Eating has become complicated. We rely on experts to tell us how to eat – doctors and diet books, media, government advisories, health claims on food packages. But after years of researching nutrition, I realised the answer to the supposedly complicated question of what we should eat wasn’t complicated at all. In fact, it could be boiled down to just seven words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
All the contenders in the nutrition wars agree that the so-called Western diet – with processed foods and meat, added fats and sugar, refined grains and lots of everything except vegetables, fruit and whole grains – is bad for us. And people who get off this diet in favour of a more traditional way of eating see dramatic improvements in their health.
Here, then, are some of my simple rules for eating well:
RULE #1: EAT FOOD
This is easier said than done, especially when 17,000 new products show up in the supermarket each year, all vying for your food dollar. But most of these items don’t deserve to be called food – I call them edible food-like substances. They’re highly processed concoctions, consisting mostly of ingredients that no normal person would keep in the pantry. Today much of the challenge of eating well comes down to choosing real food and avoiding industrial novelties.
RULE #2: EAT FOOD THAT WILL EVENTUALLY ROT
What does it mean for food to “go bad”? It usually means that the fungi and bacteria and creatures with which we compete for nutrients and calories have got to it before we did. Food processing began as a way to extend the shelf life of food by protecting it from these competitors. This is often accomplished by making the food less appealing to them, by removing nutrients that attract the competitors, or by removing other nutrients likely to turn rancid. The more processed a food is, the longer the shelf life, and the less nutritious it typically is.
Real food is alive – and therefore it should eventually die. There are a few exceptions: for example, honey has a shelf life measured in centuries. Also note that most immortal food-like substances are found in the middle aisles of the supermarket.
RULE #3: EAT YOUR COLOURS
The idea that a healthy plate of food will feature several different colours is a good example of an old wives’ tale that turns out to be good science, too. The colours of many vegetables reflect the different antioxidant photochemical they contain – anthocyanins, polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids. Many of these chemicals help protect against chronic disease, but each in a slightly different way, so the best protection comes from a diet that contains as many different phytochemicals as possible.
RULE #4: “THE WHITER THE BREAD, THE SOONER YOU’D BE DEAD”
This somewhat blunt bit of cross-cultural grand-motherly advice (passed down from both Jewish and Italian grandparents suggests that the health risks of white flour have been popularly recognised for many years. As far as the body is concerned, white flour is not much different from sugar. It offers none of the good things (fibre, B vitamins, healthy fats) in wholegrains – it’s little more than a shot of glucose. Large spikes of glucose are inflammatory and wreak havoc on our insulin metabolism. So you should eat whole grains and minimise your consumption of white flour.
RULE #5: EAT MOSTLY PLANTS, ESPECIALLY LEAVES
Scientists may disagree on what’s so good about plants – the antioxidants? The fibre? The omega-3 fatty acids? – but they do agree that they’re probably really good for you and certainly can’t hurt. Also, by eating a diet that is primarily plant-based, you’ll be consuming far fewer calories since plant foods – with the exception of seeds, including grains and nuts – are usually less “energy dense” than other things you eat.
3 of 9 Comments
|munie on 14 October 2011 ,10:43 |
this is great...
|george robin on 11 August 2011 ,08:39 |
nice tips to enjoy and practice everyday
|chinmaya on 09 August 2011 ,13:03 |
nice information for health.......,
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