It’s my firm belief that food exists specifically to energize, heal, repair, and uplift us! Every bite you take is a powerful opportunity to create health or promote disease, so by all means eat REAL food, the kind that comes from the earth and sustains us. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is full of industrialized, hyper-processed, hyper-palatable junk food that degrades us and makes us sick. White sugar, flour, and industrialized seed oils make up over 50 percent of the calories that the average American consumes in a day. This pro-inflammatory, metabolic disrupting, nutrient-deficient way of eating is directly linked to the diseases of affluence-type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and auto-immune conditions.
So, what’s the healthiest way to eat? There is a range of opinions from doctors, nutritionists, fitness professionals, and self-styled experts. Some advocate a Paleo or Ketogenic diet, others like the Mediterranean diet or vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. Truthfully, there are many healthy ways of eating, but don’t let anyone convince you that there is “one diet to rule them all”. We are biologically and biochemically individual, and thus require our diet to be personalized or customized to address our own nutritional needs. Food allergies, pre-existing medical conditions, metabolic disorders (carbohydrate sensitivity), genetics, lifestyle, and activity level all directly impact how, when, and what you eat. There is, however, one common theme that all healthy diets share, and should be understood when you are transitioning to a healthy way of eating: all food should be fresh, nutrient-dense, minimally processed, and properly prepared.
For my nutrition clients that want to adopt a healthier way of eating, I begin by customizing a diet that is based on our ancestorial diet. This is the template that provides a foundation for building health and vitality. Though much has changed in human culture over the last 80,000 years, our genes remain 99.9% the same. From a biological perspective, we have essentially the same nutritional needs as our pre-agricultural ancestors. All early human societies were omnivorous and included animal protein, however, the type and amount of protein varied widely. For clients that are vegan/vegetarian, there are many sources of plant protein that can be substituted for animal proteins. In the most basic form, every meal should contain some form of clean protein, healthy fats and oils, plant foods that contain fiber, and water. Here are some general guidelines when choosing what foods to eat:
Choose clean sources, grass-fed/pasture-raised, or wild game. Avoid highly processed meats with preservatives like nitrates/nitrites. Wild-caught fish is best, but if you need to buy farmed know where it’s from.
Fermented sources are best. To get a complete profile of amino acids always combine multiple plant proteins together.
Include a wide variety of all vegetables, with emphasis on colored and fiber-rich options. Eat starchy vegetables in moderation-potatoes, corn, carrots, etc.
Include a wide variety of fruits, especially berries, citrus, and the “fat” fruits-coconut/avocado/olives. Limit intake of high-glycemic fruits like melons/pineapple/grapes, and dried fruits and fruit juices.
Fats and Oils
Cook with butter, ghee, tallow, lard, avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil. Avoid industrial seed oils like cottonseed oil, soy, corn, peanut, rapeseed. Always avoid vegetable shortening/margarine, or any food that contains hydrogenated oil.
Choose beans/peas/lentils over grain-based carbohydrates. Grains should be eaten in their whole form, not ground into flour.
Nuts and Seeds
Eat plenty and eat often!
Best choices include molasses, palm sugar, date sugar, coconut sugar, monk fruit, maple syrup, stevia, xylitol, raw honey. Avoid white sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics