Vegetarian or Paleo?
Atkins or Zone?
Calorie counting or high volume exercise?
Six small meals or intermittent fasting?
Organic and locally grown at the farmer’s market, or can I just get it at the supermarket? Does it even matter?

By this point you’ve heard that dairy is bad, meat is bad, grains are bad, fat is bad, and carbs are bad. Surely the breatharian diet can’t be the answer…

I get it.

Nutrition can seem pretty confusing.

But it shouldn’t be.

You began with a simple desire to lose weight and take control of your health.
Now you’re paralyzed and wish you’d never asked in the first place.

Well I’ve got good news: Nutrition can be simple.

Let’s go back to basics.

Keeping it simple.

Getting started, here are the only questions that matter:

  • What should I eat?
  • How much should I eat?
  • When and how often should I eat it?
  • How should I eat?

By the time you finish this article series you will be able to answer these questions and take action to finally transform your body.

View post on imgur.com

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

 

“WHAT do I eat?”

The number one, single most important thing you can do to improve your nutrition…

Improve the quality of the food you eat.

In fact, just this step alone will fix many problems before you even notice them.

A high-quality diet regulates your energy and cravings, preventing you from overeating. It provides your body with the nutrients it needs, long before your body demands them.

Remember, the primary function of food is to deliver nutrients from other (formerly) living things onto us. The higher the food quality, the more nutrient-rich these foods will be.

So what determines food quality?

Have you ever seen Cheez-Its grow on a tree?

In general, think of high-quality food as:

  • fresh (frozen can be a close second!)
    • How long has it been since the food was picked / harvested / caught / butchered?
  • single-ingredient
    • Think whole oats – not Cheerios.
    • Cheerios are made of oats plus other stuff; only oats are oats.
    • Bread, sandwiches, pizza, Cheez-Its, or pretzels are each made of wheat flour plus other stuff.
  • whole, unprocessed
    • Think whole tomatoes, even stewed – not ketchup.
    • Think whole apples – not apple juice.
    • Think turkey breast or thighs – not processed ham or salami lunchmeat from the deli.

TRY THIS: Ask yourself – can I imagine where this food originally came from?

This is food closest to its original form.

Going Deeper

Sometimes it helps just to visualize boundaries.

Here’s a framework to guide us.

Introducing…

The Four Food Groups of your success:

  1. Protein – this is where we get our essential* amino acids
  2. Veggies – this is where we get our fiber and phytonutrients
  3. Healthy Fats – this is where we get our essential* fats
  4. Healthy Carbs – this is where we get our starch to fuel high-intensity exercise

*Notice the word “essential.” This means that the body cannot MacGuyver these nutrients together out of scraps in the body. They must be provided from the diet.

1. Protein Foods

Did you know protein is not just for muscle building?

It’s actually essential for our health!

Protein is used in the repair, recovery, and restoration of all sorts of things in the body. It provides the building blocks for many of our enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters. These are important for general health, energy production, and brain function.

And of course, it provides the building blocks for many of our tissues. (YEAH MUSCLE!)

Here are some of our best choices of protein-rich foods:

  • meats and poultry
    • lean beef
      • top round (London Broil)
      • top sirloin
      • flank steak
      • skirt steak
    • ground beef/turkey/chicken (90% lean or higher)
    • boneless, skinless chicken/turkey breasts
    • boneless, skinless chicken/turkey thighs
    • lean pork tenderloin
    • organ meats
  • fish and seafood
    • mackerel
    • sardines
    • salmon
    • shrimp
    • tilapia
    • whiting and other white fish
  • other
    • whole eggs / egg whites
    • plain Greek yogurt
    • cottage cheese
  • protein powder supplements

FYI: Did you notice that beans and peanut butter are missing?
Keep reading, you’ll see those foods are actually rich in nutrients other than protein.

Do they have some protein in them?
Sure, but it’s not their claim to fame.

When focusing on protein-rich foods, it’s best to focus on 1st Place Proteins not runners-up.

 

 

2. Veggies

Brightly colored veggies give us a wide assortment of phytonutrients and fiber. These nutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of developing many cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.

Ever notice the stringy fibers on a stalk of celery?

Well plants contain something called cellulose, but we can’t digest it. However – our friendly gut bacteria can. So, by eating veggies and other fibrous carbohydrates, we’re actually nourishing them too. In return these friendly bacteria reward us with strong, robust immune systems.

Here are some of our best choices of veggies:

  • asparagus
  • beets
  • celery
  • green beans
  • crucifers
    • broccoli
    • brussels sprouts
    • cabbage
    • cauliflower
  • carrots, parsnips
  • eggplant
  • leafy greens
    • bok choy
    • collard greens
    • lettuce
    • spinach
    • swiss chard 
    • assorted greens (mustard, beet, dandelion, etc)
  • leeks, onions, scallions, garlic
  • peppers colored bell peppers (red, green, orange, yellow)
    • hot peppers (jalapeño, habanero, etc.)
  • snap peas
  • tomatoes
  • turnips and rutabagas
  • summer squash, zucchini…

So from asparagus to zucchini, you’ve got a lot to choose from.

FYI: Did you forget about potatoes, peas, and corn?
Nope! Although often referred to as “veggies,” we are not talking about starchy “veggies” like potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, and corn (which is actually a grain).

This group is exclusively reserved for fibrous veggies, which are rich in fiber and colorful phytonutrients, but low in starch/sugars.

 

3. Healthy Fats

Did you know that eating fat is essential to our health?

Fat has gotten a bad rap over the last few decades, but our bodies use fat in our cell membranes, nervous system (our brain is 60% fat!), and to help regulate healthy hormonal function.

Here are some of our best choices of healthy fats:

  • avocado (guacamoleeeee!)
  • dark chocolate (85-100% cocoa)
  • egg yolks 
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • fish oil / krill oil / algae oil
  • grass-fed butter and ghee (clarified butter)
  • virgin coconut oil
  • mixed nuts/seeds and their butters almonds
    • brazil nuts
    • cashews
    • coconut
    • macadamia nuts
    • pecans
    • pistachios
    • pumpkin seeds
    • sunflower seeds
    • walnuts

REMEMBER: Some of your protein foods will also provide fat (like healthy whole eggs!). So, when adding healthy fats to meals, stick with a leaner protein food like chicken breast or fish.

4. Healthy Carbs

With obesity and diabetes on the rise across the nation, carbohydrates have taken a beating in the media. Fingers point to images of highly-processed carb-rich foods like pizza, bread, cookies and muffins.

But wait – let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

It’s actually low-quality foods that create low-quality results.

Just like eating low-quality fats or proteins, carbohydrates are no different.

Healthy carbohydrates help us to recover from intense exercise, fuel our nervous systems for peak performance, and are the preferred source of energy for most tissues in our body.

Here are our some of our best choices of healthy carbs:

  • fruits (added colors and phytonutrients!) apples, pears
    • bananas and plantains
    • mixed berries (blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, cranberry, etc)
    • citrus fruits
      • grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges
    • melons
    • mangoes
  • legumes (added fiber and protein!)
    • mixed beans (black, pinto, red kidney, etc)
    • chickpeas
    • lentils
    • peas 
  • grains
    • whole oats
    • quinoa
    • brown/white rice
  • starchy root veggies
    • potatoes
    • sweet potatoes
    • yucca

That’s a lot of food!

FYIWhat makes a carb “healthy?”
Great question! Every carbohydrate food (whether broccoli or brownies) ultimately ends up as some kind of simple sugar in our blood.

“Healthy” carbohydrates take longer to digest than low-quality carbohydrates. This prevents spikes in insulin which can lead to reactive hypoglycemia (shakes, sweats, and being hangry).

Healthy carbohydrate foods also tend to be higher in things we don’t usually get enough of, like:

  • micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients)
  • fiber (this feeds our friendly gut bacteria and slows digestion for a slower release of energy)
  • water (along with micronutrients and fiber, this trifecta makes us feel nourished rather than just full)

If you’re not a full-time professional athlete, carbohydrates can be easy (and tasty!) to over-consume. It’s better to get full before you run your blood sugar through the roof, so most healthy carbs also tend to be lower in total carbohydrates/sugars.

Explore, Challenge, Improve

If you’re only going to make one change, I challenge you to eat strictly from this list.

High-quality, single-ingredient foods only.

Try it for at least two weeks.

Stick with it; you may or may not transform into a super-hero by the end of the month (or super-villain if you don’t like saving tree-bound kitties).

But hey, if you’re not feeling quite so ambitious just yet, there’s still hope.

Consider adding just some of these foods to your regular diet.

Explore – branch out a bit.

Maybe you see some foods you used to eat and no longer do.
Maybe there’s one you’ve always wanted to prepare.

Go with your gut!
(I highly recommend focusing on the meats, veggies, and mixed beans.)

By making small changes, you may notice little improvements.

You may have energy left over at the end of the day. Now you can run that extra errand or make plans with a friend instead of hopelessly collapsing on the coach.

Who knows, you might even feel like going to the gym.