Nutrition 101: start with the basics

Nutrition 101

start with the basics

Let’s talk about the FIRST thing most people should focus on in their diet. It’s not whether or not you are getting enough magnesium, it’s not what type of protein supplement you’re using, it’s not the next amazing diet plan that will burn fat as you sleep. It starts much more basic for 99% of the population. The first thing most people should focus on is food quality! I think focusing on this one thing could make the biggest difference in people’s health. You have to know what the quality of your food is over everything else in your diet. Yes portion size is important, especially for Americans, but “convenience” food is killing us. The most simple thing you can do to improve your food quality is shop the perimeter of the grocery store. When you walk into a grocery store go buy fresh vegetables, fruits, and quality meats first. If you can’t buy fresh vegetables then go to the freezer section and buy frozen vegetables. Only after your cart is full of these items should you venture down the aisles for a few select things like nuts, beans, canned veggies, canned tuna, coconut oils, and olives (your healthy fats). Other than those items the aisles are generally one big, processed, nutritionally void, bad fat, carb-fest. Now that you have this basic rule down, you can read on to figure out how to execute eating real food.

The first thing to think about is healthy food is perishable. Ponder that for a moment. Realfood–organic matter like plants and animals that our bodies are built to consume– spoils. If it doesn’t spoil, then you probably weren’t meant to eat it. Sure, exceptions exist, but for the most part this is a basic litmus test of real food. Food spoilage is essentially the breakdown of organic material in the presence of oxygen once that organic material is no longer alive and able to fight off the process. Therefore, if something doesn’t spoil, like Captain Crunch cereal, what can we surmise? Either little to no organic material still exists in the food, and that means it isn’t very nutritious, or it has been processed and coated with enough chemicals that the spoilage is delayed indefinitely, in which case you should ask,  “I wonder what effect those chemicals might have on my body when I ingest them?” You also might be curious what nutritional value could be left in the food if almost all of the organic material has been processed out. Sounds like we shouldn’t be eating it  to me. In case you need more concrete examples, here are some real foods and processed foods:

Real Food:

Chicken, turkey, beef, salmon, tilapia, lamb, goat, apples, bananas, strawberries, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, kale, avocados, olives, cashews, almonds, and macadamia nuts.

Something Other than Real Food:

Wheat Thins, cereals, bread, pasta, bagels, table sugar, flour, pancakes, Log cabin maple syrup, tortillas, potato chips, “instant” anything, sweets, cakes, cookies, ramen noodles, anything from someone’s name like Little Debbie, Sara Lee, Aunt Jemima, chef boyardee, etc…

Was a real food when it started:

Fruit juice, hamburger helper, ketchup, yogurts, etc…

We were made to eat things that were once living, both plants and animals. Over the last 10,000 years we figured out that we could survive by mostly growing plants and catching/domesticating some animals on the side. As our population grew we found that grains and starches lent themselves to mass production more easily than fruits and vegetables. Fast forward to the last 75 years and everyone, mostly the U.S. government in cahoots with the Department of Agriculture, decided that grain should form the base of our diet. No healthy fat, just processed grains. This led to the low fat, high carb diet of the 80’s and our bodies just weren’t made to thrive on processed grains. We are unable to extract nutritional value from them, and our bodies have not had sufficient time to develop any coping mechanisms. This lack of nutritional value led to people eating more and more, because their bodies kept seeking nutritional value. Our bodies produce more insulin to store all the sugar we are eating and now diabetes is an epidemic in adults as well as in kids.

How do we fix this problem? Well it’s a simple solution but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do in the fast paced world we live in. Eat real food.  That is the fix.  Americans are generally not eating real food.

Here’s how to make the change: Very simply, shop the perimeter of the grocery store. This is where most of the real food is located. One exception is the bakery. It’s full of processed grains and sugar, so you don’t have carte blanche to eat absolutely anything on the perimeter, but the perimeter is 90% safe. There are also some good things inside the aisles, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.

Don’t get me wrong the continuum of disease and wellness are much more complicated than I am making them seem but what I’m suggesting will solve a lot of problems.

Now that you’re shopping the perimeter of the store here is what you should buy. Enough fruits, vegetables, berries, and greens to last 3-4 days. Do the same with deli meat, rotisserie chicken, and fresh meat.

Next, hit the dairy section. Yes, Paleo-Dieters, I recommend eating dairy unless you have a lactose problem then do everyone a favor and skip this section. Low-fat cottage cheese is a great protein source. So is natural yogurt like greek yogurt, but this isn’t like the sugar-enhanced Yoplait and Dannon yogurt that you probably love, don’t eat that crap. If you can stomach natural yogurt then go for it, but regular sugar-laden yogurt is not a good choice. If your body tolerates dairy products then they are a great source of quality proteins and fats.

Finally, buy some eggs. Strong people eat eggs. They are a complete source of everything needed to grow a chicken so they must be good for you. Watching your fat, than eat egg whites for an excellent source of protein.

Now that your cart is full of amazing veggies, fruits, and proteins let’s venture down the aisles. Whatever you couldn’t get fresh let’s get frozen like vegetables and maybe even some frozen meat. Frozen vegetables and meat aren’t as good as fresh, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Doritos. I like “steamer bags” of veggies. I can take them directly from my freezer, put it in the microwave for five minutes, open the bag, and out comes a steamed veggie. Just make sure they aren’t the veggie meals because those have a lot of other stuff in them other than just veggies. Frozen veggies shouldn’t be your first choice–that should be fresh products–but this is still a very good choice. From the aisles you also may want some canned tuna or salmon, some canned beans, olives, nuts, and seeds. Be very selective. Read labels carefully, you’re no longer on the perimeter, so “extras” and “additives” are in everything.

Finally, because real, healthy food spoils, this type of shopping will require more frequent trips to the grocery store. However, you’ll be buying fewer groceries on each trip and making less stops when you are there.  The best part is now that you know what to buy you can also order food online at most grocery stores.  You can make your order one day and just pick them up from the store on your way home from work.  The ultimate smart shopper can even participate in a local coop for fresh foods where you can go online and pick all the fresh organic foods you want and they get delivered right to your door!

Now let’s talk reality. Can you really eat whole foods all the time? Probably not but 90% of the time is definitely feasible. As you probably know with everything in life your results will be a direct correlation of your commitment level. Commit a little and you don’t notice much change, however, if you make a small change each week, than in a month you have made a big change in your life and your health.

What do I say to the argument that eating healthy is more expensive and no one can afford it? To me this is where the commitment factor comes into play. If you eat less processed food and more real food you will be more satisfied by your meals. This will also lead to eating out less which is very expensive. Since fresh food has a short life span you will need to plan your days and weeks out more efficiently to maximize use of everything. If that doesn’t convince you than the last factor to consider is having diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease is REALLY expensive!

If you are on a very tight budget, then make small steps toward the good. Start with frozen meats, fruits, and vegetables. These are still very good choices, but less expensive than fresh ingredients and they require less planning for efficiency of use.

I’m not saying eating healthy is for everyone. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether eating this way is worth the time, energy, and cost. As you make that decision think about these questions:

Are you worth it? I am not suggesting this in a selfish way, but from a perspective of who depends on you.

Who is going to have to take care of you when you’re sick?  

What quality of life do you want to maintain as you get older?

I have decided that I am definitely worth it. I may compromise on what kind of clothes I wear, the type of soap I use or what kind of car I drive but not on my health.

This may be a drastic change in your lifestyle but if you desire to change your health, fitness, and body composition then your lifestyle must change. That should go without saying, but I don’t think many people realize it. If you keep the lifestyle you’ve always had then you’ll keep heading in the same direction. If you’re happy where you are at and where you are going, then that’s great; no change is necessary. If you want something different, something better,  then you need to do something different. Make your nutrition a priority and see how good you can look, feel, and perform.


Move Well, Live Well and Eat Well