This post has been percolating in my head for a while. And after listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast this morning, I know it has to be written right now. How did a podcast bring me to this conclusion? Because Tim said two poignant things during his discussion with Dr. Rhonda Patrick:
- The absence of bad things does not mean the presence of necessary things.
- More healthcare professionals should be talking about what to do instead of only focusing on what not to do.
(By the way, their whole discussion was a fantastic geek out about the body, genetics, epigenetics and the roles of food, lifestyle and the environment. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and recommend it if you’re science minded and really want to get into the biochemistry about why our bodies don’t function optimally. But I digress, so back to the topic at hand…)
While I try not to make blanket statements about what we “shouldn’t” be eating and drinking, I recognize that I sometimes get into the weeds about how the body works and specific details that might help you tweak your diet in just the right way.
And I often forget about the very start of my food journey because it seems like it was so long ago and I can’t remember what I had for lunch last week! But my forgetfulness doesn’t mean that you aren’t looking for some basic guidelines to put yourself firmly on the path of using the power of food to your advantage.
So, to give you clear direction about the things you can do to ensure that you aren’t just avoiding the foods that aren’t serving your body, but are also putting in your mouth the necessary things for you to be healthy, here are my top suggestions for feeding yourself (or anyone else for that matter).
Before we get started, please know these are listed in priority order. That means, if you want to ease into it, you can start with #1 and, when that becomes a habit in your daily life, you can move onto #2. You can continue this pattern until all 5 are just part of how you eat and drink… which is really the mark of a lifestyle change. 🙂
Also, while you are focused on one (or more) of these five, don’t worry about the other parts of your diet. If you still have room for soda after drinking all the water you need, by all means have one. And if you still have room for potato chips after getting enough fruits and vegetables, go for it.
Now, as Mary Poppins sang… let’s start at the very beginning…
1. Drink enough water for your size and lifestyle.
In order to stay hydrated, you need to consume about half of your body weight (pounds) in ounces of liquid on a normal day. This means, if you weigh 180 pounds, you should aim to drink 90 ounces (~11 cups) of liquid each day. And if you are exercising intensely or are in an environment of high heat or humidity, you need even more.
Ideally, this would be pure water or water-based beverages (like tea, coconut water and broth). However, you can count other liquids like juice (as long as it is 100% pure juice ), milk (whether dairy, almond, rice, etc.), and coffee.
Note: Do not count anything toward your total that has added sweeteners (either natural or artificial).
2. Eat 6 (or more!) servings of vegetables and fruit every day.
As I’ve mentioned, vegetables and fruit have tons of micronutrients, phytonutrients and fiber. As well, I suspect they have some nutrients we haven’t even identified yet and certainly there are synergies between the known nutrients they contain. As such, we shouldn’t assume we can take a supplement to get everything we need and should eat plenty of these plants every day.
If you want to be an A+ student on this one: aim for more than 6 servings (some say we need 11 or more to get all the nutrients); make most of them veggies (as opposed to fruit); and cover the rainbow of colors. However, don’t worry if you aren’t ready for optimization yet… it is something you can work towards.
Note: Do not count vegetable or fruit juices toward this goal, as part of the point is the fiber and your brain doesn’t recognize calories that you drink.
3. Get plenty of fiber.
If you’re following #2 already, you are well on your way to getting the 35 – 50 grams of fiber that we need every day, as vegetables and fruit are a great source of fiber. Of course, so are other plant foods like beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Speaking of #2, if you aren’t pooping at least once every day, then it’s possible that you aren’t getting enough fiber and/or you aren’t hydrated enough.
Note: If you’re struggling to get in enough fiber, you can consider a fiber supplement. I mix one into my smoothie almost every day as my bowel movements tend to be easier when I do, regardless of how many vegetables I eat or how much water I drink. If you go this route, I suggest getting one that is made from real food and has insoluble and soluble fiber… and be sure you drink plenty of water. This is the one that I use (they don’t pay me to use it or to say that).
4. Consume enough protein for your body.
I realize “enough” is tough to quantify because every body is different. If you want my complete answer on how to calculate your needs (well, “complete” for a blog post rather than what I could suggest in a one-on-one situation), check out this post.
Protein tells your brain you are satiated and supports lean body mass, liver detoxification pathways, hormonal balance and blood sugar levels. Therefore, you are doing your body a lot of good by getting enough (but not too much!) of it, and you will feel more satisfied with your meals if you include protein at each of them and with most (if not all) snacks.
Note: As I mention in the post about protein and the plant-based diet, you don’t have to eat animals to get plenty of protein. Eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes are also great sources, with two caveats: 1) if you have a hormonal imbalance, I would suggest not relying on soy as your source of protein, and 2) if you have an allergy / sensitivity / intolerance to any of those foods, please don’t include them.
5. Eat plenty of good fat.
As I mention in Eating Fat Does Not Make You Fat, we all need fat. Unfortunately, many of us are still afraid of fat despite plenty of research showing how necessary it is for our bodies to function optimally. And some people just don’t think about adding fat into their meals and snacks, even though they are well into their healthy eating journey with lots of fruits, vegetables and protein.
As such, I encourage you to get plenty of good fat every day (preferably at every meal). The best sources are avocados, coconut, olives, nuts, seeds, cold-water fish, grass-fed dairy products, grass-fed poultry and meat, and the products that come from them… like coconut milk, olive oil, almond butter and flaxseed oil.
Note: As mentioned in this post, it’s important that you are getting good fats and not rancid fats or those from unhealthy animals.
That’s it. This is where to start (or continue) your journey toward a healthier you.
As you are going, I encourage you to…
Be gentle with yourself.
Accept that you are on your own path.
Take it one step at a time.
And if you’re ready for more, check out my next 5 tips.
Image courtesy of geralt via Pixabay.