On Diet: 8 Lessons I’ve Learned

After recently reading Tim Spector’s The Diet Myth, it occurred to me that I’ve read a number of informative books on diet and nutrition. They include such books as Wheat Belly, Grain Brain, and The Complete Guide to Fasting. I’ve experimented with the suggestions and advice in these books with varying degrees of success, and failure.

Based on what I’ve read and my personal experiences, I’m going to share 8 lessons I’ve learned about diet and nutrition. Bear in mind that these are general guidelines. This is not a set of diet rules or a list of what to eat, or what not to eat. These are the common diet and nutrition themes that appear in just about everything I read. They are also the themes that I’ve had the most success with in my personal diet experiments.

And as you read these, remember that I am not a doctor, nor am I a certified nutritionist, so this is in no way, shape or form medical advice. It’s general knowledge that you may want to take into account as you embark on your own diet adventures.

#1 – Beware the one-size-fits-all approach

If you ever read something that says this is the answer to your diet and nutrition woes, you should immediately question it. There isn’t a diet that fits everyone. It’s impossible. We are all different. We have different genetic make-ups, we live in different environments, we have had different life experiences, we have been raised differently. All of these affect our ability to process different types of food. For one person, potatoes may be a miracle food. For another, it may be toxic.

So when someone says that you should only eat A, B, or C without knowing anything about you, you should immediately discount it. The optimal diet and nutrition is unique to you. One day, there may be a way for someone to run some tests and determine your optimal diet. Until then, it’s a series of experiments and discovery that each of us has to go through on our own.

#2 – Avoid processed foods

As a general rule of thumb, processed, prepackaged foods are not good for you. They tend to be high in sugar, and made with unhealthy ingredients, chemicals, and preservatives. I love the way author Michael Pollan puts it. If you can’t pronounce the ingredient on the label, or if it’s something your grandmother wouldn’t recognize, then it’s something you don’t want to eat.

#3 – Limit sugar intake

Besides avoiding processed foods, one of the biggest things that helped me to control my appetite and hunger was limiting sugar. There are the obvious things to cut back on like candy, cookies, cakes, and doughnuts. But Once I started reading food labels, I was blown away by how much sugar was in common food items where I would not have expected it like tomato sauce, breads, crackers, and soups. It’s so bad that I’ve resorted to making some of these items on my own, such as bread, just so I can control how much sugar is in it. In case you’re curious, my sourdough bread has 0g of added sugars!

#4 – Moderation is key

Everything in moderation. When it comes to food, it’s a motto I live by. When they say red wine is good for you, it doesn’t mean you should drink 2 bottles a day. Or drink 10 cups of coffee a day. Or eat a bag of walnuts to load up on Omega-3’s. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Eat and drink in moderation, always.

#5 – Diversity is just as important as moderation

Diversity in your diet is just as important as moderation. There isn’t one food, or one food group, that can satisfy of all your nutritional needs. You need to eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, yogurts, meats, dairy products, and beverages to get all the nutrients your body needs. just remember, you don’t need that wide variety all at one time. It’s about small portions, with lots of diversity, over time, to get the nutrients your body needs.

#6 – Whenever possible, eat fresh

Fresh food is always best, particularly when it comes to fruits and vegetables. This rule also applies to things like meats and dairy products, too. Think of it as a corollary to theme #2. When you have a choice and where it makes sense, avoid the processed, packaged, canned, or frozen option and choose fresh. Bonus points if it’s fresh and you’ve taken the time to grow and/or make it yourself.

#7 – (Good) Fats are not the enemy

For most of my lifetime, it has been beaten into me that fats are not good for you. Everything has a low or no fat option that is supposed to be better for us. The problem is that these low fat alternatives are usually loaded with sugar to make up for the poor taste when the fats are removed. Not only does the sugar content offset the benefits of low fat, in most cases, it’s makes it less healthy when compared to leaving the fats in.

Fats are too nuanced of a subject to cover here, so I’ll leave it as do your research before writing off all fats. Sure, there are some fats that you clearly want to avoid, like trans-fats. When it comes to saturated and unsaturated fats, however, it’s a lot less clear. As a general rule, unsaturated fats are better for you than saturated fats, but within each of these groups there are healthier and unhealthier types.

Bottom line, don’t assume all fats are bad for you, don’t assume all fats are good for you, and don’t assume low/no fat alternatives are the healthiest option. Do your homework. It’ll be worth your time, and your future self will thank you.

#8 – Fasting

Fasting is one area that can produce a lot of positive results, but it is also one of the trickiest. I practice intermittent fasting (eating during 6-8 hour periods, fasting for 16-18 hours daily), I’ve done 24-hour fasts, and I completed one 48-hour fast, which was a bit of a challenge. Fasting is the one area that I would like to do more of, but it is also the one I struggle with the most.

Fasting is something you should not rush into. It needs to be well thought out, and depending on your health, done under the advice and supervision of a medical professional. That said, everything I’ve read suggests it helps the body to self-regulate and return to a state of homeostasis. It also gives cells a chance to recuperate, recharge, and process toxins. If you’re interested in the subject, a great place to start is reading The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung, which I would highly recommend.

So, those are my 8 general rules for diet and nutrition. If you have any that you would recommend I add to my list, feel free to add them in the comments. Thanks!

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