Achievable guidance for maintaining a healthy and balanced diet
It seems that each week, a new study casts doubt on the health effects of various foods:
- Are eggs good or bad for us?
- Should I eat red meat?
- Are there health benefits of red wine?
- How many cups of coffee should I drink, if any?
- Which “diet” is better? Keto, paleo, vegan or vegetarian? Maybe Mediterranean, low-carb or whatever is news tomorrow?
Even the authorities or smartest people in the room can’t agree. The American Diabetes Association has endorsed low-carb diets as a viable option to help control symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes (after years of denying their utility). But the American Heart Association remains generally opposed to low-carb regimens.
So, if the experts can’t agree and the same foods are commended and vilified at the same time, can anything be said with confidence about what most of us should eat for optimal health and well-being?
Yes! There are at least 5 rules that make common sense and have general agreement.
5 Healthy Eating Tips
- Reduce processed foods and refined sugars. Highly processed foods are major obesity drivers. Flour, even whole-wheat versions, is made of micro-pulverized grains. When consumed, that crushed kernel disperses rapidly in the gut, offering a large surface area that enzymes quickly convert to sugar. One researcher has termed flour and sugar “acellular carbohydrates” meaning they lack an intact cell structure and concluded that they are at least partially responsible for the high rates of obesity that modern societies suffer from. Other forms of processing, such as applying high heat or fractionating (removing the fat from milk or the bran from grain), are responsible for reducing nutrient content. Whenever possible, eat minimally processed whole foods.
- Eat fresh, local produce whenever you can. Produce, even when kept refrigerated, can lose much of its nutrients shortly after harvest. Considering that apples in the store may be months old, these losses can have real consequences. Not everyone has the time or the resources to grow their own food, but try your best to consume fresh, local produce – it’s more nutritious and tastes better too!
- Artificial sweeteners aren’t good for you – limit or eliminate their use. “Artificial sweeteners are marketed as a healthy alternative to sugar and seen as a tool for weight loss,” according to a 2017 study, but the opposite appears to be true. These chemicals are, in fact, “…associated with increased caloric consumption and weight gain.” Artificial sweeteners alter the way the body maintains blood sugar levels and actually boost hunger, so you may actually end up consuming more calories.
- Watch how many calories you drink, including alcohol. Avoiding artificially-sweetened beverages doesn’t mean you should drink sugar-sweetened ones, regardless of whether they’re sweetened with “real cane sugar.” Studies suggest sugary beverages are a “…key contributor to the epidemic of overweight and obesity….” It is also helpful to moderate your alcohol consumption. Regardless of research on alcohol consumption, an alcoholic drink usually starts at around 100 calories and can go up to more than 300. Bottom line: drink moderately and be aware of the increased caloric intake of even a few drinks per week.
- Cook more than eating out. People that eat a larger percentage of their meals at home tend to eat more vegetables, legumes, and fruits and have lower body fat percentages than those who eat at home less frequently. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it!
In our modern, busy lives, it’s unreasonable to think these rules can be followed 100% of the time. But you have to start somewhere. Maximize your ability to get the most health benefits from whatever “diet” you choose to follow by incorporating these changes to the extent that your lifestyle and budget allow.