is Part 2 of a series of posts on eating mindfully. Part 1.
If you’ve watched the news, picked up a popular magazine, or surfed the internet in the past 5 years, you may have gotten the impression than eating right is a complicated task. Popular diet books and TV “experts” tout low-carb, low-fat, low-calorie, and even stranger diets. It’s no surprise then that a lot of people are utterly confused about what constitutes healthy eating.
Fortunately, it’s not that hard. A few days ago, I posted a reminder of the foods you already know to avoid. For some, avoidance of those items may be enough to meet their goals. For those looking to take a further step, there several general nutritional principles common to many healthy dietary strategies. Most people can make serious changes to their health and bodies with these alone.
- Eat whole foods. If it comes in a box, has more than a handful of ingredients, or contains ingredients you cannot pronounce, it’s probably not great for your health or your physique. Processed foods tend to be full of sugar or unhealthy fats, low-glycemic due to their processing, and devoid of healthy micronutrients. Stick to food that are as close to their original form as possible. Most of these items can be found around the edges of the grocery store rather than the middle: fresh fruits and veggies, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, etc.
- Eat protein with every meal. Protein, in comparison to the other macronutrients (fat and carbohydrate), is less likely to promote fat storage. There are competing theories on why that’s the case (namely the insulin hypothesis and the food reward value hypothesis) which are too complex for this post, but it largely holds true regardless. Proteins are also the building blocks of muscle, and a person who exercises regularly, particularly with strength training, needs a constant supply of proteins to rebuild and grow damaged muscles.
- Eat vegetables with every meal. Vegetables are chock full of healthy micronutrients with disease preventing and performance enhancing properties. They’re also satiating without adding many calories and this help reduce the calorie-density of your meals, which is great for fat loss.
- Eat carbs strategically. Simpler carb sources, such as bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, oatmeal, etc, have a more significant effect on insulin production and thus nutrient storage than protein and fat. Your body is best able to handle these spikes following exercise, which increases your muscle cells’ sensitivity to insulin. When you consume simpler carbs post-workout, the subsequent insulin spike helps replenish the nutrients you depleted during exercise. Note that this does not override rules 2 and 3. Starchy carbs should be seen as supplemental to proteins and veggies during these times.
- Drink only zero-calorie beverages. Caloric beverages have grown tremendously in popularity in the past 30 years or so, to the point where it’s estimated that American’s get as much as 20% of their daily calories in liquid form. Liquid calories don’t fill you up like solid ones, and most of them are 100% sugar (in one form or another), making them essentially insulin bombs. Water should be your primary beverage. Black coffee and unsweetened tea also fall into this category.
Implement these principles, and you’ll see results in your health, performance, and appearance. In fact, depending on your goals, you may never need to take your nutrition any farther than these five habits.