Allright, before we jump in I want to make it clear that I do not believe in cutting food groups, overly restricting what you eat or being obsessed with any aspect of eating. Obsession with healthy eating is just as much a disorder as other food disorders. That being said, I believe in working towards health, in making intentional, conscious choices that will support health, and also learning to enjoy food. I am also compelled to say I am not a medical professional or nutritionist, this is not intended to replace _any_ medical advice, this is simply what I have learned over time.
I’ll admit I don’t have the best history with food. Growing up I was considered “picky”, “difficult”, “doesn’t like anything”, “impossible to take to a restaurant”, etc. Only as a married adult with a home of my own did I discover that I was not, in fact, all that difficult. That yes, I have likes and dislikes, and there are lots of people who enjoy a bigger range of foods than I do, but I am not impossible. My story with food started with fear of trying new things as a kid (totally normal, by the way), which I internalized as not liking _anything_, added to a sense of good and bad foods – I learned this by picking up on a diet culture in my environments, this wasn’t intentionally taught. What I ended up with was a glorification of some foods as healthy, the demonization of some foods as unhealthy, a sense of being lost because since I didn’t like anything how could I possible learn to enjoy anything, and a confusion because there’s just too much information.
History lesson over. 😉
Years ago I sought out to find the simplest way to enjoy food and at the same time not fill my body with junk. While I will always advocate that you enjoy food, that you give yourself permission to eat anything you want, and that you don’t buy into the guilt of diet culture, there are some things that nutritionists, doctors, fitness experts all agree on, and I’ll give you the punchline: processed food isn’t great, so treat with caution.
Today I’m going to tell you all about the basics of food and healthy eating, and you’ll take it from there.
Macros and Calories 101
If you’ve been on a health journey for any period of time you’ve heard about this. Calories and macros are tracking tools so that you eat well, and give your body balanced nutrition.
Substantial research in animals and now in humans indicates that a calorie-restricted diet is helpful for brain and life longevity. Eating less helps you live longer. It controls weight; decreases risk for heart disease, cancer, and stroke from obesity (a major risk factor for all of these illnesses); and it triggers certain mechanisms in the body to increase the production of nerve growth factors, which are helpful to the brain. Researchers use the acronym CRON for “calorie restriction with optimal nutrition,” so the other part of the story is to make these calories count.
Again, you should not be obsessed with number of calories or restricting all foods from your diet. Think everyday x occasional. Your everyday is what will determine your health, not your Christmas and thanksgiving day meals.
The 3 macros are what you should build your nutrition around, and your focus should be on packing real food into these macros, and keeping the processed (think whites – sugar, white flour, etc – and packaged food with several ingredients) foods as occasional.
I will keep this is simple as I can, because we can go on for hours on each one. When counting macros you are counting grams of each macro, not the food that contains it. So 100g chicken actually contains 31g of protein. Your tracking app will likely know the number 🙂
Protein is the building block of your body. Everything needs protein. Muscles, bones, hormones, etc. Protein helps with satiety and craving control as well.
Contrary to popular belief it is possible to eat a plant based diet and still get all the protein you need, the only difference is that animal protein contains all the amino-acids you need, while with plant protein you need a greater variety of foods to get all the amino-acids you need.
Fats are NOT the enemy!!!!
Now that that is settled, fat is essential for our body to function well. Our brains are largely made of omega-3 fatty acids, as are our neurons and retina. Body fat comes from excess calories, not from eating fat in a balanced diet. That being said, all fat are not equal, so I classify them as good, ok and bad.
Bad fat – trans fat. This fat is mostly made in partial hydrogenation and is largely found in processed foods.
Ok fat – saturated fat. This fat is found in animal sources (red meat, poultry, full fat dairy, etc). When eating animal products opt for leaner meats, but don’t fall into the trap of “low fat” dairy products being healthier – removing the fat means they need to add something (usually a form of sugar) to compensate for flavor loss. You are doing yourself a disservice. Go with full fat in moderation.
Good fat – fats from low processed foods, plant based foods and oils and fish.
Carbs are in the spotlight now, and if you’re looking for someone to confirm the low carb bias – I’m not it.
Carbs are good, carbs are important, they give us energy, they promote muscle growth and recovery, and they are the ultimate comfort food. Here’s what I will say: not all foods are created equal in terms of how your body responds to them, and carbs are the most processed foods we consume, so choose wisely.
There are two kinds of carbs, simple and complex, aka. processed and non processed. The more processed the carb (think white bread, white pasta, white rice, anything sugar or dessert, etc) the lower it is in nutrition, and the higher it is in calories. On the other hand, the complex, non processed carbs are those you find in their most original form (think whole grains, beans, fruits, potatoes, veggies) and they are high in nutrition and while they can still pack a lot of calories, these calories are accompanied by good information for your body.
Love carbs, and eat mostly the ones that love you back.
How to balance these
Choosing what to eat and how much of each macro will depend largely on your goals. A balanced diet will include all of these, and the amounts, again, depend on what your health goal is. For a healthy person who is looking to maintain their weight while eating to become healthier the average recommendations I have found are: 35-55% Carbs, 25-40% Fat, 25-40% Protein.
These numbers give you quite a margin to try things out and see how your body best responds, and look beyond weight loss.
How is your energy throughout the day?
How do you sleep?
How regular are your bathroom visits?
How do your skin, nails and hair look?
How is your mood throughout the day?
All these questions speak to health, beyond the number on the scale.
You are in control of your health, of what you eat, of how you move, of what you do with the thoughts that go through your mind. What kind of health do you want?
Go for it.
Keeping it simple,