**This will be part 1 of 4. Part 1 will be my perspective on general food recommendations. In the following posts I will give a glimpse at what I eat personally, how I shop for groceries, and how I approach eating at restaurants- for ideas on my application of these guidelines.
My simple answer…
“Whole foods as close to their natural state as possible. If you can catch it or pick it, it’s fair game.”
However, since everyone’s tastes, genes, biology, ecology and health history differ, it is impossible to give specifics. So let me apologize right off the bat. I cannot tell anyone what they need to eat exactly. However, instead of what to eat specifically, it is much more appropriate to suggest guidelines and categories of food. Bluntly stated, there is no one diet for everyone. There is a framework that works best for most people. In addition, the specific diet that works for an individual now may not be the best long term approach. We are adaptive, seasonal and cultural creatures that can eat nearly anything and therefore need to maintain some flexibility and ambiguity. Due to these factors (unfortunately, for those wanting a simple answer) my treatment of this topic this will lend itself to being a little vague. But we can establish a solid foundation in part 1 while getting more specific in part 2.
That being said, let’s get right into it. Since I like condensing things down into groups of 5, here is my treatment of the five food guidelines you should follow…
1. Eat real, whole foods. Not processed food products.
2. Limit your ingredients.
3. Strive for SLOP (seasonal, local, organic and pastured).
4. Flavor with herbs and spices.
5. Prepare and cook your own food.
These guidelines are pretty straight forward. But let’s expand just a bit for some clarification where necessary.
1. Eat whole foods. Not food products.
This basically means eat from the natural state. Not foods that humans have created or modified, particularly in the last hundred years, especially the last few decades. If you can hunt, gather or farm it, go for it. Think vegetables, fruits, meat, seafood and nuts. Beans and grains should be prepared properly if used. Don’t eat food products with health claims, labels with friendly numbers, or focus on macro/micronutrients. Eat real food.
2. Limit your ingredients.
A continuation from above. Eat lots of one ingredient foods. Even if you add them together later, start with single foods. Think of cooking: take a bunch of single ingredients and put them together. You create the food products. When shopping, spend your time looking for single ingredient foods. If you do buy a food product or processed food, the fewer ingredients the better. You are shopping for the food in the food product, not all the additives and preservatives. Real food has one ingredient. As a general rule, the fewer ingredients you can eat in a day the better. Limit your food products and this takes care of itself.
3. Strive for SLOP.
Each of these categories has a range from ideal to non-ideal. Try to eat fruits and vegetables that are in season, local and organic. Try to eat animal products that are naturally raised (which infers organic) and local. Doing this will make it easier to avoid pesticides, hormones, fillers, chemicals, preservatives, dyes, artificial flavorings and binding agents whenever possible.
4. Flavor with herbs and spices.
Instead of food enhancers, sweeteners and chemicals, use herbs and spices for an unlimited amount of tastes and flavors. If uncertain, find cultures you like the food from and look up some recipes for spices used.
5. Prepare and cook your own food.
The easiest way to assure you are getting good food: make it yourself. It can be challenging at first, particularly if you are not experienced in preparing your own meals. But expertise comes with experience. Practice, experiment and persevere. Find methods and preparations that you are good at and go from there. With time and practice you will expand your mastery. There are hundreds of fantastic websites and blogs available to assist you on your journey. In the Bare 5 Resources page you can find a few that have helped me.
The next step in determining appropriate food choices is to look at the 5 “types” of food you should be eating. You decide how much and what kinds from each category. This is where each individual can find the approach that works best for them. There is no set ratio of fat, protein and carbs. Take the principles outlined above and then choose food from each category. Here is how I categorize food type:
3. Cultured and Fermented
4. Traditional Beverages
5. Comfort Foods
Once again, to take a closer look, let’s expand upon the five basic food types.
Just about everything is fair game here. Experiment with new recipes and try new things. I am partial to cruciferous vegetables, lettuces, stems and mushrooms but there are hundreds of options here.
Berries probably offer the most bang for your buck, but most fruits are helpful and enjoyable for a majority of people. See how you feel when you eat different kinds and go from there. Don’t forget that avocados, coconut and olives are all fruits- use them liberally.
Yams, all versions of potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, radishes, etc.
Herbs and Spices
Think rosemary, oregano, tumeric, thyme, cilantro, mint, basil, cumin, chili pepper, and many more. A good spice rack is a great investment but to maximize taste, fresh herbs and spices almost always work better.
Maybe the most “wary” of the plant category. This is simply due to the potential problems that some people have with many of the foods in these categories. Most of this can be treated with soaking and sprouting, but most people are not quite willing to put in the time and effort for traditional preparation. So enjoy this category smartly. Choose whole and minimally processed grains whenever possible. Once again, see what works for you. My personal favorites are macadamia nuts/almonds, sunflower seeds, black beans/chickpeas, and rice/corn. At this point, wheat (maybe barley and rye) is the main no-no.
Meat off the bone
Pretty simple. Eat meat that is as close to off the bone as possible. That means don’t be afraid of the skin, fat or the cartilage. They are good for you. Think bone in meats, ribs and fish off the bones. The more organic the animal, the more desirable the whole animal is.
Liver, kidney, heart, beef, skin, lymph nodes, tongue. It all counts. This is where you get the highest bang for your buck nutrient wise. Organs (aka the nasty bits) have fallen out of favor in American culture so it might help to ease into it with things like liverwurst, pate and some old style sausage/chorizo type foods.
Bone broths and marrow
Draw out all the good stuff from another overlooked resource. Eat the roasted bone marrow straight or melt it into a salad dressing and use the broths (stock) for soups, sauces and the base for rice or drink it daily for a little extra minerals and collagen. Save your bones and animal parts from the meat off the bone category and use them to make this nutrient dense food.
This is pretty individualized. Some handle it well, others do not. It is not necessary for health, but some benefit greatly. If you do include dairy, choose pastured/grass finished (not pasteurized) raw butter/cream/milk, ghee, or cheese first. If you don’t have access to real milk products, then conventional dairy can also benefit you, just lean more toward the cream, butter and cheeses.
Cultured and Fermented
As a general rule, dairy/vegetables/fruits are the main fermented foods humans consume. Some cultures also use fermented legumes (beans) and grains. Think of things like cheese, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, alcohol, miso and sourdough. Coconut products offer nice alternatives to yogurt and kefir for those sensitive to dairy. The bacteria in cultured and fermented foods can do wonders for your digestion and should be staple of well rounded nutrition. The current trend in probiotic supplementation likely stems from the lack of fermented food in the current American diet. Beware, however, cultured food is tart, so the “food products” that fall into this category can be troublesome. Yogurt with 20 grams of added sugar may do more harm than good. Keep your choices smart in this category.
Often taken for granted is what we drink. One of the biggest dietary blunders is drinking calories or artificial calories. If you drink calories (particularly sugar) you will probably get yourself into trouble. If you drink things that taste like they have calories but do not (diet soda, energy drinks) you are setting yourself up for trouble (do not try to fool Mother Nature). Keep it simple: drink water, tea and coffee, maybe a little bit of alcohol, and you will probably get some nice health benefits. Water is a necessity but tea, coffee and alcohol are all personal choices. They are not necessary but can be a tremendously beneficial addition to your daily nourishment. Do not drink sweetened water, and choose unsweetened or lightly sweetened teas and coffee. Alcohol is beneficial in moderation, which does not mean 2-3 glasses a day. Sorry.
This is the food type that is for practical use only. This is what gets people to buy in and keeps people engaged. This is also what gets people in trouble. Life is about enjoyment at the end of the day. If you are stressed about what you eat, life will be challenging. So eat a few things that you enjoy and give you comfort but choose versions that are on the healthier side. Go for whole food based, lower ingredient, fresh, flavorful treats that you can make yourself. Like desert? Fresh berries with cream. Chocolate lover? Make some dark chocolate or buy a good quality organic bar. Other old fashioned comfort foods? Find a healthy version on the internet and make it yourself. Bread and pasta fanatic? Splurge once in a while if you want or get a quality version and eat it occasionally, but don’t rely upon it. As a general rule, if there is something that you “have to” eat, you should consider it an addiction and treat it that way. Trying to help an alcoholic by just “limiting” alcohol is a recipe for disaster. Same goes for food, sugar and wheat in particular. Be careful of the slippery slope.
So, taking all of that into account, here is the Bare 5 Bottom Line on what we should eat:
1. Eat fresh, whole food.
2. Strive toward clean versions.
3. Eat a variety of food types.
4. Make your own food whenever possible.
5. Enjoy the process.
So there you have it. Some foundational guidelines for figuring out “what should I eat?” For those interested in some specifics, Part 2 will cover my personal dietary approach. Hopefully it will give a nice glimpse at how I balance these guidelines with practical living.
Thanks for reading, have a great “good food” week!