We are bombarded with conflicting information about what we should eat. Corporate advertising, government pyramids, diet peddlers, grandmas, doctors and friends all have ideas of what food is best for us. What should we feed ourselves and our children? After spending decades of reading research studies, investigating diets, watching people do crazy things to lose weight and seeing people throughout the world get overweight and unhealthy, I decided that my personal nutrition lifestyle will be guided by three major concepts; variety, natural plant-based food and moderation. I have found this approach to be simple to remember and easy to implement. There is extensive research to support it and I suggest you might want to try this approach yourself. The best research is for you to try it and see if it works for you. Here is how it works.
Eat a variety of natural plant-based food.
Natural food has not been processed. Natural food is whole food. It is real food. It was not invented by a corporate scientist. If you grow a garden, you will have natural plant-based food. Natural food is what is in the produce section of your market. Most natural foods are plant-based. Natural food labels do not have ingredients on them that you don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. Natural foods can be found in the freezer section of your grocery store and are just as nutritious (unless they have added seasonings) as the fresh fruits and vegetables; often fresher and tastier. Look for whole grains of all kinds; shun the processed ones. For example, whole wheat flour instead of white flour and brown or black rice instead of white rice. Seeds and nuts are real plant-based foods. With a few exceptions (read the labels), foods that come in cans and boxes are processed. Most natural plant-based foods you can eat raw by hand in their natural state. Plant-based foods generally have much more nutrition per calorie than animal-based foods. Probably the best bang-for-your-buck in real plant-based foods is green leafy vegetables, especially lettuces. They have the most nutrition for the fewest calories of anything you can eat.
What about animal-based foods? From the research I have seen animals that are raised in huge corporate meat production-line plants are not natural because the animals are bred and fed to meet the corporations’ requirements of the largest profits possible. For example, beef cattle are natural grass eaters. Their natural way of living and growing is to be in fields where they graze on grasses. Animals in big, commercial feed lots are in confined spaces, fed large quantities of antibiotics and hormones and are fed unnatural foods for them to fatten them quicker. The lack of normal cow exercise and diet changes their nutritional content and taste. These toxins are multiplied in the animals and passed on to those who eat them. They are not natural. Historically and internationally, as the consumption of animal based products has increased, so has obesity and ill-health. If you choose to add animal products in your variety of foods, look for those that have been raised like they were 150 years ago. Apply the same natural criterion to all animals, poultry and fish and their products like eggs, milk and cheese. You want to eat animal food that has been raised as close to wild as possible but that is not always easy. Even if you are able to find naturally raised animal-based products, they will have less nutrition and more calories per weight than plant-based foods. Again, if you feel you must eat some animal products, eat a variety of them but eat in very small quantities. Most recent data is recommending that natural food diets emphasize a much larger percentage (80-90) of the total quantity of food we eat be plant-based and much less (10-20%) be animal-based.
Variety is a necessary component in our diet because we haven’t finalized what the ideal diet is, variety keeps our diet interesting and we don’t know what future researchers will find. We can protect ourselves by eating a very wide variety of natural, plant-based foods to increase the probability that we get the nutrients that we now know about and also those that we don’t know about. What new vitamins, minerals, micronutrients or other components will be found in foods in the future? A lot of guys in my generation describe themselves as “meat and potatoes kinds of guys.” Give them a huge steak, some mashed potatoes and gravy they are happy. That’s the way they were taught to eat and that is the way they intend to always eat. Some different meats and different ways of fixing the white potatoes are about as much variety as they will tolerate. This kind of repetitious lifestyle of eating is hazardous to their health because we do know that a healthy diet consists of more than just the nutrients in meats and potatoes. In fact, we know this particular meal is woefully lacking in nutrition and greatly abundant in calories. Eating a restricted and repetitious diet is the same as going to the gym to get in better physical shape and only doing biceps curls.
Modern world problems with obesity and health problems have many causes but one of the most important and easy to determine is the one of quantity of eating. For example, on a vacation trip I took a few years ago all our meals were provided. They were tasty, large meals or they were huge buffets. We were on a bus and getting very little exercise for those ten days. Even though the meals were very good and very big, many people additionally purchased high calorie snacks and ate them as we rode around on the bus. They were eating almost all of the time. This is an obvious example of how we can easily develop habits of enormous food consumption and not even be aware of them. Restaurants, especially those known for “fast food” have tended to increase portion sizes. It’s a better bargain to get the jumbo, super, triple decker, whopper, gigantic, titanic burger than to get the regular one, right? We are always looking for bargains. What are your eating habits? Here are some ways I have learned to deal with portion size based on research and my own trial and error:
- I seldom eat out because I like to prepare my own food, know what is in my food and control my portions. I cook at home because I know the cleanliness of my kitchen and utensils. If I do eat out, I usually split a meal or eat only about half and take the rest home.
- When I prepare a meal for myself to be eaten at one time, I use a small skillet, bowl or microwave dish to deliberately control the portion size. When I make a smoothie, I usually fill the blender at least 2/3 full. I usually accompany any meal with water. I try to eat slowly to fill up while I am still eating. For example, this morning I had whole multi-grain toast with peanut butter, avocado and banana slices on it. However, I ate it with a knife and fork cutting off each bite. I used to gobble down toast held in my hand in a few seconds and was still hungry when I finished.
- I seldom eat usual desserts. Dessert, if eaten, is in very small cups or is whole fruit. I just don’t eat desserts that contain any addition of sugars. After years of not eating sugary foods I have no cravings for them.
- Many people find that using smaller plates and smaller eating utensils cuts down on the food they eat. Also, some people use taller, thinner glasses because they give the illusion of containing more liquid.
- Many families have traditions of gathering at holidays, birthdays and other celebratory occasions. These usually involve lots of food and drink that are festive but not necessarily nutritious for the calories consumed. These gatherings can be food orgies. We don’t have to eat and drink too much but this is just what we do at family gatherings.
- Same is true of office parties, company parties and other social gatherings especially if they are family or buffet style where you can go back for more as often as you want.
- My observation is that there is a high correlation with over-eating and watching television. Enough said.
- The same can be said for any spectator events such as professional sports, movies, college sports and any other event where we sit for hours watching someone else perform. They are performing and we are sitting and watching and probably eating and drinking high calorie not very nutritious food. Sound familiar?
- Do you nibble and taste the food as you are cooking?
- Do you eat food left on the table as you clear the dishes for washing?
Eating in moderation is just a set of habits that we can isolate, learn and practice. The ideas above are just a start. I am sure that with a little creative thought and/or research you can come up with others. Eating in moderation should be part of our lifestyle; not something we do in the next few days to quickly lose a few pounds.
When my wife died, a lot of things changed in my life. One of the minor changes was that I was now totally in charge of my diet, grocery shopping, menu planning and meal preparation. I usually bought the groceries but my wife did almost all the cooking. I could boil water, chop up salads and make garlic toast to go with her lasagna. What to do? I started watching television shows where chefs of all kinds demonstrate how to cook. I started reading cookbooks. I was especially amazed at how the chefs could coordinate the various parts of a meal and how they knew what different blends of spices, flavors and textures would taste like as a finished product. This orchestration of meats, vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, spices and liquids was obviously the result of years of study, practice, trial and error, adjustments and professional knowledge. Wait! I’m already in my seventies and don’t want to take the time at this point to learn all these culinary tricks. So I started to solve the problem of how to prepare a variety of natural foods in simple and easy ways that can be adjusted to a variety of tastes. Without going into all the discovery details, I came upon a solution; the one dish meal.
As I thought about it, one dish meals have always been my favorite ways to eat. Stews, thick soups, big salads, stir fries, smoothies, pizzas, tostadas and anything else that can be put on one plate or in one bowl or glass and can be consumed as a full meal have many advantages. One dish meals are perfect for today’s busy schedules. Preparation could consist of putting together a variety of natural foods, seasoning them, maybe cooking them and serving them in reasonable proportions. For example, you can make a stew with just about any combination of a variety of vegetables, beans, meats, grains and other natural ingredients you desire or need to use. Add some seasoning and liquid of your choice and you have a meal. When it is finished to taste, you serve in sizes appropriate to those being served. Individuals can then add seasonings if they so desire. Your cooking cleanup is one pot and some utensils. Pretty simple and easy when compared to serving a meal that has to coordinate several separate dishes to all arrive at the table at the same time at the peak of their flavor and presentation. That has to raise your blood pressure.
The one dish meal is ideal nutritionally because you have thousands of combinations (variety) of natural ingredients to choose from every time you put one together. You can be creative and surely find some combinations that will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. You can have a few ingredients or you can have many. For example, you might use different combinations of frozen vegetables, some beans, some low-sodium cooking broth, tomato sauce, a can or two of diced tomatoes, maybe a favorite whole grain and perhaps a small amount of meat to a pot with your favorite seasonings. Let it cook until the ingredients are cooked to your satisfaction and serve. You can feel comfortable that you have provided a nutritious meal that can add to good health rather than hinder it.
Some Additional Ideas About Nutrition
- Things I would not feed myself or anyone else even if I disliked them: sausage, wieners, almost all “prepared meals” made by corporations that come in cans or are frozen, anything made with white flour, and anything that has ingredients that I can’t pronounce. Look at the labels!
- Why do parents feed their kids junk food? If you shouldn’t eat it, neither should your kids. Nobody should eat it.
- Carbohydrates and Protein are 4 calories per gram, Alcohol is 7calories, Fats are 9calories. Most plant- based foods fall into the lowest category of calories. Animal products fall in the higher calorie foods. In addition to being lower in calories the plant-based foods have more nutrients.
- Usually the more colorful the plant-food, the more nutritious it is.
- Concentrations of sugars, fats and salt are the main hooks industry uses to lure us to purchase their non-natural concoctions they pass off for food.
- Crock pots are safe and easy to use enabling you to cook when you aren’t at home.
- Healthy eating is important but body movement (exercise) should be considered equally so.
- This article is just to get you started. You should build on it by doing research, experimenting and using your own creativity. Make time to do this.
- It is better to eat the whole fruit or vegetable rather than to juice it because fiber and nutrients are lost in juicing.
- When you make changes in your diet such as shifting to a plant-based emphasis, you might experience some stomach upset and gas. If that happens, it is natural and will go away as your body adjusts.
- Make water your favorite drink. It is cheap, safe and necessary for your health. You are made mostly of it. Be wary of water with corporate added stuff.
- Beware of all the sugary sodas, “fake sugar sodas,” energy drinks, power drinks and other manufactured brews advertised to get you to buy them. Read the labels. They are full of sugars, caffeine and other chemicals. Be an informed consumer. I don’t touch them.
- If you choose to eat some meats, make the serving size as small as you can. A common suggestion is no larger than the size of a deck of cards. I personally make it about half the size of a deck of cards.
- Frozen foods (those that are only the natural food without added corporate ingredients) have been picked at their freshest and then quickly flash frozen so that their nutrition and flavors are preserved. You don’t have to worry about them going bad like you do fresh produce. Just use what you need, reseal the package and put the remainder back in the freezer.
Studies indicate that vegetables are only about 10% of the average American’s diet. Half of that 10% is white potatoes, mostly in the form of French Fries and mashed potatoes. White potatoes are among the least nutritious of the vegetables.
- A big part of making one dish meals is the seasonings you use. I am slowly learning some of the combinations of spices that I like the most. I have read cookbooks, watched chefs on television, and talk with restaurant workers when I like the taste of a meal and want to replicate it. Although this has been useful, it is also useful and fun to explore the already blended spices in the international sections of the local store. Many of these spice blends are salt free. Buy samples of the blends and try them. Maybe you can revise the blend and make it better. Many of us have found that Thai, Indian, Chinese, Mexican and some other regions of the world use spices that are different, delicious and give additional varieties of tastes to our dishes.
- Be aware of your triggers that make you want to eat even if you are not hungry. Some common ones are television, stress, procrastination, worry, boredom, and reading. These can become unhealthy habits when the activity or emotion gets paired with eating. That association of two things; for example, television and eating, can become a habit that has very unhealthy results.
The research I have read has led me to eat the leanest of meat on the few occasions that I do eat meat. Likewise, I seldom eat dairy products but when I do, they are low or non-fat and just a bite. Treat animal-based food as condiments. Just a bit for the flavor you like.
- We need some fats in a complete diet. The oils such as olive, canola, and coconut are pure fat (120 calories per tablespoon) so minimize their use. Avocados, nuts and seeds are seen as more nutritious sources of the “good” fats and they contain many nutrients as well.
- Be very wary of diets that concentrate on a small group of foods. Be wary of magical claims for one food or group of foods. Be wary of any of the “secrets” of nutrition gimmicks being peddled. Beware of supplements that are sold as having super curative powers or are going to prevent you from getting some disease. Beware of infomercials and advertisements that tell you to ask your doctor to prescribe a certain drug for you. Don’t take nutritional advice (or any other advice) from someone who obviously isn’t following it.
- What I am suggesting as a nutritional lifestyle is meant to lead to better overall health. It is not to build huge masses of muscle or to make you a professional athlete. It is meant as a starting point for people who want to explore reasonable, simple and easy changes in how they feed their bodies and the bodies of those who eat their food preparations. It is meant to be revised, adapted, modified, experimented with by you and made better in as many ways as possible.
Let me end with a little story to illustrate a couple of points. When I was a little kid, my parents and I lived on a small farm outside Kansas City where we grew and raised almost all we ate. It was natural food. We bought very little food from corporate America. One day I was playing with a neighbor, Jerry Ruby. At noon, his mom brought us a little lunch while we sat on the swing. I’ll never forget it. The lunch consisted of a hot dog on a white bun that had mustard and catsup on it, a sack of potato chips, a large helping of pork and beans and a bottle of pop. I had never eaten those foods in that combination before. I was in taste-bud heaven! As I finished this meal I declared that when I was rich enough, this would be the only food I would eat for the rest of my life. Nothing could possibly be this good!
Point one, that meal was a non-deliberate combination of the three corporate hooks currently used to entice you and me to buy manufactured foods. This meal was full of fat, salt and sugars and delivered at the same time. That meal was as addictive to me then as nicotine is to a smoker. I needed more of that stuff and couldn’t wait to get home to tell my parents what to put on the grocery list.
Point two, my parents would not listen to my pleas for us to eat meals like Mrs. Ruby fixed for me. They had some lame excuse like it was too expensive. I had to continue to eat those natural foods until I left home many years later. By that time I had forgotten about Mrs. Ruby’s meal of ecstasy.