First, a warning: I’m not a scientist, nutritionist or dietician. My only formal training in this field is a college course I took entitled “Public Health and Nutrition”, and I was really surprised when that turned out to be “diseases of the third world” and not “hot dogs are bad for you.” I’m just a hobby nutritionist with a longstanding nerdy interest in health, nutrition and fitness.
But it doesn’t take a scientist to see that we have a major problem these days with our relationship to food. It’s time to rethink your assumptions about what’s healthy–and what’s not. It’s up to you to figure out things on your own, because everything you’ve been told about nutrition is wrong. These are becoming mainstream conversations.
This is not a comprehensive guide. I’m just giving you just enough to get you thinking (and a menu plan).
1. Hyperinsulinism, Syndrome X, and inflammation are the new buzzwords. You want to avoid them like the plague they are.
Have you been told your whole life that a calorie is a calorie, and fat makes you fat? It’s time to re-think and research these assumptions, because this misinformation is wreaking havoc with our health. It’s the high-glycemic carbs that are killing us.
2. Sugar is bad for you.
I grew up in the era when the gurus said you could eat the whole box of Cocoa Puffs as long as it was low-fat. Well, no longer. We now know that is a sure road to metabolic derangement. Sugar makes you fat, lowers your immunity and leaches minerals from your bones. Need convincing? Try these 25 reasons to avoid sugar.
3. Fat is good for you. (Healthy fat, that is.)
I was stunned when I first heard Dr Sears say that the biggest nutritional deficiency in the American diet today may be healthy fats. Don’t be scared of fat–excess insulin makes you fat, not excess fat–and fat has zero impact on insulin. And “healthy” fats may not be what you think they are: even “healthy” fats are getting back in the good graces of health nuts.
4. White flour is bad for you.
Yes, it’s used to make all kinds of tasty bakery treats–and they’re all bad for you. White flour is a highly refined carbohydrate, so eating it causes your blood sugar to spike and then crash. And white flour is a grain, even if it’s far-removed from the wheat in the field–and consuming grains doesn’t do good things for your health.
As for snacks like “whole-grain” goldfish and cheez-its? They’re made of white flour, and are not good for you, no matter what the marketers try and tell you.
5. Think twice about dairy–with a bonus tip!
The jury’s out on dairy–do what works for you. But know that it’s likely you’ll feel better with no dairy in your diet, and if you’re aiming for fat loss, eliminating dairy can help this as well. (After all, lactose is a sugar. And sugar inhibits weight loss.)
Here’s the bonus postpartum weight loss plan: I definitely don’t advocate “dieting” for the postpartum mother, but if your body is clinging to the baby weight, try eliminating flour, sugar and dairy products from your diet. This was my personal silver bullet.
6. Vegetables (and a little fruit) are good for you.
Green leafy vegetables are packed with nutrients and should be a priority. Go easy on starchy vegetables like potatoes and peas, and high-carb fruits like bananas. Fruit has lots of nutritive value, but if you’re trying to lose body fat, you want to avoid eating excessive amounts of sugar–even naturally occurring sugar. Proceed with caution.
7. Soda is bad for you. (Even Diet Coke.)
Sodas are loaded with sugar–or worse, corn syrup–and mess up your insulin levels. Aspartame is generally recognized as safe by the FDA. But even if it’s “safe” (I’m skeptical), aspartame is really sweet–2000 times sweeter than sugar. If you want to get control over sugar cravings, you need to stop eating sweets–even fake-artificial-sweet.
Need more motivation? Here are 8 reasons why people drink soda and 16 reasons to give up soda drinking.
8. Stress is really bad for you.
Stress hormones wreak havoc on a healthy body, cause inflammation and tension, and can make it impossible to lose weight.
9. Prioritize sleep.
You need sleep to be healthy, and to keep your weight under control. Not just to be “not sleepy.” Not getting enough sleep will keep your stress hormones elevated, decrease your brain function, and make you cranky. Get enough sleep.
10. You need to work out (and not just to burn off that cake).
Being fit and strong keeps you healthy for myriad reasons. Exercise even if you’re happy with your weight, because while exercise has many benefits, diet is far more important for healthy weight maintenance than exercise.
Where can I find out more?
I’m just scratching the surface here, but these are some of my favorite healthy-living resources:
Everyday Paleo: recipes and pictures that meet The New Healthy criteria
Mark’s Daily Apple: Mark blogs on “primal living” in the modern world
Two excellent books by Gary Taubes: Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health and Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.
What do I eat?
I like the Crossfit healthy-nutrition-in-a-nutshell summary: Eat “vegetables, meats, nuts and seeds, little starch, no sugar.”
Any dietary change is really hard for the first two weeks. Then we adapt, and it gets easier. If you plan ahead it’s easy to eat according to New Healthy guidelines. Here’s a week’s worth of dinners to get you started.
A menu plan for The New Healthy:
Tuesday: Best Chicken Fajitas
Wednesday: Mexi-salad with fresh guacamole