The 5 Principles of Healthy Eating
Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S
Diet is a subject riddled with misinformation and opinion. Every day there seems to be new information that contradicts itself. It's no wonder so many Americans are confused.
When confronted with a controversial subject such a nutrition I prefer to boil things down to their fundamental truths. Whats left when you take away all the sales language and alternative motives are a few basic principles that all sides can agree on.
When we apply this to healthy eating, we are left with the 5 basic principles that every healthy diet must share.
#1 Eat natural whole foods
Much of the food we eat is altered to enhance its longevity, flavor, and ease to cook with. These processed foods are associated with several adverse health effects including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Our bodies are best adapted to eat real natural nutrient dense foods as it has for the past million years. A foods Ingredient list should sound like a grocery list, not a chemistry paper.
Any healthy long-term diet should focus on the following -
Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables
Eat nuts, seeds, and legumes
Decrease your consumption of processed grains and damaged oils
Cut out or limit your consumption of processed junk foods
Eat lean meats, such as chicken, fish, or lean cuts of beef
Eat nutrient-dense foods- foods high in nutrition relative to their caloric value
Ex. Oranges = high nutritional value and low calorie vs Orange soda = low nutritional value and high calorie
#2 Have variety in your diet
A variety of foods yields a variety of nutrients - as long as the foods follow principle #1. A variety of junk is still junk. Imagine you had a car that you needed to last for the next 30 years - that's how you should treat your body. Like a car, it requires a number of resources to run efficiently - brake fluid, steering fluid, oil and so forth. Failure to provide what the car needs means finding yourself broken down on the side of the road. Like a car, your body needs a variety of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals to keep itself going. The only way to ensure that you don’t end up broken and run down is to make sure you are eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods like those listed above.
To help with this, consider coloring your plate - this is a great way to ensure your meal has the variety it needs and all you need is to use your eyes. Your meal should display a variety of foods and colors - create a plate that is Instagram-worthy.
#3 Balance your energy intake and energy needs
Calories in vs Calories out. Any successful diet needs to address the concept of energy balance as it will determine how your weight will change.
To lose weight - consume less energy(calories) than you burn
To gain weight - consume more energy(calories) than you burn
To maintain your weight - consume as much energy as you burn
Your energy balance will determine your weight, however, weight is only one part of health and fitness. How much of the weight loss or gained, as fat will be determined by how well you adhere to the other principles on this list.
Warning: Manipulating your energy balance too far in either direction by consuming too many calories or too little calories will be counterproductive, unhealthy and potentially dangerous.
Example- eating too much will cause unwanted fat gains and eating too little will cause muscle loss.
#4 Balance your ratios
Balancing your ratios is a concept I picked up from Josh Hillis, one of the leading experts on weight loss. In his book Fat Loss Happens On Monday he speaks of managing your food quality(guidelines 1&2), quantity (Guideline #3) and ratios. When I say the ratios, I'm referring to the ratio of fat, carbs, and protein in your diet (also referred to as macronutrients). As Josh explains, it’s the ratios that determine fullness. Fullness keeps you satisfied and prevents overeating. There is no one macronutrient ratio for everyone, rather it depends on a person's individual response, activity level and, goals. An example is a woman I worked with - she complained of always being hungry, ate a high carbohydrate diet full of sugary drinks and bread, and her goal was to lose body fat. For her, we put an emphasis on eating more protein and less simple carbs. After making the change she no longer felt hungry between meals and because she was full, she ate less and lost weight.
#5 Your diet should be customized to your individual needs
Everyone starts with the right intentions, but are often guided into eating habits that don’t fit there needs.
Any healthy diet should fit your goals, physiology, and lifestyle.
The food we eat affects each of us differently. Allergies, post-meal sluggishness, fatigue, constipation, headache, insomnia, mood swings, heartburn, nausea, and hunger are all examples of the body telling us when a food doesn’t work for our bodies.
An effective diet must also fit your lifestyle. Cooking dinner is as realistic for the lawyer working a 16 hour day as it is for a family on a tight budget to buy beef from pampered cows. It would be great, but it’s not realistic.
Instead, you must look for ways to make good food decisions using the principles above and that work for your lifestyle and your body.
U.S News compiles a list of the top mainstream diets. While each diet has a different theory, the most successful ones all share in the principles listed above. Each promotes a diet focused on nutrients derived from a variety of whole natural foods. Each accounts for how many calories you should consume and each has a take on the macronutrient ratio you should be consuming. Take a look at the diets and note the common threads. If you use a diet, check that it follows the principles, is in line with your goals, and then make sure it is individualized to your needs. Stay tuned for future articles in which I break down how to adapt each principle to your specific goals.
Fat Loss Happens On Monday - Josh Hillis & Dan John
This book is a fantastic read for those who are looking to lose weight. Josh and Dan John are terrific at what they do and this book fits the Fitness Made Clear way, which is to teach you how a topic works, teach you how to apply that information and do it all in a simple, understandable way. The information in this book is one I reference often as it provides tangible ways to change the body. If you’re interested in a system to lose weight that fits the description above then this is a book I would highly recommend.
Runner's World Performance Nutrition for Runners - Matt Fitzgerald
Although I did not reference this book directly, It is one that inspired the blueprint for this article. It is a great book for those who want to improve their performance through nutrition. The book is focused on a runner's nutrition and tips, so while many ideas are helpful and applicable, runners will be the ones who gain the most benefit from this book.
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