First off, I need to apologize! We were supposed to have a post on writing goals up to you before now, but Big Sis ran off to New Zealand with her Kiwi, and neglected to get me the post before she left… Hopefully soon! Until then, hopefully I will appease you with our basic outline of what simplified eating means, and how you can tackle this in the New Year! (oh and Happy New Year while we’re at it!) So – here it is… [beware, it’s a long one!]
The best nutritional plan is a simple one: Eat Real Food! Simple, right? But, what does that mean? Real Food grows in or on the ground. It does not come in a package – a box, a bag, a bottle, or otherwise. It is grown or raised the way nature or God or Buddha (or whomever you believe in) intended it to grow – animals raised on their natural diet (no, cows don’t normally eat massive amounts of grain, they eat grass!), plants raised on soil that has not been depleted and chemically altered for years on end. It means eating the way our ancestors ate… no not your parents, or even your grand-parents… think way back toward the great-great-great-grandparents and beyond! I don’t mean to shun everything modern or agricultural – we still live in this modern world… I just mean to eat foods that we are meant to be eating – not pseudo-foods that have formulas because they were created in a laboratory.
Now, off my soap box… How do you follow a simple nutritional plan based on eating real food?
- Increase your vegetable intake, and eat small amounts of fresh, seasonal fruits
- Ensure you are getting good quality proteins at most (if not all) meals
- Ensure you are eating plenty of healthy fats
- Decrease your intake of sugars, processed foods, baked goods, and grains, legumes and starchy vegetables (hopefully eventually eliminating most (if not all) of these)
- Eat a variety of real foods each day and throughout the week
I will provide a quick discussion of this here, but we will go into much more detail in the coming months on each of these principles so that you can understand them, see how simple they are, and implement them in your life.
1. Increase your vegetable intake and eat small amounts of fresh, seasonal fruits.
Most of us do not eat near enough vegetables each day; especially the green ones! This means that we are usually not getting the nutrients we need to keep our bodies functioning at an optimal level. Vary your vegetables each day so that you don’t get sick of the same old stand-bys. Variety will help to ensure that you are getting lots of fiber and all of the vitamins and minerals you need. And remember, eating your vegetables doesn’t necessarily mean eating a salad with each meal. Vegetables can be sautéed, roasted, steamed and more. Be creative. Look for new vegetables to try, and new ways to cook them: roasted Brussels sprouts, kale chips, sautéed greens with onions and garlic, braised collards with bacon.
2. Ensure you are getting good quality proteins at most (if not all) meals
Now, we Two Sisters lean toward a more Paleolithic style of eating, which means we believe in eating animal proteins and that the best source of protein is from something that once had a face. You may not agree, and we will get into alternative sources of protein when we go into more detail, but for now, you are just going to have to deal with our explanation in animal protein terms.
If you are trying to lose weight or maintain health, protein intake determines whether the weight that you are losing (or maintaining) is lean muscle or fat. Obviously we want to lose fat and not muscle, so we need to make sure that we are taking in enough protein. But what is enough protein? Try to eat a piece of lean meat that is about the size of your palm with most, if not all meals.
Then we get to the whole deal of lean proteins. I actually don’t like to eat lean proteins, and in an ideal world, I would suggest that we all eat fatty meats, as the fats are a great nutrient-dense source of good health and yumminess that our bodies need. However, in this day and age, if you buy conventional meats (i.e. anything that comes from your typical grocery store butcher or package), then you should focus on lean proteins and make sure you get your healthy fats elsewhere. So, what are these? Lean proteins are chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef (80+% lean), and most game meats. If you have a source of grass-fed organic or game meats that you are eating, the lean part is not so big of a deal. In that case, the types of fats in the meat are much more beneficial for our bodies (higher omega-3 content, and lower omega-6), than in their grain-fed counterparts.
And remember – eating fat is a good thing! Fat does not make you fat, nor does it make you have high cholesterol!
3. Ensure you are eating plenty of healthy fats.
Just like with protein, most of us do not get enough healthy fats in our diets, regardless of if we are trying to lose weight or not. However, we tend to get too many unhealthy fats; and that is where the problems begin. A big part of inflammation and disease is due to this imbalance of fats. The typical American diet (and most atypical ones as well!) rely too much on vegetable oils, processed foods and grain-fed animal products; this means that we end up eating too many omega-6 fats. While we do need omega-6 fats, we need a much smaller amount than we are currently getting.
In order to counter this high intake of omega-6 fats, we need to increase our intake of omega-3 fats and decrease our reliance on vegetable oils and processed foods (which tend to be high in omega-6’s). The optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is between 1:1 and 4:1. Most Americans are closer to 20:1 or 30:1. So – how do we do change this ratio and get on the right track?
- Increase our intake of cold water carnivorous fish (salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, trout, etc…), AND supplement with fish oil
- Increase our intake of healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil/milk/unsweetened flakes, olives, olive oil, some nuts and seeds [macadamias, walnuts])
- Decrease our use of vegetable oils, processed foods and fried foods
It is important not just to add healthy fats, but to decrease our intake of and replace unhealthy fats with healthy ones. Both steps need to occur in order to ensure proper fat ratios and to ensure health. Good fats are extremely important to health, and due to misinformation, bad science and marketing campaigns by food companies, we have come to be fat-phobic. We need to overcome this fear of fat in order to ensure optimal health and vitality. And yes, it is important to make sure you are getting enough healthy fats even when you are trying to lose weight!
4. Decrease your intake of sugars, processed foods, baked goods (homemade or otherwise), grains, legumes and starchy vegetables.
Each of the foods listed above have high levels of concentrated sugars or starches (and other anti-nutrients that we will discuss later). Concentrated sugars and starches can not only prevent fat loss, but can also cause weight gain. Look at the amount of starches that are on your plate at each meal (or snack); the starches should be less than half the size of your protein portion, and should never take up more than ¼ of your plate. There are no nutrients or beneficial ingredients in these starchy foods that cannot be had from other healthier sources, so you are not losing anything by removing them from your plate. Starches are found not only in the typical pasta, bread, potatoes and grains, but are also found as sugar in fruit juices, salad dressing, soda, and most desserts.
5. Eat a variety of foods each day and throughout the week.
It is easy to get into a routine with food. We tend to eat the same thing for meals each day; it is easier that way. We have eggs and toast for breakfast, eat a salad with ranch dressing and a muffin for lunch, and then dinner is your typical meat and mashed potatoes with green beans. While it may be easy and makes for a pleasant routine, limiting the variety in our food also limits the nutrients that we are able to take in each day, which limits the level of health that we can achieve.
It has been said that variety is the spice of life! How true; especially when it comes to food. Allow yourself to experiment. The important thing is to add more variety to your diet, and a good way to do that is by rethinking and planning your meals. But… we’ll get to the menu planning later!
Yes, there are options! I am of two minds here… therefore, you have two options.
1) Take this slowly, make small changes as we talk about them on the blog. For the first month, focus on the vegetables… Then when we get to February and start talking about protein, hopefully you will be more comfortable with the vegetables, and it will be easier to move on to the proteins, while still keeping track of your vegetable intake, and so on through the months. Making small changes over time can make them more do-able, easier to maintain, and although the changes will come more slowly, they will be more sustainable.
2) But, sometimes you need a massive shift in your nutrition to kick-start your way to a healthy diet… or it is just time to do something drastic. If that is the case, join me in eating a very strict Real Food diet for the next month (I know, this is quick… you don’t have to start on the 1st… if you need to plan, take a week, and start on the 8th… I’ll be here to help you along. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will respond ASAP). Eat lots of proteins, healthy fats and vegetables. Eat up to 1-2 pieces of fresh fruit each day. Occasionally eat some nuts and seeds (mostly macadamia nuts and walnuts). Eggs are great! No dairy, no legumes, no grains (of any kind!), no sugar (and that means sugar substitutes as well). I will try to post my weekly menu each week so you have a guide for some meals, and I will also post links to some of my favorite recipes that fit this bill. (Look for my menu tomorrow!) [If you want a little more information on what it means to eat like this, check out these blog posts: FitBomb, RobbWolf, Whole9, PaleoQuickStart Guide]
You make the choice as to how you want to attack this. If you choose the second route, stick it out for a month (it is tough, but believe me, it is SOOOOO worth it!) and see how you feel. Don’t give up when you start to feel low on energy or your workouts get worse. This is part of the normal process as your body shifts from a processed, modernized diet to a real food diet. You may have strange symptoms appear, but I promise that if you stick it out, they will go away, and you will feel better for it! After the month is up, take stock of how you feel and how you have changed. After a month, take a day to eat whatever you want, and take the time to see how you feel. From there, adapt the nutritional plan to what works best for you.
For now, this is it. These are the 5 basic principles to a simplified eating plan that can help you achieve optimal health and vitality. Over the next 7 months, we will be going into more detail on each of these principles, as well as additional material. This month, we will talk about vegetables. So put your thinking cap on and get ready to learn all about vegetables and start experimenting!
The next posts will be goals, food journaling and my week 1 menu plan. From there, we will get into the veggies!