Before we begin there are some things that need to be addressed about this article and the advice contained within.
Firstly, this article outlines a very simple, basic methodology that will allow you to take the first steps towards eating better for health. It is my opinion that this methodology is applicable for a vast majority of individuals. This article is not a list of healthy foods. Do note that there there is a sample menu listed below. This does not mean that this sample menu is anywhere near a comprehensive list of foods that are healthy.
This article will not address the dozens of ideologies and schemes that exist in mainstream dieting (high carb, low carb, etc.), nor will it address things like why breads/grains are poor dietary choices. Rather, it will address a structured, simple methodology to increase the “quality” of your food. This is what most credible nutritional sources will say is the first step to proper nutrition. If you need a simple rule of thumb and some interesting information on how to identify healthy foods then you should check out this article from the Life Spotlight.
Secondly, I want to point out that diet itself will not put on any muscle mass – for most people, anyway. While a small amount of weight loss is possible with purely dietary changes, proper diet must be coupled with an appropriate training regimen for your body composition goals in order to achieve optimal results. If weight loss is the goal then, oftentimes, there are significant lifestyle changes that come into play. I support changing diet first since it is easier for most people to change the way they eat than to add a new workout routine to a busy schedule. Once your weight levels off from dietary changes alone, then it is usually a good time to look into an appropriate exercise program. Ideally, however, diet and exercise should be part of one’s everyday lifestyle.
Finally, in the past I had some different foods listed as special food items. I have cut some items out of this list because I prefer that novices who are just starting out avoid high-carb meals. As a result quinoa has been removed from my list of “other good foods” and oatmeal has the caveat of eating one serving per day. These foods are very calorically dense and are not good choices when learning how to eat properly. These types of foods are great but their place is not in the program for someone just getting started, in my opinion. Do note that if you find that you operate better with more carbs then it is still easy to implement high-carb meals while adhering to the guidelines below.
I am attempting to keep this short so that most people will be able to fix their diet without going into too much detail.
I. High-Quality Food Categories
Without going into much detail we can boil high-quality nutrition down to 7 basic categories:
1) Vegetables – Source of carbohydrate.
2) Fruits – Source of carbohydrate.
3) Beans – Source of carbohydrate.
4) Meats – Source of protein.
5) Fish – Source of protein.
6) Nuts – Source of fat.
7) Seeds – Source of fat.
8) Oils – Source of fat. If trying to gain weight, pour it on everything including ice cream. Well…maybe not ice cream, but you get the point. If you need to gain weight, the fats listed on the table at the bottom of this site can be very useful. If you are trying to lose weight you should probably limit the amount of oil you consume due to the high caloric density
Additionally, there are some high-quality foods that are rather ambiguous and need to be addressed individually:
A) Olives – Source of fat.
B) Avocados – Source of fat.
C) Coconuts – Source of fat.
D) Eggs – Excellent source of protein. Interchangeable with meat sources. (1 whole egg = 1 oz. meat or 2 egg whites = 1 oz. meat)
- Milk – Whole milk is good if you are trying to gain weight. Skim milk is good if you are trying to lose.
- Cheese – Only recommended to those who want to gain weight. Avoid if trying to lose.
- Cottage Cheese – 3% milkfat is fine if trying to gain weight. Low-/nonfat if trying to lose. Low-calorie fruits spruce up flavor.
F) Oatmeal – Source of carbohydrate. Eat this at most once daily as part of a balanced meal – which means you need to include protein and fat.
II. Menu Creation
With these categories, you can make a comprehensive menu of foods. On your own, personal menu, you should list any and all foods in these categories that you enjoy. Additionally, list any foods that you can just tolerate. As you get used to eating better, the foods you can barely stand now will start to taste better, as well. Remember, it takes 21 days on any regimen, whether its exercise, diet, or even a new job, before the whole ordeal becomes routine in your brain. Keep this in mind as you transition into your new diet – you will need at least three weeks to acclimate psychologically and physiologically.
Menus can vary dramatically from person to person and still be very “healthy.” Your menu should be your own and based on your personal tastes and preferences.
For clarity, an example of a good starting menu is shown below:
When you make your own menu, I suggest that you carry it around with you everywhere you go. The goal is to constantly expand the menu as you learn new food items that you enjoy that fit into these categories.
III. Five Simple Rules
These categories come with a basic set of five simple rules for each meal:
1) Many Veggies – At least 2 cups (total) of veggies with every meal. These can be spruced up by cooking with onions, garlic, spices and oils.
2) Always Meat – At least 4-6 oz. of lean meat or fish. Roughly speaking, 4-6 oz. is a palm-sized portion or larger. Lean meat is poultry (chicken, turkey, hen), lean cuts of beef and pork tenderloin. Most other cuts of pork are not lean. Avoid beef altogether when you are first starting since it is hard to identify the lean cuts when you are new. Some people eat over a pound of meat/fish each sitting, depending on their goals. A minimum of 4-6 oz. is a good place to start.
3) Fruits Vary – Some fruits, like bananas, pears, peaches and apples, are loaded with sugars so you should limit the intake of such fruits to one per meal. Other fruits, like berries and melon, can be eaten with virtually no limit. Berries should be a staple in all diets due to their high concentration of antioxidants. More information on the amount of calories in these fruits can be found by searching www.nutritiondata.com.
4) Replacing Veggies – If you aren’t in the mood for veggies, you can replace 1 cup beans for every 2 cups veggies. You can also eat beans with your vegetables, if you like. Try not to put veggies off, but its okay to do so sometimes. Veggies can also be replaced by fruit. High quantities of the low-calorie fruits such as berries, melons, etc., can replace vegetables. Alternatively, low quantities (1-2 servings) of the high-calorie fruits, such as bananas, dates, peaches, pears, etc., can replace vegetables, as well.
5) Eat Fat – Eat nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, coconut or olive oil with every meal. For weight loss, a male would want around 6-10 nuts, half an ounce of seeds, 4-6 olives, 1/4 of an avocado, 25 g. coconut or 1 tsp. of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Do keep in mind that, oftentimes, women may consume much smaller quantities – sometimes as little as 50% of what is listed above – depending on their goals. In general, for weight gain, eat significantly more than these quantities – you will know when you had enough if you are trying to gain. As you lose fat and your goals change, realize that the amount of fat that you need will change, as well!
Snacking is acceptable when you are just focusing on improving the quality of your food. Snacking is encouraged by some methodologies and discouraged by others. Both have good reasons for these recommendations, and it usually depends on the context and goals. For those just starting, however, make sure your snacks only come from foods on your menu. If possible, make snacks contain a source of fat, carb and protein so that they are “balanced.”
One final note is that supplementation is something that should be done only when one knows what they are doing. Most times, supplements will be a waste of your time and money. The best way to get everything you need is through whole foods. However, I suggest three supplements below that I believe everyone should make part of their daily routine. Supplementing as specified below is relatively inexpensive when compared to the benefits MOST HUMAN BEINGS experience from this supplementation.
A) Supplement with 3-5 g of DHA+EPA fish oil. Every day. At a bare minimum, take in 2 g. Note that when I say 2 g. I mean the combined value of EPA and DHA. If your pills have 280 mg. EPA and 120 g. DHA then the total EPA+DHA is 400 mg. You would need to consume at least 5 of these pills daily.
B) Drink green tea. Every day. If you are concerned about caffeine, brew one cup with a green tea bag, discard the water, then use the same tea bag with fresh, boiling water. This eliminates most of the caffeine while maintaining most of the antioxidants for which we are drinking the tea.
C) 2 multivitamin pills daily, with food. Every day. Centrum brand is cheap and should be just fine. One should consider upgrading to a multivitamin with no iron so that dosages can be increased dramatically without worrying about iron poisoning.