That means that you’ve got to look at that “science-backed” advice with a critical eye. However, it’s important to understand that disregarding those “rules” doesn’t mean that anything goes. For example: when people hear that fats, animal products, and other previously demonized foods are actually on the “good” list, they often start dreaming about meat-lovers pizza, lasagna, loaded baked potatoes, fatty steaks, and creamy pasta sauces.
The key to making the most out of what nature offers is to get super basic about your dietary approach: sticking with whole, unprocessed foods, with a focus on vegetables and proteins that naturally contain healthy fats.
So, instead of counting calories or even obsessing over portions, focus on consuming the most nutrient dense foods. And, while this may surprise you, the first 3 categories below (animal products and healthy fats) offer the most nutrients and the most health benefits – as long as the animals were fed their own natural diet and raised without antibiotics and hormones.
Eggs from chickens that roam around and eat bugs
Benefits: high amounts of vitamins A, D, E, K2, B-12, folate, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, beta carotene, choline, and tons of omega-3 fatty acids. You’re not getting this with an egg-white omelette – the majority of these nutrients are in the yolk.
Grass-fed, free range and hormone-free meat
Benefits: high amounts of omega-3 fats, CLA (potent antioxidant that helps fight cancer and promotes weight loss), zinc, iron, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium, vitamin A, E, glutathione, a complete amino acid profile, the most absorbable form of iron; leaner than conventionally-raised, corn-fed meat.
Cooking fats: butter, olive oil, and coconut oil
Benefits: There are separate benefits for each of these fats, but the major takeaway is that they are anti-inflammatory (which means that they reduce problematic immune system reactions caused by unhealthy foods, stress, exercising, poor sleep, etc.) and promote health on a number of levels. They also help you absorb fat soluble nutrients (A, D, E, K), which many people are deficient in.
Non-starchy vegetables (emphasize these!)
Benefits: All vegetables are great, the starchy and the non-starchy. I don’t like to discriminate. Starchy root vegetables like beets, sweet potatoes and carrots are super healthy. However, emphasizing non-starchy options like dark leafy greens, asparagus, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts is where we get the most for our money, nutrient-wise. While salads are healthy, greens that we eat cooked (vs raw), such as the one I just mentioned, are much more digestible and we can get higher levels of nutrients out of them.
Truly whole grains (as in, you actually eat them whole) like oats, rice, and quinoa
Benefits: We get the least amount of nutrition in grains compared to the above categories, but they lend balance, glucose, and fiber to our diets (remember that veggies are chock-full of fiber, too). Include these in your diet regularly. Don’t get caught in the low-carb hype – it’s more important to increase high quality carbohydrates and decrease low quality, refined carbohydrates.
Benefits: Most fruits are high in vitamins and antioxidants. However, modern-day fruits aren’t what they used to be, because we’ve hybridized them to select for the traits we like: juicy and sweet. In doing so, they’re higher in sugar and lower in nutrients than their wild predecessors. In some cases, ancient fruits had 100 times the phytonutrients of our current day varieties. You’ll get the most benefits from berries and make sure you consume more vegetables than you do fruits each day – balance is important.
It looks like this:
Once you’ve got this foundation in place, you can start tailoring your diet to meet your current needs and address any symptoms you may have.