I hear this all the time from my clients. And I get it. Lists are easy. They’re black and white. We as a culture are accustomed to being spoon-fed information. We are told what to do, what to eat, and how to do everything by the apparent authority on the subject.
This is a problem.
I want people to do what they are not accustomed to do. I want people to think. I want them to scrutinize what they put into their mouths, what they slather on their skin, what they choose for transportation, and the repercussions of these actions. I want YOU to be better than the typical “list” type of person. So I’m not going to give you a list of foods. But what I will do is give you a list of the nine most important things* to know about the food you eat.
- Avoid manufactured food.
Get the majority of your nutrition (90%) from foods that never went through a machine. Can you pick it from a tree or from the ground and eat it directly? Then eat it. Did it just die and can be identified as a piece of flesh? Eat it! This is a directive urging you to avoid modern manufactured and processed food. Refinement is a glaring indicator that it is not ideal for your consumption, and can lead to obesity and disease. So the next time you are choosing what to cook at the supermarket, choose items that you can identify. You know where salmon comes from and how broccoli grows. I am pretty sure that box of Fruit Loops did not bloom on a tree or graze in a pasture.
- Make your food at home.
If you choose to eat some processed food (the other 10%), like bread, make it yourself in your own kitchen. As a matter of fact, make most of your food at home, no matter what. And I am not talking about a bread maker and a box of King Arthur flour. I mean, order some einkorn wheat (or better yet, grow it!), grind it freshly in your kitchen, and knead that dough with your hands. Get dirty! Use an ancient recipe. This is just as much about good nutrition as it is feeling connected with your food.
- Know what is in your food.
Food manufacturers are very good at tricking you. They invest millions to do so. Making 15% of a burger out of soy makes it more affordable, and thus more profitable for the company. This is especially true in restaurants. When was the last time a menu had a complete ingredients list on it? Read your labels and ask questions. The waiter doesn’t know shit; find the owner, get him drunk, and get answers. When you do go to a restaurant, refer to item #1.
- Drink water.
Most of the liquid that you drink should be H2O, fresh and clean. Drink it from glass or ceramic containers, as plastic has proven to not be the best option for your endocrine system. Reverse osmosis purification (as commonly utilized for bottled water) removes all impurities, but it also removes the minerals from natural water that you need. A pinch of sea salt will do the trick to add those minerals back. Most municipal water is re-mineralized after purification. Do the research to find out for sure. The other 10% of your liquid consumption is up to you, but choose wisely. Juice is just as bad for you as alcohol. Soda is worse (despite what Coca Cola will have you believe).
- Enjoy fat.
Fat is not the demon it has been made out to be. The “lipid hypothesis” of heart disease and obesity has been proven wrong, but most of conventional wisdom and popular media has yet to catch up to the data. It is perfectly acceptable to add fats like nuts, avocado, olive, coconut, and pasture butter to your meals. The research is undeniable about the multitude of benefits of these foods. You do need to be wary of highly processed vegetable and seed oils (refer again to item #1). Canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, sunflower oils… These are poison.
- Know the origins of your food.
You are what your food eats. All food is a living organism and it must eat to survive; therefore, you are consuming what your food consumes. In the case of an animal, its food should be what that animal is adapted to eat. Cows are designed to eat fescue, blue, and plane grasses that grow naturally in the US and Europe. Corn is not cow food. Eating healthy animals allows for your optimal health. Similarly, the soil is important to the health of the veggies you eat. The pH, fungus, and delicate bacteria in the ground all contribute to the health of that plant. This also means toxins like fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides affect that plant, as well. You should care about the soil because when you eat those vegetables, everything they contain will affect you and your health.
- Get used to fermented foods.
Recent research is showing that eating a lot of vegetables that are high in fiber are highly beneficial to the health of your gut bacteria. Even more beneficial are fermented vegetables, like kimchi and sauerkraut, that harbor probiotic bacteria (the “good guys”). Before electricity allowed us to preserve our foods via refrigeration, fermentation was one way humans extended the life of their perishables. Our bodies have developed a symbiosis with these bacteria and we in fact depend on them to survive. The more we support our microbiota colonies, the healthier we are.
- Quit making excuses
I know that cookies taste good. Take a good hard long look in the mirror. Is it want you want to see? Does it reflect the way you want to feel? Do you want to destroy the only body and brain that you have? Start treating yourself right. This isn’t a joke. This is your life. It’s the only one that you have, so quit screwing around.
- Eat with family and friends
Feeling connected with your food is important. Human culture, ritual, rites of passage, and even sex, are all directly associated with food. Our holidays and special occasions surround the preparation and group consumption of food. Cultures that live the longest and healthiest tend to spend more time enjoying their food with their loved ones. Feeling connected to the land, to the meal, and to the family and friends who cultivated it is an essential part of our health, our well-being, and our humanity. Our food is what makes us who we are.
Think about the food you eat. It’s an essential variable in the formula for building yourself a better body. Your life depends on it.
*I have to disclaim that this information was not derived personally; this is a conglomeration of information I’ve learned from many brilliant sources over the last ten years of obsessive reading and research in my pursuit of nutritional knowledge. Thanks to Gary Taubes, Michael Pollan, the late Dr. Atkins, Dr. Barry Sears, Dr. Loren Cordain, Dr. Jonny Bowden and Monica Reinagel, just to name a few.