It seems we are constantly barraged with new diets and theories on how to eat. Don’t eat carbs! Don’t eat meat! Eat eggs, but not yolks! Oy! If you’re like me and have a family member who’s sick frequently with an intolerance for certain foods, it makes it even more difficult. Having dealt with these issues over the last few decades, I have come up with some general food rules to eat by. These rules have been shown true time and time again, no matter how often I research. These are by no means definitive, but they seem to be the base from which most other diets and/or theories spring.
The fundamental rules of eating as I see them:
- Raw and Natural – The closer it is to its natural state when you eat it, the better it is for you. Raw vegetables, for example, are just about the healthiest food you can eat. It doesn’t apply to all vegetables, but it’s a good place to start.
- Non-packaged – As the first rule suggests, overly processed foods should be avoided. Packaged foods (like TV dinners, crackers, chips, candy, etc) are simply not good for you. They are full of all sorts of unnatural ingredients and are likely to cause you a variety of health problems over time.
- Grain – Modern grains have been hybridized for culinary value, not nutritional value. Problems with grains can include gluten intolerance, anti-nutrients and just the tendency for it to become more than half of our diet. This can lead to a variety of health problems. Try switching to things like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat or millet. Or try eliminating grain completely. You can get all the carbs you need from other sources.
- Sugar – Processed sugar should be avoided.Going back to my first rule, it’s too processed and not worthy of consumption. Fructose of any sort can play havoc with your system. Some experts suggest we’d have been better off legalizing cocaine than sugar. Use fresh fruit to appease your sweet tooth.
- Moo – Did you know humans are the only species of mammal on earth that consumes milk outside of infancy? There’s probably a reason for that, but that’s another post. From a processing perspective, it’s pasteurized, a process that removes the enzymes you need in order to digest the milk. And it’s difficult to get unpasteurized milk in the U.S., since it’s illegal to sell it that way. It’s also a significant food allergy for many people. If you can’t go without milk, consider switching to goat milk, since your body has the enzymes necessary to digest it.
- Fermented – Add some fermented foods to your diet, like yogurt, sauerkraut or kombucha. They provide you with some beneficial bacteria that help to maintain a healthy environment in your intestines.
- Moderation and Balance – With the basics covered, remember to find your balance. If you eat nothing but sauerkraut, you’re missing quite a few important nutrients. Fresh vegetables alone are not likely to provide you with the protein you need. Balance and moderation are very important. Eat enough, not too much, and make sure you have variety.
- Cheat – For heaven’s sake, don’t be religious about all of this. You should have planned cheats just to keep your sanity. And don’t miss out on life because you’re so idealistic about your food. You’ll regret the people, places and experiences you’ll miss out on if your rigidity about eating keeps you from them. Unless you’re allergic to it, an occasional cheat won’t destroy your health.
Those are my food rules. Keep in mind that I’m not a nutritionist, dietitian or doctor. However, after looking up every diet I’ve ever heard of over the last few decades and listening to nutritionists and naturopaths and doctors, I’ve found these rules work for most of them.
Many other topics are left out of this post, because otherwise, it would be too long. But you can apply the rules to most of these topics. Just a couple examples: Fiber? Follow the first rule and you’ll get plenty. Traditional salt vs. sea salt? Which one is less processed? (That would be sea salt, usually)
You may have noticed that I didn’t list rules for meat or alcohol. That was deliberate. There is much argument on both sides of these topics, and I would just say apply the rules to them both. Here are my (non-formally-educated) thoughts on both subjects…
Meat: Pay attention to what the animal consumed while it was alive. Antibiotics? Steroids? Hormones? Yuck! Don’t eat that. Look for grass fed, free range, cage-free, etc.
Alcohol: Personally, I see absolutely no nutritional value in distilled beverages (whiskey, vodka, etc). However, you will find a lot of people talking about the benefits of things like red wine, as well as many people condemning alcohol altogether. I sit in the middle on this issue. I like red wine and don’t think it harms me. I also like a good beer, though I suspect it’s less good for me. If you drink, remember moderation. Buy quality instead of quantity.
One final note is to remember that all the people making the rules are lovely fallible humans just like you. We don’t know near as much as we like to think. Just look at all the reversals in what has been good to eat over the last 100 years and you’ll see how dumb we are as humans. At the turn of the 20th century in the U.S., doctors were telling people that there was no good reason to eat green vegetables and they should probably avoid them. They were also prescribing cocaine for general health. My grandfather was advised to take up smoking to calm his nerves. Eggs have come in and out of favor several times, and there is great debate over a large number of foods. Rather than jumping into that mess, learn to listen to your own body. Two of the simplest signs from your body that you’re eating something you shouldn’t:
- You have an uncontrollable craving for something. Yes, usually this is bad
- You react poorly to something (headache, stomachache, bloating, etc).
And that’s all I know!