The section of my scope of practice that undoubtedly evolves the fastest is the nutrition pillar. Fad diets, nutrition books, and supplement propaganda are at an all-time high and it’s my job to pick through the material and relay what supports my health platforms to patients. So as the consumer and the easily influenced, what information should you trust? I recommend any peer-reviewed research article or books on nutrition (no earlier than 2010) that are information based and have no agenda like convincing you about their product or purchasing meal plans. Registered dietitian nutritionists, internal medical specialists, and chiropractors all have been trained in the chemical and mental interactions that food creates in the body. To help you get started I’ve put together a list of things that I believe are dietary guidelines that cannot go out of style and hopefully won’t make my future self groan when reading in 5 years. Some points are nutrient-based and others are tips for lifestyle changes that create healthy eating habits. People much smarter than me have written textbooks on each individual topic so my list will be skimming the surface but I’ll provide links for further learning in the resources.
MANGIAMO! (LET’S EAT)
If you’re in charge of food shopping for your family then you know which staple selections to have ready each week. But when we select groceries like robots and blindly buy the same foods each week, this dietary behavior limits variety of and can lead to vitamin deficiencies or possible toxicities. Consuming a variety of colorful produce will provide your body with a wide array of nutrients and phytochemicals that you would be deficient in if you never branched away from the same two types of fruit. Preparing meals with colors such as orange, red, yellow, purple, and green restore mineral deficiencies and prevent excessive intake of one family of vitamins. In the opposite spectrum, eating the same foods can possibly expose you to high dosages of any harmful material in that food such as hormones in meat or pesticides in vegetables (1). Dr. Terry Wahls recommends switching the family of green lettuce you eat throughout the week to rotate which types of chemicals that’s inevitably being ingesting from spinach, kale, or romaine lettuce. This gives the liver time to tackle toxins in between rotations and prevents excessive buildup in the body. Besides nutrient variety, changing the foods that you consume inspires you to learn fun new recipes and branch out! For those struggling with weight loss, shock the system a little when you hit a plateau by introducing new healthy foods that may help get you over the hump to continue progressing towards your goal.
Having knowledge of the calories per meal is always a good idea but many of my patients become obsessed with calorie restrictions which can distract you from the quality of food choices. You can eat 500 calories of junk as well as 500 calories of nutritious foods. If you only eat quality calories, you won't feel the need to limit yourself at each meal and worry about logging your calories throughout the day. Foods with high sources of kilocalories are extremely nutritious such as healthy, unsaturated fats (see above paragraph). For instance, if you eat one decent sized avocado you would be consuming a little over 300 calories which is also the same as eating one Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s. I clearly do not need to compare the quality of nutrients and phytochemicals between these two selections. Many women try to limit themselves to 1,500 calories per day based off the generic 2,000 calorie diet on all FDA food labels but caloric goals for weight loss should always be individually created based on body size and caloric exertion during activity. Following the quality over quantity calorie rule would surprise you with similar weight loss results!
In recent years I’m happy to have witnessed our society evolving away from the concept that all fat is bad for you. If you have not been part of this universal transition let me fill you in! DON'T AVOID FAT in your diet. Most processed “fat free” and “low-fat” products should really read, “We chemically modified the crap out of this food for you.” Most advertised low-fat foods now include unnatural fillers and sugars such as yogurts, bagged cheese, and salad dressing. It takes some retraining of our brain to remove the fear that eating a piece of lean, grass-fed meat will cause heart disease but research has proven that our bodies need healthy fats for the maintenance of the nervous system, hormone production and supplying tissues of the body with long-lasting energy (2). Of course, everything in moderation still applies but eating healthy fats like raw nuts, avocado, coconut, and olive oils will help your body not immediately make you fat.
The 80/20 Rule
To make a diet last it needs to be enjoyable and a long-term lifestyle change, not a 5 day starvation with binge eating to follow. One trend that helps you stay on track in the long run is following the 80/20 rule. I’m not sure who was the first person to introduce this concept but the idea is to follow a clean diet 80% of the week (no dairy, no grain, limited sugar) and then 20% of the week I guilt-free enjoy the foods that I felt like I’d missed out on (pizza and Italian usually on the weekends). The five days of clean food always outweighs two nights of fun eating and this also gives you a chance to experience how your body feels after "cheating. " once you’re past the initial sugar cravings of a clean diet, processed or sugary foods lose their taste appeal. When you experience the negative symptoms after eating less quality meals, you’ll be happy to return to the 80% of the week with foods that make you feel good!
In Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, he describes his behavioral theory of the path of least resistance and how as humans, we are more likely to buy something on a shelf that is easy to reach even if a cheaper brand is up only a few shelves because it’s more of a challenge to acquire. So while food selection is a major part of being a healthy eater, food behaviors and the path of least resistance are just as important when trying to adapt to a new diet. Being a healthy eater lasts longer when we reduce the resistance in the routine which is why meal prepping has become so popular. The most beneficial food habit I’ve acquired is my routine of packing lunches. For four years, I’ve been packing a salad or left-over dinner for lunch which has helped me to stay on track with my diet in addition to saving a lot of money. Of course, I skip the salad if someone invites me to a special lunch but making packed lunches part of my weekly routine prevents me from grabbing less healthy but convenient choices. One eating habit that I follow in the evening is brushing my teeth right after dinner. Due to the laziness of human behavior, this will limit the chances of late night binge eating and snacking after dinner because we won’t want to have to re-do it! So keep the least resistance theme in mind during your meal planning and prepping each week to make it easy for our less motivated brain centers.
The influx of health education in my life has been a current of overlapping waves. Learning about the body is a never ending tidal flow of new and exciting things that hides the previous information and then blends together making old standards of care invisible. As soon as a research based book or article is published it becomes old news. In the time it took for some a professional publication to be released, research has already advanced past it with some new revelation to impress the world with. Because of this turnover, it’s hard to claim that one specific diet will fix all symptoms or that one demonized food group is the cause of disease when in truth, I’m presenting facts that could already be wrong the second I learn them. For the medical profession to stay updated we’ll need to remain open minded to learning and eagerly accept new information as it’s released. In the meantime, following a few of these timeless nutrition tips will keep you on track to make dietary selections that serve both your body and mind.
- Wahls, Terry. Wahl’s Protocol. Penguin Publishing Group. 2014. Print.
- Perlmutter, David. Grain Brain. Little, Brown & Company. 2013. Print.
- Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage. The Crown Publishing Group. 2010. Print.