It may seem like every other week a new article comes out that contradicts the last. Eggs are bad--no, eggs are good. Fat is bad-- no, only certain types are bad. Meat is bad-- no, a diet of all meat is ok. We can agree that the path to nutritional health is a dizzying one. As science advances and some legislation changes, our relationship and perception of different foods also change. With all of changes, how do we know what we should be eating? This article will offer three practical tips on how to determine the right nutrition no matter what direction the diet fads sway.
If we agree that humans have evolved over time, we may also agree that the human body has adapted to the availability of food sources. Sparing a natural history lesson, in short, our body adapted from the ways of our hunter and gatherer ancestry. This leads to the tips:
If the item contains additives you cannot pronounce, if it has more than 5 ingredients, if it is something that your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food, as Michael Pollan would say, then it probably isn't real food. Chances are it was constructed to look and taste good after sitting on a shelf for months and not for its nutritional value. In short: skip it.
We may need to be careful as the definition of processed food can also be loosely defined as washing. Apples that are washed before reaching the consumer can be considered a processed food. With this in mind, perhaps a better way identify nutrient poor processed foods is: food that was engineered to its current form and can exist well beyond a week on its own.
Of course the amount and the type of animal protein can vary with geographic region. For example, these days, we can all can get seafood rather easily. However, coastal regions may have a greater variety at a lower cost. Historically, most people did not eat meat daily. It took a vast amount of resources to maintain, such as land to graze. It also could be difficult to find, so meat became something associated with wealth. It was not until the last century when people could afford to consume more by the advent of industrial era stockyards, packing plants, and refrigeration.
Yes, some weight loss plans encourage sole carnivorism, but the long term consequences could amount to high cholesterol and the abundance of LDLs, the unhealthy fats. A healthier option is fish high in omega-3s such as salmon and mackerel.
How else can we know our nutritional meat needs better? Well, going back to the evolutionary model, if we think about it, the largest in size, most abundant meats in the US are the least healthy. They require the most land to live and eat the most. This includes pork, beef, lamb, etc. On the other hand, most healthy animal proteins for humans are smaller animals such as fish, chicken, and turkey. In other words, the highest maintenance meats for our ancestors years ago are ones we have no significant need for today.
These are often the best bet to fill your plate. There is wide variety of vegetables to choose from- yes, more than just the run of the mill Iceberg or Romaine lettuce. There are also vegetable proteins which are high in fiber like beans and nuts. There are healthy vegetable fats for cooking such as coconut, avocado, and olive oils. There is flax seed butter.
There are also vegetables that you can swap with your skim milk, such as almond, rice, or soy. Some of these alternative milk products are more nutritious than others, but all of these options are reasonable choices if you are looking to distance yourself from animal by-products.
Some people argue that moderation is the key to nutrition, but not all foods were not created equal. In fact, some foods aren't really food. How do we know how much of what kind of food to eat? Perhaps the easiest way to answer the nutrient puzzle has been under our nose the whole time, so to speak. If we look in the mirror… go ahead. Take a peek and smile. If we look at our teeth, we may notice that our teeth do not really resemble the teeth of our cat or dog-- the large, fang cuspid-sort. We have smaller cuspids, and our teeth are generally sort of flat. In other words, they look more like teeth of the garden-variety cow or horse. If we consider the natural diets of cats versus horses, one is meat and one is hay (vegetables). So, the optimal nutrients for humans would be some meat as indicated by the small cuspids, but primarily a plant-based diet -junk food doesn't fit in the equation.
Erica is a psychotherapist and humanitarian aid coordinator who has a background in health psychology, global health, and addictions. She has over 16 years of counseling, teaching, and coaching experience. Erica has several masters degrees, is a licensed counselor, and has an addiction certification. She has worked with all ages in the US and abroad. Follow Erica on Twitter. Se habla español.
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