Much of the information about nutrition that we ingest online is confusing and conflicting. Every article and podcast seems to encourage us to eat in a new way. Should we try out the ketogenic diet? What about going back to our roots and eating paleo? Or ditch animal products altogether to become vegan? Or maybe our issues are with gluten and meat is totally fine? Also low fat is supposedly good, but olive oil and avocados are also incredibly healthy? You get the idea.
But what if there were a few simple things you could keep in mind to take the confusion and fear out of deciding what to eat? Here’s my take on food:
It’s not just calories in vs. calories out.
Anyone who says all you need is 2,000 calories a day in any shape or form to maintain your weight is not just oversimplifying things, they’re incredibly wrong. Think about how you’d feel if you fueled yourself purely on chocolate bars: Clearly it’s about more than just calories.
It’s more about macros:
Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fats. You need all three to function. There’s disagreement over the exact rations, but counting every gram of carbohydrate you put in your mouth isn’t reasonable either. Stick with these ideas instead:
For every meal and snack, make sure you’re eating a healthy protein, a healthy carb, and a healthy fat.
Healthy protein sources include* lean meats, eggs, dairy, tempeh, and tofu. Aim for at least 20 grams of complete protein at each meal.
Healthy carbs include* whole grains, whole fruits, whole grain rice, sweet potato, and quinoa–essentially you want your carbs to include as much digestion-slowing fiber as possible. Stay away from added sugars, white flour, and excess fruit juice whenever possible; those cause spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels.
Healthy fats include* nuts, olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, and some argue coconut and coconut oil and grass-fed butter.
*but are not limited to
Now add in lots of veggies at as many meals as possible. This is where you’ll get lots of your micronutrients (vitamins, minerals).
Veggies > Fruit
Fruit has fewer micronutrients, less fiber (you want fiber), and more carbohydrates than veggies.
Fat is not bad. Carbs are also not bad. And you likely aren’t eating too much protein.
Fat is necessary for brain function and helps slow digestion, so you absorb the carbs you eat slower, thus giving you sustained energy and allowing you to “burn off” most of your carbs instead of storing them as fat (which happens when we digest more carbs than our bodies need for immediate fuel). However, carbs are also not bad. In fact, they’re great to eat prior to working out when you need lots of glycogen to fuel your muscles and right after working out when you need to replenish your glycogen stores. At other times though, don’t go crazy on the carbs, which isn’t hard if you eat them with protein and fat as suggested above.
Protein is awesome. It slows digestion, promotes recovery, helps maintain your blood sugar levels, and lots more. It’s especially important for women. And trust me ladies, you won’t “bulk up” if you start eating a little more protein–we produce very little testosterone, which makes it incredibly difficult for us to gain muscle. Don’t skimp on protein at any meal, especially not breakfast. And eating protein right before bed has been shown to facilitate recovery as you sleep.
The Takeaway: Eat healthy, whole foods from every macronutrient category at as many meals and for as many of your snacks as possible.
And once in a while enjoy a not-so-healthy treat, cause you can only go so crazy with your diet before it becomes obsessive and disruptive to your life.