Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Nutrition is confusing.
Paleo, keto, vegan, anti-inflammatory, mediterranean, low-carb, high-fat…how do we know which camp we should be in?
The rules change seemingly every day. One day something is good for you, the next day it causes cancer, and then suddenly it’s bacl the new hero.
The good thing about this confusion is that it’s a sign that a lot of research is being done, and new studies coming out every day. We’re learning rapidly, but in the process of that learning we sometimes get conflicting signals.
It’s definitely frustrating for those of us trying to stick to the rules of healthy eating when the rules keep changing!!
To confuse things even more, we have the food industry tantalizing us (lying to us…) with words and labels that mean essentially nothing. “Vegetarian-fed” is my new favorite…*eye roll emoji* (more on this later!)
I come into contact with many women who think they are making the right choices, but when we dig in I realize they’re still basing their eating decisions on out-dated rules.
The food pyramid has been flipped upside down, what’s out is now in, and I think it’s a good time to take a look at the new rules for healthy eating.
I read a lot of nutrition books and have done the heavy research lifting for you, so in this post I’m going to review the basic food groups and share with you the new rules of nutrition.
If you’re one of those people who is trying to eat healthy, and thinking you’re eating healthy, but not seeing the results you want on the scale or in your blood work, this one is for you!
Let’s dig in!
Let’s start with what many consider to be the centerpiece a meal, the protein.
We need protein, and I believe we are meant to eat animals (a discussion for another time!), but in much smaller quantities.
In the 80’s & 90’s we believed meat to be bad for us because it causes heart disease.
Today the discussion has shifted towards the quality and sourcing of our protein.
We are what we eat…and what they ate. If you can sift through the hype on both sides, there’s probably bad stuff going into the feed mix at most cattle farms, and it’s probably a bit better for us and for the planet to opt for the grass-fed variety.
Research indicates you’ll get higher omega 3′s from grass-fed beef as compared to the industrial counterparts.
Keys to look for = 100% grass-fed. All cattle are fed grass initially, it’s when they are sent to the farms to fatten up for slaughter that they are fed for rapid growth.
The same goes for pork, chicken and eggs. You want to look for pasture-raised and organic. This whole idea of “vegetarian-fed” is a joke, chickens are not vegetarians! Tampering with their diet has a host of negative effects. You can read more about that here.
“Free range” is also a loose term that doesn’t mean much. Don’t fall for it.
So just to recap, eat a little protein with your 3 squares, but focus on good quality protein. Sourcing is everything these days. Our food is being mass-produced for a large population, but in doing so is sacrificing the nutrient content and changing our blood chemistry for the worse.
Carbs, grains, and the gluten-free debate
Let’s cut right to the chase:
We need carbs to live, but we need carbs with nutrients in them like sweet potatoes. Genetic profiles like Genopalate (no this is not an affiliate link, but I did this and found it eye opening!) can help you determine exactly how many carbs YOU as an individual need.
Crackers, cereals, and other frozen/boxed food-like substances are all “bad” carbs. Get rid of them, they’re all sugar. Even the “healthy” cereals. PS Corn is a carb, not a vegetable
Wheat has been hybridized for mass production, and the current wheat in the US does bad things to our gut bacteria, our intestinal lining, our hormones, and is toxic to our brain. If you haven’t already, read Wheat Belly, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers, or watch Dr. Mark Hyman’s Broken Brain series. There’s way too much to go into, but suffice it to say today’s wheat (yes even “healthy whole grains”) is inflammatory, harmful to our guts, and messes with our hormones.
Ignore the “gluten-free” label. Some folks NEED this or they will have serious health consequences, but gluten-free does not = healthy. The above authors believe, based on their research, that everyone has gluten sensitivity and they have seen it directly inflame the intestinal linings in people. Most everyone who cuts it out says they feel so much better. Try it. And continue to do your own research on this topic, it’s a hot one and you have to ultimately do what you feel is right…which means listening to your body and understanding how it responds to certain foods.
Do eat fiber though! Steel cut oats, gluten-free oats, wild rice, potatoes, and legumes. Moderate amounts here are good, don’t go overboard.
Low fat, high fat, keto
The low fat craze at the end of the 20th century is basically over. There was a big study that came out a few years ago that pointed to sugar as the culprit, not fat.
Fat, in fact is now praised as being good for us again, so good that it’s the cornerstone of the latest craze, the ketogenic diet.
While I don’t believe any one extreme diet camp, I think it’s clear that healthy fats are back and important components of our healthy plates.
Our bodies need fat for a variety of functions and protection. For a good overview of the benefits of healthy fat you can read more here, but suffice it to say it protects your brain, nerves, heart, and keeps you fuller longer.
Here’s a current list of what’s considered good fat –
nuts/seeds, nut butters
avocado, extra virgin olive, olive, macadamia nut, walnut, and coconut oils
flax & chia seeds
salmon & other fatty fish (sustainably caught, wild not farmed)
full-fat dairy (research supports full fat over low/skim) including grass-fed butter and ghee
Like everything else, don’t go too crazy. You’ll have to figure out how much fat your body needs, again something like Genopalate can help get you more exact data. Have a little fat with each meal and see how things go.
Sugar is now public enemy #1.
Sugar is being singled out as the root cause of inflammation and a host of other health problems. Eliminating sugar is the central focus of the popular Whole 30 diet. It's really hard when you start looking at labels!
The negative effects of sugar consumption are well-documented, so let’s clear up a few things to make sure you are keeping your intake to a minimum:
Sugar is hiding EVERYWHERE! Get to know fake names for sugar. The Whole 30 folks put out a great cheat sheet that will help you find sneaky sugars hiding in things like your canned tomatoes and chicken stock. I’m not kidding, it’s all over. Grab their download here.
Sugar is sugar, so beware of labels that say “natural” sweeteners or “no added sugars.” Read the ingredients, there’s either a ton of added chemicals like aspartame that are worse for you than just plain sugar.
Maple syrup, agave, honey…it’s still all sugar. These may be better choices, but that doesn’t mean you get to have as much as you want.
The World Health Organization recommends no more than 5% of our daily caloric intake come from sugar, or no more than 6 tsp a day, 4 for kids. FYI a 20 oz soda contains almost 17 teaspoons of sugar.
The sugar problem is a big one. If you haven’t watched Fed Up yet, I highly recommend it! It’s eye-opening. See more of their shocking sugar statistics here.
Fruits & Veggies
You’ll noticed I left these for last, because I really just have one thing to say…
This is one consistent message you can count on in any research and on any food pyramid, we should be eating a mostly plant-based diet with lots of veggies and some fruit.
Stick to whole fruit (fruit juice = sugar = don’t do it, there’s no health benefit!!), and maybe 2-3 pieces or cups a day (fructose is a debatable topic).
Try to get in dark greens and cruciferous veggies, up to 5+ servings a day.
Getting organic, locally grown, and heirloom varieties will pack more nutritional power. Hybridized and GMO’d produce don’t have the name nutrient quality as original varieties.
So there you go, start building your healthy plates and healthy meal plans!
Easier said than done, I know. Don't be afraid to take shortcuts.
Whatever and however you get there, take it one step at a time and keep moving forward.
Happy healthy eating!