People ask me all the time: “What should I eat?” The answer is food, real food. That means relatively untouched plants and animals for the most part—foods that are processed as little as possible. The key is to stay in the outside aisles of the grocery store, where the fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meats, poultry and fish usually are.
The goal is to eat whole foods. And the important elements to keep in mind when focusing on nutrition are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, all of which your body requires for daily performance, a healthy immune system, and mental clarity. Now you might be thinking: “I don’t get sick often and my brain works just fine. I just want to lose some weight.” Good, because the same answer applies. Your body wants proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. If you’re getting all of these nutrients, you won’t be hungry, and if you’re not hungry, then you won’t overeat; if you don’t overeat, you won’t be overweight. Simple enough? Great! Let’s explore what types of foods you should be eating to satisfy each of these major food groups:
Calories are the fuel and energy source for the human body. Nutrient-rich calories provide energy you can actually feel. Nutrient rich calories are those high in vitamins and minerals (micronutrients). They act as your body’s fuel, allowing your brain, muscles, organs and nervous system to function at optimum levels. Calories should come from the proper combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (macronutrients).
What is a good carbohydrate? The short answer is: vegetables and fruits, in that order. A good carbohydrate is one that is rich in micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. These carbohydrates also tend to be anti-inflammatory, which means they help reduce the risk of disease and ward off illness. If you’re a fan of beans don’t worry they’re healthy. Just find the least processed version of beans possible. A little brown rice, quinoa or oatmeal won’t kill you either; just limit your intake of grains to times when you anticipate needing extra energy due to working out or other performance enhancing activities. Generally avoid wheat, barley and rye because they are high in gluten and many people have an intolerance to gluten without knowing it. If you eat wheat and feel great that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be a dominant food for anyone because it has several negative impacts on other nutrient absorption.
Proteins are the building blocks of all the parts of your body. Your muscles, your brain, your organs, your tissues—all depend on you consuming a sufficient amount of protein. Most experts tend to agree the amount of protein you consume should be between 0.7 and 1 gram per pound of lean body mass. That means if you weigh 200lbs and you are at 20% body fat, you have 160lbs of lean body mass. You should therefore eat roughly 160 grams of protein per day. Choosing proteins with healthier fats in them like Wild Alaskan Salmon, Atlantic Mackerel or other small to medium size fish that don’t spend their lives swimming in deep seas absorbing toxic metals, would be ideal.
When it comes to red meat and poultry, one should be looking for the organic, grass-fed or free range options whenever available. Yes, it’s more expensive to eat healthy and organic, but would you rather spend the money on doctor bills in the future or on food in the present? Studies have shown that free roaming, grass fed beef is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help the metabolism and brain function more efficiently as well as reduce the risk of heart disease. The standard corporate farms keep cows in small cages where they are fed an unnatural diet of corn and grains, decreasing their immunity (often triggering the use of antibiotics) and increasing unhealthy high fat compositions. This beef has been shown to be associated with all types of problems, including increased risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease.
When it comes to fats, we are looking for those high in Omega fatty acids, specifically Omega 3’s because Omega 6’s are more abundant in most American diets; Omega 9’s are not essential because your body can make them as needed. Nuts and seeds, especially chia seeds and walnuts, are excellent options. When it comes to vegetable fat sources, avocados are another great vitamin, mineral and Omega 3-rich option.
Now, oils are interesting. Many people use canola oil, which is low in saturated fat compared to some other oils, yet it has a relatively high burning temperature. The only problem with canola oil is that it is derived from an inedible and toxic rapeseed plant containing large amounts of erucic acid (a known toxin). The only way to make rapeseed oil (canola) edible for humans is to genetically modify the plant before processing the oil. I personally am not a fan of genetically modifying food to make it less toxic for human consumption (a bit scary if you ask me). If something that grows in nature needs to be modified on a genetic level to stop it from killing people who eat it, then maybe we should consider finding another plant source for our cooking oil. Also, some people have been known to have a negative response to canola oil ingestion. Symptoms may include, asthma, respiratory issues and skin reactions, as well as digestive symptoms like cramping, bloating, stomach pain, gas, vomiting, and diarrhea. This is probably due to the fact that even after genetically modifying the rapeseed plant, some of the toxic erucic acid remains.
A popular choice these days is coconut oil. Coconut oil may be a good option because it is low in cholesterol but high in saturated fat. There has been much debate about whether or not saturated fat in coconut oil is harmful. To this point, I believe there have been too few studies for a solid conclusion. One thing is sure, however, coconut oil tastes pretty good. Olive oil is definitely one of the better choices when it comes to cooking oil or salad dressing. Ideally, choose one that has not been processed, like extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil does burn at a lower temperature than processed olive oil, so just be careful about your cooking temperature, or use a combination olive oil that is minimally refined.
EAT HIGH QUALITY
In most cases and for most people, nutrition questions tend to be related to weight loss. And why not, considering that the United States has the highest rate of obesity in the world? In my opinion, the focus has been on the wrong thing. Most people are concerned with eating less. That means they are concentrating on the negative or depriving themselves, which most people do not want to do. I suggest we focus on what we should do rather than what we should not do. So what should we do?
To sum it all up: eat more, high quality food. Eat more lean, organic and free range proteins. More nutrient rich carbohydrates, such as colorful fruits and vegetables. More healthy fats, like olive oil, avocados, chia seeds, almonds and walnuts. Put simply: the healthier food choices you make, the fewer calories you will eat. Eat fewer calories and you will lose weight. A body wants what a body needs, and once those needs have been met, excessive hunger and extreme cravings will be a thing of the past. Now that we have tackled the physical health and weight-loss challenges. The next challenge is recognizing when you use food as an emotional substitute (i.e. due to relationship issues, self-loathing, body images issues, eating disorders and low self-esteem). I think we will save that topic for another article. For now I hope we've helped, and good luck on your journey!
By Adam Lerner
Adam & Amanda
We have spent most of our adult lives training and guiding thousands of people toward better health & fitness. We have created this A4 Blog in order to better educate our friends & members. We will answer any of your health / fitness / nutrition questions as well as keeping you posted on what's new at A4.