Many people are confused about how to eat healthy. Years ago, the recommendation was low fat, then low carb, low sugar, low calorie, and then studies said eating red meat was worse than smoking. Gluten-free seemed to become a fad. Everything in moderation right? What's moderation? Hmmm, now people are confused. They think they should eat to get skinny, but obesity is in the rise and it has become hard for people to maintain their ideal weight.
To make matters worse, many people, including kids are walking around plagued with commonly "normal" issues and excess fat in the midsection is quite common. Heartburn, headaches, moodiness, fatigue, seasonal allergies, behavioral issues, etc have all become normal. These people may feel they are eating a healthy diet and not even realize that the foods they are eating are contributing to these common, but not so normal issues. See, just because many people have the same issue, doesn't make it "normal". Throw stress into the mixure, bad sleep, hormonal issues and we can't figure anything out! But it's really not about eating to maintain a weight. It's more about eating to achieve and maintain health. If we are eating right and following good lifestyle practices, our weight will be where it should and we will feel great.
Yes, it is confusing. Let's start with a few reasons how our food recommendations got so screwed up.
1. Government food policies are based upon the work of lobbyists, not necessarily science. These lobbyists are not the fruit and vegetable growers, but rather huge companies like Kraft, Hershey’s, Pepsi Co, DuPont (Yes, a chemical company), etc. As well as more seemingly healthy companies like Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). The GMA is one of the biggest lobbyists against GMO labeling of food-that’s right, they don’t want us to know what’s in our food. Monsanto has a huge influence over food policies spending millions per year influencing public and government authorities. Their tactics and what they are allowed to do is downright scary and puts our health & food supply at great risk. In addition, many chemicals that are banned in other countries, are not banned here in the US. Companies make different products for other countries, and even for the state of California than they do for the US. Doesn't make sense does it?
2. Food labeling/branding is misleading and made to appeal to those believing in myths or inaccurate science. While food labeling laws are pretty strict, there is much room for deception and influence based upon consumer based marketing testing to help influence buying (for those in Oak Creek, WI they may be familiar with J. Reckner product testing and will know what I'm talking about). Labeling claims such as "low cholesterol" or "low fat" appeal to people worried about their cholesterol or fat intake. Likewise, brand names such as Smart Ones, Healthy Choice, Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine lead people to believe that these products are healthy. Not true. Some products (oils for example) are labeled as “heart healthy”. These are not labeled as such because they have been tested and found to be heart healthy. They are labeled as such because the company paid to be able to use that logo on their product. Seems wrong doesn’t it? Labeling laws allow companies to use the description "all natural", but this term doesn't actually have any standards for use. You'd be pretty shocked to know what can be labeled "all natural". Yet this labeling claim fools and influences many. Healthy foods do not require labeling or marketing claims.
3. Processed foods are made (in a lab and in the factory) to be hyperpalatable & craveable. It doesn’t mean that they are simply adding more sugar, fat, or salt to make it tastier. No, they are using chemicals and ingredients such as MSG to stimulate taste receptors. That’s right. Restaurants and food companies use a ton of sugar, fat (unhealthy, cheap fat that oxidizes in our body and causes inflammation), and processed salt to make their food craveable. Companies spend a ton of money doing food-marketing testing to find out exactly what we are craving. Wheat and dairy have an opiate like effect on your brain. When you don’t eat them for a while, you crave them and you can’t control it! In fact, you can even have withdrawal effects when you stop eating them.
4. We are told to talk with our doctors about nutrition, but guess what? I've listened to many interviews with doctors themselves and they've admitted they aren’t actually trained in nutrition and many in fact don’t even realize the food connection to chronic disease. Doctors are just as confused as many of us are, using recommendations as commonly found on American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association websites. Guess what? Recommendations from these big companies are also based upon old science and outdated guidelines as well. It’s sad because it’s leaving people sick and unhealthy.
5. Registered dietetic and nutrition programs are heavily sponsored by big food (and big food means processed food, not big health food). They are also mislead and confused about what to recommend. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of excellent dietitians out there. But, have you ever seen the food in served to patients in a hospital. Seriously? You can find many posts on the inter-webs from people exposing how conferences include products displayed from these company sponseors and advertised as healthy. In fact, General Mills created the first dietetic program many years ago. Hmmm, sounds fishy. No wonder we are all so confused.
Well guess what? It’s not our fault that we don’t know what to eat. It’s not our fault that generally speaking as a society, we are fat, fuzzy, and frazzled. This confusion is intentional and unfortunately it keeps the economy thriving. People are addicted to junk food and in the meantime cancer is skyrocketing as is obesity, diabetes (or diabesity), autoimmune disease, and chronic disease.
So what do you eat? It’s not that simple. We are all biochemically unique and process foods differently. There can't be a once size fits all approach to our nutrition because of bioindividuality. Therefore as general recommendation, this is what I’d say:
Focus on eating Real, Good Quality Food!
Eat food grown in the ground or on a tree with as few chemicals as possible (ideally organic, athough organic isn't as regulated as it seems so use caution when spending extra money on this). These foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. This would also include unrefined grains and legumes as well, but with caution as many are not able to tolerate all grains and all legumes.
Refined grains (made from white flour), are not required in anyone's diet - and most processed foods are made from refined grains. In addition, many may have issues with gluten containing grains (and may not realize it).
Eat foods that come from things with “eyes”, again ideally organic, wild caught, hormone free, fed well and treated well. These foods include poultry, pork, beef, fish, seafood, etc. in addition to dairy, if tolerated. Dairy should be organic, ideally full fat without sweetners.
Eat healthy saturated fats, such as coconut oil, clarified butter/ghee, lard, tallow, duck fat, and olive oil in the right amounts. It is easy to go overboard on fats, but they can contribute to weight gain due to being higher in calories if you overeat these.
Go here to download the fats/oil chart
One thing all of these foods have in common is that you'll find that they aren't made in a factory -except perhaps for packaging purposes. The ingredient list will often be short and mostly contain words you can pronounce.
When you stop thinking about eating to be skinny, and instead think about eating for health, you will find that you are more likely to reach and maintain your ideal weight and restore health without even trying. Free yourself from the burden of counting calories because not all calories are created equal. Instead focus on the QUALITY of the foods you are feeding you and your family and you will see health in abundance. If you don't see improved health despite healthy dietary changes, you know there is more searching to be done to fuel the body and heal.
I know these recommendations are very general and you may still be confused about what to eat. It is a learning process. I actually generally recommend people do an elimination- provocation diet to find their own ideal template, which helps them learn how to feel their best. Kids shouldn't be eating any differently than we are. Kids need real food to thrive and grow as well and processed foods, dyes, additives, etc have a proufound effect ontheir health. It's a journey and small steps do equal big change.