Regardless of what the latest great pretender is promoting as the “secret” to health and longevity, if science and evidence matter to you, you don’t have to do any of the following in your quest to stay strong, healthy and energized. So take a deep breath, enjoy the view this summer (and all year) and ONLY do these if they bring you tremendous joy and peace of mind…
- Analyze the Nutrition Facts table on food products. Do check the Ingredient List when you want to confirm that the food is made out of wholesome ingredients or to avoid allergens, but skip any marketing claims and the ‘diet math’ that reading Nutrition Facts tables can create. Many of the healthiest foods out there have no labels at all! Claims about what the food does not contain are in many cases less helpful than if the label said dirt-free or contains no hair. Assess what the food does have and what it will actually provide to your body. Even easier, just eat and enjoy it.
- Buy and consume only bottled water. (Unless you’re in a part of the world with an unclean, unsafe water source)
- Follow Canada’s Food Guide (or the American healthy plate or pyramid version) to the exact letter. These are general population educational tools that have a place. They were never intended to be used for customized, individual advice.
- Spend more money on vitamin pills than food each month.
- Buy only organic fruits and vegetables.
- Own and use protein powder or protein-based commercial ‘energy’ bars.
- Eat trendy ingredients in trendy ways unless you really want to and it makes you happy. If you don’t want to use chia seeds or eat your breakfast out of a mason jar, you don’t have to.
- Make perfect choices 100% of the time. Life is short. No single food will cure or kill you. Aim to eat right about 80% of the time and allow room for flexibility and the unstructured reality that life is all about.
- Follow a meal plan that lays out exactly what combination of foods to eat for each meal and snack. Although this can be helpful in the very short-term to get back on track or expand your repertoire of food ideas, learning and applying healthy eating concepts like making about half your plate vegetables in most meals, including foods with some protein as part of all or most meals and snacks, and staying well hydrated will do more in the long run than feeling locked into rigid structure.
- Avoid your favourite foods. (Remember, this is a list of 20 things to NOT do). There are no “Food Police”. You won’t be arrested and dragged out of your home in handcuffs for enjoying that amazing dessert or evening snack. Keep it all in the context of an overall healthy approach. Most of the time, do avoid eating empty, nutrient-free foods in place of what you require. When you indulge, make it worth it. Not with an excessive portion that leaves you uncomfortably stuffed, but with quality decadence that nails the craving perfectly. Happy satisfaction is the goal, not gastric distress and guilt.
- Eliminate sugar entirely. Do cut back if you’re into jumbo portions, too much pop, candy, sugary so-called kid’s cereals or cookies with an eternal shelf life. But don’t fear a bit of sugar in your wholesome home baking or an ice cream cone on a day at the beach.
- Eliminate salt entirely. 77% of the excess salt we eat comes from processed food, not salt we add at home. Reduce your intake of smoked foods, salty deli meats, salty condiments, excessively salted pickled foods, fast food burgers and fries but don’t fear using a little salt on your homemade egg breakfast or in the cooking water for your favourite Italian dish.
- Eliminate caffeine entirely. The general consensus from the research is that if we keep caffeine intake to a maximum of 400 mg/day, the equivalent of about 4 eight-ounce cups of coffee daily, it won’t be a problem for most people.
- Eliminate alcohol entirely. This one is tricky. If crazy portions and self-control around alcohol are issues for you, total avoidance might work better than moderation. For optimal health, it’s recommended to keep alcohol intake to 1 drink/day or less for women and 2 drinks/day or less for men.
- Go gluten-free. (Only do this if you are celiac or have a proven gluten intolerance or health issue that is alleviated on a gluten-free diet.)
- Use herbal supplements if you don’t like them, can’t afford them and/or don’t want to.
- Write down, weigh, measure or track every morsel you eat or every step you take on a permanent basis.
- Increase your food budget. Many healthy staples are the most affordable foods available: eggs, in- season vegetables and fruit, oatmeal, dried beans, peas and lentils, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onions, garlic and more.
- Shop at specialty, natural food stores only. Pretty much everything you need for a healthy food intake, mainly a whole lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and quality protein choices, can be found in a regular grocery store.
- Continuously read about nutrition in a quest for the latest healthy discovery or so-called superfood – unless it brings you great ideas and joy!
To find out what IS worth doing to be a healthy eater, read on.
Have a wonderful and delicious summer! (she says with that Platter’s song in her head dedicated to ALL of the imposters who are working so hard to make eating a bizarre, mathematical, obsessively clean, precisely planned process instead of simply nourishing a happy life. “Too real is this feeling of make believe…oh yes…the great pretender”. (Mom and Dad’s collection – the only records we had when we were kids. Sigh.)