Food choices should be “close to the source,” which means that they should be mostly unprocessed. For instance, fresh turkey breast is a holistic food; 96% lean turkey deli meat is not. Even though the deli turkey is lean, it has been through a factory, exposed extensively to preservatives and chemicals; hence, it is not the best choice for your body.
In like manner, grains like brown rice and old-fashioned rolled oats are healthy, but 10-minute brown rice and instant oatmeal are weak choices. The carbohydrates need to be included in your diet, but it is essential to get them in a whole form!
In terms of fruits and vegetables, fresh and frozen, with no sugar or salt added, are good options.
Low-fat, no salt added cottage cheese = good; Velveeta = bad
2. Equilibrium in nutrients and food groups
Nutrients include all food components that are required to keep your body healthy and alive. Vitamins and minerals are nutrients, as are carbohydrate, fat, and protein. It is important to ensure that a minimal amount of all nutrients are taken over the long term. As a very general rule of thumb, you need the following as a minimum in your diet: 125g carbohydrates (the minimum required by organs); 0.5g protein/lb body weight (just a little about the current RDA); about 35g fat (consisting mostly of unsaturated fats). Your diet will likely include even more carbohydrates, protein, and fat, but the point is that a healthy diet does not eradicate any given component!
Eat a variety of foods and colors to ensure dietary equilibrium. A mark of a healthy diet is one that does not restrict specific kinds of food groups. For instance, grain, dairy (low-fat), nuts, and meat (lean) are all good to eat. Highly processed packaged and fried foods don’t really fit into a group, so they should not make up a significant part of your diet!
3. Adequate Volume and Calories
Nourishing a healthy body and/or building muscle requires adequate calories. The brain receives signals based on the dietary energy level and content, which, in turn, affects immune function, hormone release, and countless bodily functions.
Your body will give you several warning signs if you dietary energy level is too low. For example a sudden drop in heart rate, feeling freezing cold all the time, brittle hair and nails, aging quickly and exceedingly dry skin all may indicate that you are being too restrictive. In this case, your efforts to loose weight or become healthier are completely counter-productive because your body is trying desperately to conserve fuel; i.e. your metabolism is moving a crawl and your calorie-burn is low. Eat enough energy to build yourself and maintain the stamina needed for an action-packed life!
4. Loaded with Energy Early in the Day
Studies prove that breakfast eaters are less likely to be overweight. Also, “breaking the fast” is important to maintain lean mass; eating is the first thing on my mind when I wake up!
In general, I tend to have about ½ to 2/3 of my daily calorie intake eaten by the end of my “lunch” meal.
5. Timed Properly
Eating one colossal meal per day is unacceptable; many people follow this pattern; skip breakfast; muffin at lunch; enormous unhealthy dinner. This method is a recipe for guaranteed failure.
Some nutritionists believe that everyone needs 6-8 “meals” per day. This rule is kind of silly; different people respond better to different eating frequencies. I personally do eat 6-8 mini-meals per day; however, some people have enough trouble eating four times a day.
In short, you need to eat balanced meals containing protein, carbohydrate, and fat, which are spaced evenly apart, at several times points during the day. Protein and carbohydrate give the body anabolic signals, which will help you maintain lean mass as you go throughout your day; fat is needed to absorb all fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and at least 5-10g should be taken in at each meal.
6. Hits the Spot
Some people “eat to live.” But that sure doesn’t describe me! Food should not be selected purely based on function. To some extent, eating whole, natural foods is an acquired taste, but you will develop the taste for it! So experiment and find healthy foods that are satisfying to you!
Also, some foods have no real redeeming nutritional value, but are still important to have every now and then for satisfaction (e.g. my occasional DQ splurge)!
Healthy eating habits are not developed overnight, so try every day to eat what is best for your body. In time, healthy eating will be intuitive and enjoyable!