Posted by Erin o’Maley, D.C.
You can already start to feel that spring is on its way and some of us are already becoming more mindful of what we eat as we prepare to shed our parkas. Here are my very favorite nutritional words of wisdom, that I cannot take credit for, but often refer to in sifting through the barrage of mixed messages we get about what constitutes healthy eating. These belong on a plaque in your kitchen, but a post-it note will do as well.
“Eat foods that are ingredients, not foods that have ingredients.” -Unknown
The healthiest foods have the fewest ingredients, like spinach, eggs, and salmon. These are the foods that come from nature and not a factory. Unhealthy foods have the most ingredients. For example, a Weight Watchers Smart Ones Chicken Ranchero Smart Mini Wrap’s ingredients list looks like this:
“Tortilla (Water, Enriched Flour [Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Whole Wheat Flour, Modified Wheat Starch, Canola Oil, Wheat Gluten, Glycerine, Tomato with Pieces [Tomato Concentrate, Guar Gum], Baking Powder [Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Bicarbonate Soda, Cornstarch, Monocalcium Phosphate], Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Sugar, Salt, Granulated Garlic, Citric Acid), Cooked White Meat Chicken (White Meat Chicken, Water, Modified Potato Starch, Salt, Sodium Phosphate), Ranchero Sauce (Tomatoes [Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid], Water, Chicken Base [Chicken Meat with Natural Juices, Salt, Organic Cane Juice Solids, Corn Maltodextrin, Chicken Fat, Yeast Extract, Natural Flavors, Dried Onion, Spice Extractives, Turmeric], Chili Paste [Chili Peppers, Dried Onion and Garlic, Yeast Extract, Salt, Spices, Beef Extract, Citric Acid], Roasted Tomatoes, Granulated Onion, Granulated Garlic, Jalapenos [Jalapenos, Water, Vinegar, Salt], Modified Cornstarch, Modified Cellulose, Spices, Chipotle Chili Powder], Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese (Part Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto [Color]), Monterey Jack Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Bell Peppers (Red, Green), Fire-Roasted Onions, Roasted Poblano Chiles, Modified Cornstarch.”
This isn’t food, it’s “foodlike”. I’m not down on the Weight Watchers diet (although I’ve found their recipes overall to be too based on starchy carbs to be ideal). They have nice guidelines for portion control for weight loss and their system works, but it should be used with a whole foods nutrition plan. You might lose weight eating tiny boxed meals, but you’ll never have proper nutrition.
“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” –Michael Pollan
This follows well from the first rule. Do you recognize everything in that ingredient list? “Yeast extract” is a code word for MSG. Modern food products didn’t exist a few generations ago. This rule also extends to genetically-modified foods and conventional meat, eggs, and dairy. Buying local and shopping farmers’ markets makes it easier to find quality produce that is organic and free of hormones and antibiotics. It sounds like a challenge at first, but once you’ve found replacements for conventional foods, it’s not challenging, it’s just how your great-grandma ate. We are starting to get a scary idea of the long-term effects of antibiotic exposure, and we should also be extremely uncomfortable that, with about 85% of the corn grown in this country genetically-modified, no studies to assess the long-term effects of human consumption have been performed. The lifespan of the next generation is now predicted to be less than that of their parents. The more you avoid foods that were not available a hundred years ago, the closer you’ll get to having the natural diet of a human, and the healthier you’ll be.
(It’s not necessary to buy all produce organic, but the “dirty dozen” most contaminated fruits and vegetables should be.)
“Whenever you see the words ‘fat-free’ or ‘low-fat,’ think of the words ‘chemical sh*t storm’.” – Rory Freedman
It’s necessary to add on “sugar-free” as well when there’s Splenda or aspartame added. Drinking one to two sodas, regular or diet, per day has been found to increase an individual’s chances of being overweight by 33%. High-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners are associated with a slew of health problems, including obesity, neurological conditions, gastrointestinal disorders, depression, and liver damage.
Low-fat and fat-free foods have as many calories as the full-fat versions, fewer nutrients, more chemical additives, and tons of salt, sugar or corn syrup added to try to give them back the flavor and texture that was lost with the fat. These low-performing carbohydrates digest quickly and cause a sugar rush followed by rebound hunger. The “fat-free” calories, because they are mainly from starches and sugar, end up stored as fat instead of used for energy. Fat is not your enemy. Healthy fats, like coconut oil, boost your metabolism. Using natural fat salad dressings instead of low-fat or fat-free help you to absorb more important nutrients from the vegetables.
“Eat the rainbow.” –Mark Hyman, M.D.
Crackers are not colorful. They may give you some fiber. Kale is a lovely deep, verdant green. It gives you fiber and helps ward off cancer! Phytonutrients are plant chemicals that interact with your biology. They act like switches on your DNA in order to heal and improve the function of genes and metabolism. There are more than 25,000 of these chemicals in colorful vegetables that are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, hormone-balancing, and detoxifying. Eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), however, switches on the genes for illness, like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, depression, and cancer. Different phytonutrients boost the effectiveness of others, so by eating a wide variety of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, you can truly eat your medicine.
“Focus on adding.” –Food Matters
I cannot stand and try to avoid at all costs the word “diet”. It’s supposed to mean “the stuff you usually eat”, but it’s come to be associated with restriction, calorie-cutting, extreme fads, guilt, and despair. I also do not care what you call your diet: paleo, primal, Mediterranean, pH balance or alkaline diet, the candida diet, even Weight Watchers, and there are many books are out there with great plans. If it gives you consistency and a plan for adding more healthy whole foods, keep it up.
I never recommend counting calories because I find it to be frustrating, not particularly effective, and unnecessary with a good nutrition plan. Eating fewer calories than you use each day over an extended period of time causes your metabolism to downshift and makes it harder to burn fat later on. Instead of thinking about the foods you’re cutting out and subtracting calories, focus on adding lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, more raw foods, more water and green tea, healthy fats, and locally farmed organic animal products. Keep on adding and eventually the suboptimal food choices will filter out.
These are rules for great nutrition, not weight loss, but an effective and healthy weight-loss plan should adhere to these guidelines, and many people will lose fat simply by following them. If there’s room for improvement in your food choices, write these on a post-it note where you will see them! If you’re looking to get lean, we would add a couple more rules and talk about exercise, but for maintaining a healthy weight, decreasing illness, improving energy, thriving and feeling fantastic, these are my absolute favorite principles that cut through the bull and make excellent nutrition very simple.