Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Forgo the "diet," friends, and adopt my mantra: eat well for life.
The word "diet" has somewhat of a negative connotation and implies a rollercoaster -- an up-and-down process of certain foods consumed and avoided, good and bad eating habits, and a love-hate relationship with food. When it comes to eating well fo life, it's not about finding a temporary fix or adopting an austere nutritional plan requiring a superhuman amount of self-discipline to maintain. It's about finding the foods that make you feel good. Interestingly, the foods that make us feel good are the foods that are the healthiest for us. And the foods that make us feel awful (depleted energy, bloated) are the foods that are the unhealthiest for us.
To eat well for life, ask questions like, "How do I get enough vitamins and minerals? What should my plate look like to give me energy on a daily basis? What foods will keep me healthy? What foods will increase my longevity and decrease the likelihood of disease and inflammation?" When we begin thinking about eating well for life, we begin thinking about a nutrition plan for the next 30-40 years. This means we have to start paying attention to how foods make us feel. We have to learn to listen to our bodies, not our cravings.
Here are 14 tips (7 things to avoid, 7 things to embrace) for adopting a nutrition plan that will increase overall health, improve longevity, and decrease the risk of heart and other diseases:
For optimal health (the "don't" list)...
avoid trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil)
avoid added colors (Blue 1, Green 3, Yellow 5, etc.)
avoid preservatives or really any ingredient you can't pronounce (have you ever read the ingredient list on a package of oreos?!)
avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate)
use sparingly added sugars (this includes natural sugars and high-fructose corn syrup, but always best to err on the side of the more natural)
limit sodium, saturated fats, and refined grains
limit alcohol to 1 drink or less/day
The first 4 items above should always be avoided, as their consumption has been directly linked to an increased risk in cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and inflammation. The last 3 items (#5-7) are nutrients our bodies need, but in very limited amounts. For proper hydration and electrolyte consumption, our cells need a dash of sodium and a dash of sugar to absorb the water molecules. For optimal health, added sugars should constitute less than 10% of total calories/day; sodium less than 2,300 mg/day; and saturated fats 10% or less of total calories/day; . Additionally, some studies have shown that consumption of 1 glass of red wine/day could offer valuable health benefits.
For optimal health (the "do" list)...
eat natural, whole foods (not packaged foods)
eat 4-6 servings of vegetables/day
eat 2-3 servings of fruit/day
eat whole, unrefined grains (as opposed to refined grains)
eat beans (2+ servings/week)
consume healthy fats (consume nuts 2+ servings/week)
shop the vicinity of the grocery store (skip the aisles)
In terms of specific "diets," there are only 2 scientifically proven methods to reduce the risk of heart disease (and other diseases) and increase longevity: the Mediterranean and the DASH for high-blood pressure patients. These are not "diets" in the fad sense; they are nutrition plans for life. The recommendations above correspond to each of these diets, with a few specifications:
The Mediterranean includes 2+ servings of fish/week, limits red meat to 1 or fewer servings/week, limits dairy to 1 or fewer servings/day, and includes 2+ servings of whole grains/day.
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan is designed to reduce blood pressure. It is almost identical to the Mediterranean, except that it incorporates low-fat dairy (2-3 servings/day) and permits lean red meats.
So you might be thinking, what amounts do I eat of each food group? In answering this question, use the following graphic as a guide (the glass of milk is "optional"):
Whether you are vegetarian, vegan, diabetic, gluten-intolerant, lactose-intolerant, ketone-enthusiast, low-fat enthusiast, paleo, or high-carb, follow the 14 guidelines above, and for every meal, strive to make your plate model the plate graphic above. And remember, when it comes to food and nutrition, we don't want a one-time rollercoaster ride. Eating well is a smooth, fulfilling ride for a long and healthy life.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments -- please comment below!