Diet choices are becoming more and more politicised and more ideological than ever. This makes it harder than ever to know what we should be eating to preserve our health.
But it not just the contents of a diet or new food plan that determines if it will be best for you. What's the secret?
In the increasingly confusing world of diets we are seeing proponents of Paleo attacked by doctors, and eaters of meat attacked by vegan activists.
We see dieticians ducking and weaving and hedging their bets more than politicians - even in the one article! In this article "Vegan athletes are increasing, but does a plant-based diet improve athleticism?" the expert dietician provides the following advice:
What's the "truth" about these - could you use her advice to build a better diet?
Her first claim is misleading. Research shows that eating more than a moderate amount of unprocessed red meat is correlated with slightly earlier death in men and women. That's not the same as "eating less meat".
The second claim is true but not helpful. One hundred grams of white rice contains about 2g of protein - brown rice about 4g of protein. The average adult male in the USA weighs 197.9lbs ~ 90kg.
A 90kg male would need to eat 3.6kg of white rice each day to meet their protein requirements. 3.6kg of white rice contains 4680 calories, which over a week would add about 3kg of weight.
She is not saying that rice should be eaten in this quantity. But the example of rice as a casual way of saying that it is easy to get your extra protein in a vegan diet is not a useful example.
My point is that it is quite hard to replace the 27 grams of protein that you get from 100g of beef, or the 25 grams from fish, or the 31 grams from chicken breast.
The hidden secret to eating more healthily
So what is the secret to changing your diet to a healthier one? The secret is to change to one that you will continue to eat.
If you like to eat red meat then continue to eat it in moderation.
If you like fish or eggs or whole cream milk or a glass of wine each night keep doing it. I still eat dark chocolate most nights.
But what you also need to do is add in more variety - add in more vegetables and fruit. Use the three-colours rule: three colours of vegetables on your dinner plate.
Eat more fibrous foods such as nuts and beans and bananas. Have a date instead of a piece of chocolate.
Find a variety of food which keeps you interested in eating well, and enjoy. Take ten minutes to read this article from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health with many good protein choice ideas.
For about three years in the period 1970 to 1973 my then-wife and I were vegetarians. It was a kind of rite of passage at the end of the 60s to smoke pot and become vegetarian. I didn't give it a second thought - after all, billions of people survived on plant-based diets.
I knew that we wouldn’t die - even if we didn’t quite know what we would eat. The large pots of soy beans soaking overnight and boiling for a long time, and the heaps of lentils and okra stick in my memory.
We moved to another city and with that change we also changed our diet back to use more meat. But we retained the advantage of mixing in more plant-based options and making our meals more interesting.
I should add that we both gave up all added sugar in about 1968, as that seemed such an “obvious” intake of empty calories. If you have not yet done so then I HIGHLY recommend that you do as soon as possible. It took me three years before I could drink tea or coffee again, but I survived!
Interest in a variety of foods and variety in daily eating has stuck with me. Variety helps stick with any new food plan.
The most un-secret secret to eating more healthily
Get smaller plates, cut down your meal serves by 20%, and don’t eat later into the night, e.g. stop eating before 8:30 pm.
Try a “light day” once a week — a small nutritious breakfast, a smoothie for lunch and vegetables for dinner. Walk up the steps at work and at the station. You’ll easily survive the day and your system will feel better.
Should I also say “needless to say” that adding 20% more daily exercise will also do you the world of good?
These latter changes may not be so enjoyable, but stick with them, and after a while, they will become habits.
How should I eat?
Your best diet is one that is not too much food, and that gives you the variety that you will enjoy eating - for the rest of your life.
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