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
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
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:
- 30% Carbs, 40% Protein, 30% Fat (Barry Sears’ Enter the Zone)
- 45-60% Carbs, 15-30% Protein, Less Than 30% Fat (David L. Katz’ Disease-Proof: Slash Your Risk of Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes, and More–by 80 Percent, p. 64)
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!