If you go to the bookstore or the library or more likely, search your trusty Amazon app for books on healthy eating, you'll be overwhelmed with conflicting titles...
"Low Carb Living"
"Low Fat Living"
"Eat Right for Your Blood Type"
"Zero Sugar Diet"
"Eat Fat, Get Thin"
"The Keto Diet"
"The Complete Mediterranean Diet"
I could keep going, but you get the picture. The messages are all over the place with research to support each camp. It's easy to see why SO MANY people throw their hands up in frustration and dive into a bowl of mac and cheese. I get it. Our brain can't deal with so many options, especially while you are working a full time job, being a parent, commuting, volunteering, etc., etc., etc.
I completed a certification in nutritional therapy because I wanted to find the real answer to what I should eat. There, I learned that the basic diet that everyone should be eating is easy relatively easy to figure out and to recommend, but then that foundational diet needs to be personalized thereafter to fit our unique genetic makeup, stressors, and lifestyle. But let's back up to the foundation, because most of us don't really have a solid nutritional foundation yet.
I wanted a one-stop shop resource for my clients who wanted to learn more about good nutrition. My go-to book was "It Starts With Food" by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. This book was the beginning of the Whole30 phenomenon. This is great information, but I found that many of my clients were either "on" of "off" the Whole 30 and hadn't really grasped the concept of what to eat on the regular. Our culture is very stuck in a diet mentality, and we are constantly looking for the magic "thing" that will effortless shed excess weight, revealing a 6-pack with minimal work. Let me bust your bubble...that doesn't exist. A long-term solution to weight loss and toning is eating real food. Some of my clients like to ask questions, want the science on weight loss and muscle-building, and wanted to know some solid evidence about wheat and dairy before they gave up their beloved bagel and cream cheese for breakfast. Other clients just wanted me to tell them what to eat. Finally, I have a resource that I can recommend to everyone..."Food: What the heck should I eat?" by Dr. Mark Hyman. (Click the book image to purchase.)
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Mark Hyman at a Food As Medicine Conference in Baltimore in 2007. At that time, he was a functional medicine doctor working at the fancy-sounding Canyon Ranch with a couple of best-selling nutrition books. Fast forward to today, Dr. Hyman runs the Center for Integrative Medicine at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic in addition to writing books, speaking, blogging, etc. He's the real deal. And his most recent book is a beautiful blend of evidence-based research and just-tell-me-what-to-eat guidelines. His book describes the good, the bad, and the ugly about all of the food groups (e.g., meat, poultry and eggs, milk and dairy, fish and seafood, vegetables, fruits, fats and oils, etc.). His bottom line advice is to eat a Pegan diet (a term he coined mixing Paleo and Vegan) with the following 13 pillars (adapted from pages 290-292 of his book). If you want a simple place to start but also guidelines that you can follow every day without making nutritional education and cooking your full-time job, here you go:
1. Don't each sugar.
2. Eat mostly plants.
3. Focus on low-sugar fruits (berries!).
4. Don't eat pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and GMO foods.
5. Eat good fats (nuts, seeds, olive oils, fish, eggs, avocados, grass-fed meat, butter, coconut oil).
6. Don't eat bad fats (canola, sunflower, soybean oil, Crisco, margarine)
7. Avoid or limit dairy.
8. Meat is a condiment not the main event (focus on veggies first).
9. Eat low-mercury fish (the little ones like sardines, anchovies and bigger ones like wild-caught salmon).
10. Don't eat gluten. Just don't.
11. Easy on the gluten-free grains and replacements.
12. Easy on the beans.
13. Personalize your diet by working with a nutritionist to get tested for specific food sensitivities.
If you follow these pillars, you'll be healthier tomorrow. And if these 13 pillars are still too overwhelming, then just go back to the basics: EAT. REAL. FOOD.