Eating well has been made to seem so complicated. Everyday there is a new magic diet — Non-fat! Low-carb! Eat-for-your-blood-type! Beyond the excess of information, so much of it is conflicting that it’s hard to know whom to listen to. Eat whole grains! Wait. Don’t eat grains! Eat to Win! Never mind. Eat to Lose!
When I was studying nutrition, I listened to lectures from the top nutritionists, doctors and best-selling diet gurus. They were all peddling their signature diets, each different from the next, but supposedly validated by much research and professional support. Who was right? One thing they all agreed on is that what we eat matters. A lot. In the end, I came out with my own easy-to-understand and I think, logical, ideas of what makes the right diet.
Let’s start with what not to eat: There is one diet that has undergone the most extensive study out there with the largest test sample of a couple hundred million people. This diet has been proven over and over again to be the exemplary diet of what doesn’t work. This would be the Standard America Diet (ironically S.A.D., for short). The food that most of our population relies on is processed, refined, nutritionally-deficient and works against our bodies’ natural functions. Over time, this diet has proven to cause an increase in many preventable diseases and our reliance on prescription drugs.
So how do we get back to the basics of eating well? It’s actually much easier than you think. There are a few basic dietary principles that are common to all the top diets and eating plans.
- Listen to your body – This is the most important nutrition advice you can adhere to. No one can really tell you what to eat because we are all highly unique individuals and there is no “one size fits all” diet like most fads would have you believe. Your body communicates with you when you are eating appropriately or not. You just need to listen.
- Focus on natural, whole, unprocessed, unrefined foods — foods that are closer to the source contain more vitality and nutrients than those that are processed and refined and are more recognizable to our bodies.
- Variety – every food is a combination of many different nutrients and it’s best to eat as many different kinds as possible to prevent deficiencies.
- Balance and Moderation – these are two very controversial words which mean different things to different people. Not overeating, especially sugars, fats, protein, salt and chemicals is a good place to start. By the same token, it is too stressful to try to eat perfectly 100% of the time. It’s what you eat most of the time that really matters.
- Eating Seasonally and Locally – We are part of Nature and will feel more balanced and vital when we are in tune with Nature’s cycles. Eating seasonally is almost always more economical and gives us the appropriate foods for the time of year. Locally grown produce is usually higher in nutrients and carries a smaller environmental footprint than food shipped from thousands of miles away.
- Organic – not only has organically grown food been shown to contain more nutrients than non-organic, but it also doesn’t pollute the earth the same way. Look for organic butter, animal meats, dairy and produce’s Dirty Dozen.
It’s important to develop a way of eating over time that is maintainable for the long-term, not just to lose a few pounds and then return to our old habits. At the end of the day, we need to think about how we want to feel – energetic, positive, creative, productive, happy, beautiful. The good news is choosing the right foods can help support who you want to be.
Pamela Salzman is a certified holistic health counselor. She shares her approach to nutrition through her natural foods cooking classes and website, a resource for her healthful, family-friendly recipes and nutrition tips. She was recently profiled in Elle Magazine.