What are your food rules?

We each have our own food rules that are so deeply ingrained, that we’re not even aware of them. Would you eat a tadpole, insect or small bird whole? Would you eat a fish with the face still intact? Do you always include a vegetable with dinner? It’s a small step from these rules to not eating anything with a face, or making half of every meal vegetables or fruits.

If you’re like me, you’ve been on at least half a dozen diets, cleanses and eating plans (that claim not to be diets). What if we consciously made our own rules based on the now widely accepted knowledge about nutrition and the physiology and psychology of eating?

The TrueHealth Iniative (We Agree), which includes experts from Dean Ornish (who put Bill Clinton on a nearly vegan diet) to Loren Cordain (of Paleo Diet fame), is trying to get the word out that there is a global, scientific consensus on what we should eat.

Sugar, Salt & Oil

Since sugar (including refined grains), salt and calorie-dense (which generally means fat-dense) foods are both physiologically and psychologically addictive, you’ll need to make some hard and fast rules regarding when you’ll eat them.

  • Less than 1% of calories in a meal
  • When Eating with Others
  • Legal Holidays
  • Never

I chose to allow myself small amounts of sugars, salts, oils and dairy products when eating with others, but only after I had reached a BMI of 25.

I say “when eating with others” and not eating out, because, if you’re like me, there are weeks when I eat out every day. See Eating Out and Instant Menu for tips on what to eat when you’re short on time.

I’ve indicated legal holidays only, because creating your own special occasions is a slippery slope. It’s always somebody’s birthday.

Meat & Dairy

Although the science on how much meat and dairy we can eat before experiencing negative health effects is evolving (see references), the world’s most prominent experts (including the World Health Organization & the United Nations Food & Agriculture Division) recommend limiting our exposure. As discussed in Why Eat Green, for most people, the fewer animal products you consume the better. Consider these benefits of giving up animal products entirely:

  • You’ll eliminate your physiological and psychological addiction, and there will never be a need to re-discipline yourself.
  • You’ll be doing your part to combat perhaps the biggest threat to our air, water and soil resources.

How often will you eat animal products?

  • 1-2 ounces a Day
  • When Eating with Others
  • On Legal Holidays
  • Never

Grains, Nuts, Seeds & Dried Fruit

Having strict rules for calorie dense foods is a lesson I’ve had to learn again and again. I have a tendency to eat too many nuts and sprouted grains. Peanut butter sandwiches have been my all-time favorite comfort food since I was a child. I simply can’t maintain my weight unless I limit whole grain breads and nut butters.

How often will you eat healthy, but calorie-dense foods such as grains, nuts, sees & dried fruits? Parents of young children, and naturally slender people, might choose not to limit these foods at all. I don’t attempt to limit my daughter’s consumption of these healthy foods. However, those of us with weight issues, may need to make some rules:

  • Unlimited all the time
  • Less than 10% of Any Meal
  • One serving a day
  • Unlimited when Eating with Others
  • Unlimited on Legal Holidays

I limit healthy, calorie dense foods to one serving a day. But I allow myself unlimited amounts when eating with others and on legal holidays.

Vegetables & Fruits

A healthy diet depends not just on what you don’t eat, but also what you do. That’s why it’s important to have goals for what you will eat as well as rule for what you won’t. Many school cafeterias have poster which encourage children to make half of each plate vegetables or fruits. Another great goal is to try to eat a pound of fresh and a pound of cooked vegetables a day. (This is Joel Fuhrman’s suggestion from his book Eat to Live.)

Protein, Carbs & Fats

The problem with the USDA My Plate is that it reinforces an outdated, meat-and-potatoes paradigm. It dates back to a time when most Americans rarely consumed vegetable, bean and whole grain-based ethnic dishes, often consumed processed grains (with little protein and fiber), and replaced the missing protein with a big slab of meat. When eating a plate of meat, white potatoes, and a few limp vegetables, it makes sense to try to find the right proportions macronutrients.

Whole plant foods, on the other hand, are rich in all macronutrients–proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The current thinking seems to be that, when we consume a variety of whole plant foods from each major category (vegetables and fruits, beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds) according to our appetites, we automatically consume protein, carbohydrates and fats in the amounts that are appropriate for our individual needs.

The perfect percentage of macronutrients has always been elusive, and the acceptable ranges seem to be getting broader:

In the case of protein, the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the United Nations University detail large differences in recommendations for different ages, genders and activity levels.

The Harvard School of Public Health agrees that there is “a wide range for acceptable protein intake—anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of calories each day.” 

That’s why leading experts now recommend eating a wide variety of micronutrient-rich plant foods. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals and all of the powerful phyto-chemicals (such as lutein and carotenoids) that scientists are just beginning to discover.

Here are a few sample recipes that reflect this approach to vegetable and fruit based, minimally processed eating:

Quinoa with Seasonal Berries & more Breakfast recipes.

Mediterranean Quinoa and Veggie Bowl, Classic Hummus & more Lunch recipes.

Mediterranean Salad with Falafel or Chicken & more Salads & Stuffed Pockets.

Teriyaki Rice Bowl & more Satisfying Stir Fries.

Chocolate Cherry Smoothie & more Superfood Smoothies.

Hara Hachi Bu

Elder Okinawans, who enjoy much longer and healthier lives than the rest of us, say the Confucian adage, Hara Hachi Bu before each meal. This reminds them to eat until they are no longer hungry, rather than uncomfortably full. Hara Hachi Bu literally means “stomach 80% full.”

Share Your Food Rules

The food rules I’ve chosen are:

  • Every meal and snack is mostly vegetables or fruits.
  • Less than 1% of each meal is sugary, salty and oily foods or dairy
  • No meat or fish
  • Include Hara Hachi Bu in my grace

And I chose to adopt these rules only after I reached a healthy weight. Before that, my diet was almost entirely unprocessed vegan foods.

What are your food rules? Click on Leave a Reply below, and let’s discuss!




4 replies »

    • Mine rules are pretty similar. I try to reduce salt (an use healthier Himalayan), but I don’t exclude it entirely (though that would, of course, be healthier. Personally, I’m 99% vegan (I eat a little ghee at the Indian buffet), but I do include ways to add 1-2 oz. of animal products to a few recipes.
      My official blurb:
      Plant-based, with small amounts of organic, grass-fed animal products as options
      Vegetable & fruit based, with small amounts of intact grains, seeds & nuts
      Minimally processed
      Free from refined sugars & concentrated sweeteners (natural or otherwise)
      Oil-free (except for negligible amounts of spray oils)
      Paleo friendly (although legumes and intact grains are included)
      Gluten-free (as an option)


      • Looks like we both found a lifestyle that works well for us. I am very interested in nutritional research, with which I tweak the lifestyle I follow. After 5 years I surpassed my goal weight and am at my dream weight. Of course that is the bonus. The best part is that my health is very good, my blood tests are fabulous and I am not on any prescription medicine. I hope people following will be inspired to learn that eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong foods can heal you. There is not one lifestyle that works for everyone, but there are definitely foods out there that can be harmful.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If people only knew how much more joy we get out of our food, and our lives, they’d join us. I guess that’s why we started blogs! I lost 55 lbs. and lowered my high cholesterol and blood pressure. I include small amounts of animal products as options in my recipes for two reasons. First, as you say, there isn’t one lifestyle that works for everyone. And, second, the science regarding how much meat you can eat and still be healthy is evolving. Also, greener methods of animal agriculture (such as organic, closed system fish habitats) are appearing.


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