Often times, the pail of cold water that gets dumped on a fiery nutrition debate is the “one size does not fit all!” mantra. That is to say, one particular manner of eating can make person A feel great but person B feel sluggish and tired, and both experiences are legitimate. To a certain degree, I co-sign on this. Some individuals are grazers, others are “three square meals” types; some people like to eat breakfast right upon waking, some don’t really feel hungry until an hour after. Fine with me.
Approaching nutrition from a completely individualist lens, however, takes away from the fact that there are certain truths that apply to everyone, and should be strongly recommended across the board:
1. Eat more whole fruits and vegetables: An obvious one, yes, but undoubtedly something everyone can benefit from. I list it, though, because some low-carb camps are weary of whole fruits and equate a banana with a handful of Skittles. Vitamins, minerals, and fiber aside, each fruit and vegetable provides its own unique blend of health-promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants, some of which have yet to fully be studied. PS: This group includes sea vegetables as well, which I believe are criminally underrated and underrepresented in mainstream nutrition circles.
2. Consume fermented foods: If the population of Gut Flora City is undernourished or dwindling, it takes a toll on your health (think impaired mineral absorption and lowered immunity). Consistent intake of fermented foods helps maintain a thriving gut flora community. Although yogurt is the first thing that comes to mind, many foods and beverages fit the bill: sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir (dairy or vegan), rejuvelac (a sprouted grain beverage), kombucha, and miso. These foods must be consumed in a raw state (or, if pasteurized, must have cultures added on after pasteurization).
3. Eat unprocessed fats: It pains me that we live in a world where coconuts are branded as evil because of their saturated fat content (ignoring the fact that its main fat, lauric acid, increases HDL cholesterol) while corn oil is presented as the heart-health savior (even though it offers an absurd amount of omega-6 fatty acids). When it comes to fats, it’s best to consume them in unprocessed form. This means getting them mostly from whole foods, rather than oils. In the case of oils, though, cold-pressed, unfiltered choices are best. My general rule for oils: choose ones that come from foods naturally high in fat. Otherwise, best to avoid. Oils with modifiers like ‘interesterified’, ‘hydrogenated’, ‘modified’, ‘partially hydrogenated’, or ‘refined’ cause much damage to our arteries and cells.
4. Eat enough fiber, and eat it from real food: What’s “enough”? 25 – 35 grams a day. Food companies know consumers are looking to get more of it and have resorted to the cheap trick of adding isolated fibers to many non whole-grain products. Whole grains offer many more advantages besides fiber, so choose them over fiber-enhanced processed foods, even if they offer fewer fiber grams per serving. And, of course, get fiber from fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. PS: My blood pressure rises a little whenever I come across packets of Splenda with Fiber.
5. Was it around 100 years ago? Artificial dyes, artificial sweeteners, and many preservatives (like BHA and BHT) all come with their share of legitimate concerns, especially regarding their long-term consumption. Artificial sweeteners don’t appear to trigger “food reward pathways” in the brain and some appear to have carcinogenic ties, while BHA and BHT are banned on the other side of the Atlantic for a variety of reasons.
As far as I’m concerned, the principles of good nutrition are universal. Sure, the nutrition field is dynamic in that new discoveries are made, but emerging research usually gives more of a reason to eat close to nature and avoid man-made creations. Here are the “one size fits all” Cliffs Notes: keep it real, keep it fresh, and keep it simple (and, whenever possible, local and/or organic).