As a registered dietician, every time I begin a talk or a client session with "better nutrition is actually simple" I get looks that range from incredulous, to hopeful, to (frankly) pissed off. Because if there's one thing most people agree on today, it's that nutrition — what to really eat, drink, and pop to achieve your personal health goals — is confusing.
It seems to change every day and so dramatically that I've actually coined the phrase "nutrition whiplash" to describe the feeling of flipping through channels or pages or aisles in the store and are told the same food or ingredient is at one moment "super" and "disease preventing" and then later, "bad for you" or even "toxic."
Well, while I can't control the media or the marketing, I can toss you a life preserver to help you ride the waves of nutrition whiplash in the future.
Here's all you need to know about better nutrition on one page, and below, I will walk you through it all in under five minutes.
Here are my seven tips for better nutrition, simplified:
1. Yes, you can have it all.
Just don't have too much of anything at one time. Portion control needs an image makeover. If we think of quantity instead as enabling you to enjoy your favorite foods — then suddenly quantity is your BFF! Yes, to cheese, or steak, or potatoes or cake (that even rhymes, oh my!). Just eat an appropriate quantity.
2. Is that food — or a chemistry project?
Chemistry laboratory projects are "kool," but just like you noticed the misspelling of "cool," your body hits a pause when it's given a 'c' instead of a 'k' — especially when it's told they're the same thing. Be a "Qualitarian": someone who recognizes better quality choices are the key to better health. Give your body what it recognizes most easily so that it will run most efficiently.
3. Calories count but nutrient balance matters more.
For optimal performance, your body needs some calories from four major nutrient groups each time you refuel: carbs, proteins, fats and non-starchy veggies. Think of them like the gas, air in the tire, engine oil and wiper fluid. Or you can think of them as your dress, shoes, jewels and undergarments.
They all play different roles but nobody wants to attempt to drive or go to a party if any of these things are missing. Design your pit stops to include a serving each of these different nutrients.
4. Eating frequently keeps the hangry monster at bay!
You know the experience: I don't recall what I ate because I was so hungry I just gobbled everything in sight, and some that was initially out of sight too. Well, eating frequently helps you avoid this.
Our bodies aren't like a street car that you can fill up and not refuel until close to empty. We run better when treated more like a race car. Only put in us what we need and then refuel when we need more. This usually means eating about every three hours or so.
5. Supplements should fill in nutrient gaps.
Don't give your body stone and expect it to make bone! Likewise, nobody likes to be played a fool. The body gets confused if you give it something ("take this, it's good for you") in pieces or isolated parts with no instruction booklet on how to even assemble them into workable nutrients, even if it wanted to go to the extra effort!
Supplements can play a helpful role if the body gets something that it recognizes as needing and wanting to support optimal health, but just bombarding it with isolated nutrients won't do the trick (and can lead to it becoming irritated!).
6. Liquids should be held to the same standards as solids.
Both your liquids and your solids need to be held to the same nutritional standards noted above. I'm all for chewing and sipping, as long as you follow these principles.
7. What did I have to eat yesterday?
If you can't answer that question, nobody can help you make better nutrition choices. How you track or journal is up to you. The best method is the one you actually do!
And that's it! Better nutrition, simplified? While it can still feel like a lot, the good news is that I rarely have had a patient who is doing all of the above all wrong, so try journaling your intake for a few days and see what area presents the greatest opportunity. (There's no reason to say you are "bad" at or doing something "wrong" if you didn't have the right information to begin with.)
Hopefully you're feeling more empowered, but if I didn't answer your question(s), thankfully there's a comment section for that!