By Justin Gibson, BS, CPT, CSCS
Most of us, if pressed, can identify a “good” diet from a not-so-good diet:
-Fruits and vegetables are good, cinnamon rolls are not.
-Home-cooked spaghetti dinners are good, canned ravioli is not.
-Grilled chicken breast is good, the Triple Bypass Burger is not.
Yet it seems that every day we’re bombarded with numerous and sometimes conflicting reports of what foods are healthy, and which foods with lead to certain death. Should you eat only the same foods our ancestors did? Is bread to be avoided at all costs? Am I supposed to take all of Dr. Oz’s miracle supplements at once, or can I just rotate them around?
While there will probably never be a perfect set of dietary rules that everyone should rigidly adhere to for optimal health, there do exist some generally solid recommendations most people should follow if they want to eat in a way that can be ambiguously described as “healthy”.
Here are my 5 basic Do’s and Don’ts of nutrition.
Do eat your fruits and vegetables.
It is the very first thing we think of when asked about a proper diet, and it is a rule that is universally accepted and almost equally ignored. Eat a piece of fruit or a serving of some type of vegetable with every meal. Snack on them if you can. See if you can be the first person on the planet who gained weight from eating too many apples. If you really need to be reminded of why fruits and veggies are healthy, you can skim this article.
Do eat enough protein.
Regardless of whether you’re trying to lose weight, prevent disease, or prepare for football camp, a diet that is too low in protein will not support a healthy body. Adequate protein intake is crucial for maintaining muscle mass, which is the driving force behind your metabolic rate and the tissue that literally keeps you moving. You can go low-carb, low-fat, vegetarian, or paleo, but unless you are phenylketonuric, do not go low-protein. To find out how much protein you need per day and where you can get it, you can visit www.howmuchprotein.com.
Don’t get your entire meal from a box.
At some point, most of us have had meal that required looking at microwave directions on the back of a box, and it probably wasn’t mistaken for fine cuisine. Often the only way to make partially cooked, four-month old block of frozen food even somewhat palatable is to smother it in a calorie-laden cheese or butter sauce. This, combined with alarming amounts of sodium and preservatives, makes most TV dinners equally healthy and delicious (that is to say, neither/nor.) Pre-packaged microwavable meals are tempting for their convenience, but they should be viewed as your contingency plan when the only other option is starving.
Do learn the basics of portion and serving size.
Few people have the time or patience to meticulously weigh and measure every morsel of nourishment about to enter their bodies, but gaining a basic knowledge of food serving sizes will put every decision you ever make about your diet in a better perspective. For example, what most of us would consider a “bowl” of cereal is probably two or even three servings; the prominently displayed “110 calories per serving” listed on the box may not be a good indicator of how heavy your breakfast really is. Try to learn to “eyeball” what one serving of your most common food items looks like. A “palm-sized” serving of ground beef, a “quarter-sized” bundle of spaghetti, etc.
Don’t try to make up for a poor diet with exercise or supplementation.
If your goal is to lose weight, trying to “out-exercise” a poor meal choice is ill-advised on top of being woefully inefficient. Likewise, trying to “make-up” for a daily double cheeseburger by taking fish oil is not a good way to keep your cholesterol in check. A solid exercise program and a sensible supplementation regimen can be great for your health, but they can’t act as band-aids to hold together a fundamentally flawed way of eating.
This is by no means a fully comprehensive list, and there are literally hundreds of books that can fully outline a meal plan and grocery list for a fantastic diet. And, of course, different goals can require different approaches to nutrition. But if you follow these simple guidelines, I can all but guarantee you’re on the right track.
Justin is a personal trainer at Body Structure Medical Fitness in Lexington, Kentucky