I'm not here to tell you that you shouldn't eat hamburgers, donuts, or butter – A) because I would be a big, fat hypocrite, B) because I can't tell you what to do, and C) because I don't really believe it. (Not that I believe that those foods should compose the bulk of someone's diet either.) Furthermore, I am not a registered dietitian or a health professional, and I do not have the qualifications to give any kind of medical advice. This page merely reflects my beliefs, a bit of what I have learned, and how I try to live.
I earned a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics in 2014. While I loved diving into the nitty-gritty of nutritional science and research, I learned that understanding the connection between diet and health is quite complicated for several reasons. First of all, diet is only one of a myriad of factors that affects people’s health. Second, people’s bodies can vary in how they respond to the same foods: we metabolize at different rates, absorb nutrients with varying efficiency, and experience different intolerances and allergies. Third, and perhaps most interesting to me, is that foods are more than the sum of their individual nutrients (or at least their known nutrients). No combination of supplements or “nutritionally complete” manufactured foods can match a varied, balanced diet of actual foods.
What was neat about studying dietetics was that I was able to gain a greater understanding of nutrition research and its tendency to be misconstrued by popular media while basking in the cool, levelheaded perspective of my professors, who had benefitted from decades of research. As it turns out, certain basic themes crop up in the literature time and time again. My personal health manifesto, if you will, is based on these themes, certain religious beliefs I hold, and personal philosophies I’ve fostered through reading and living. Below are the principles I try to follow and why.
Stuff I try to do:
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. I'm not going to tell you a specific amount because everyone is a different size, and "lots" for a 220-lb. adult would be very different from "lots" for an 80-lb. youth. In general, however, the more fruits and vegetables, the better. Countless studies have documented the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, but read below for one neat example.
As part of the Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals' Follow-up Study, more than 80,000 women and more than 40,000 men were followed for 14 and 8 years respectively. Those who ate the most fruits and vegetables were 20% less likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who ate the least; they found an approximate 4% decrease in risk of coronary heart disease for each additional serving* of fruits and vegetables consumed per day.1 Combine that neat-o fact with the plain truth that fruits and vegetables are delicious, and you've got me convinced that eating them is a boon. If you're not convinced yet, I'm hoping some of the recipes on this site will do the trick.
*The abstract did not specify serving size
- Eat fruits and vegetables that are in season. I'm sure there are exceptions, but in general, in-season fruits and vegetables will have more nutrients than their under-ripe and out-of-season counterparts, they will taste better, and they will cost less. If you're not sure what is in season when, check out this nifty site or download their app.
- Eat meat infrequently. I am certainly no vegetarian, but we did have many discussions on the detriments of westernized, meat-heavy diets in my dietetics courses, and I believe in eating meat “sparingly” as it is.2 When I do eat meat, I try to make it truly awesome like this sous vide steak. Read below for some epidemiological research regarding meat consumption and health.
Again citing from the Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals' Follow-up Study, in a sample of 37,698 men and 83,644 women, each additional serving of red meat consumed per day was associated with an 18-21% increase in risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease and a 10-16% increase in risk of mortality from cancer.3 I saw many other studies cited in my dietetics courses which indicate that replacing some of your carnivorous meals with plant-based foods could lead to a healthier, longer life.
- Choose whole grains over refined grains at least some of the time. Have you heard the whole grain spiel? If so, I beg your forgiveness for repeating it here and fully endorse any skimming or zoning out. Whole grains consist of the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have the bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm. The endosperm is full of starch and protein, but it misses out on the fiber, minerals, B-vitamins, vitamin E, and essential fats offered provided by the bran and the germ. As per FDA regulations, refined grains are now fortified, or have nutrients added back in, but they still provide less fiber, vitamin E, potassium, selenium, zinc, and phytonutrients (beneficial plant-produced compounds) than whole grains in general. Whole grains, on the other hand, may be lower in folate, some B-vitamins, and iron than nutrient-fortified refined grains.4 So, eat the whole grains you like – probably the more the better – but don’t go thinking that I’m really strict about it.
If you think you don’t like whole grains, ask yourself if you like popcorn or oatmeal or granola. Those are whole grain too! Whole grains include whole-wheat flour products, whole rye flour products, popcorn, many tortilla chips, corn tortillas, brown rice, steel cut and rolled and quick-cooking oats, quinoa, millet, and more. (Technically, I think a couple of those might be seeds derived from grasses, but potato-pot-ah-to.)
- Other stuff. For primarily religious reasons, I don't use alcohol, coffee, or tea (see source 2), so some of the recipes I post here may have originally contained alcohol but been modified for my kitchen.
- Avoid being too hard on myself and others. Almost without exception, every time I tell someone that I studied dietetics, he or she will say, "I could use some help with that" or "maybe you could give me a few pointers" or "you wouldn't want to eat at my house!" What they don't know is that I believe food should be enjoyed, not prescribed. (I think and hope most dietitians feel this way too.) Of course I want to eat well and feel well, but I am not militant. Part of eating and feeling well is eating the foods you like to eat, sharing them with people you love, and not having a guilt complex. Despite the name, “dietetics,” I was told all through my education that diets, particularly fad diets for weight loss, are not effective or beneficial. Gluten-free diets for people with celiac disease or special diets for people with renal disease are of course necessary and suitable. Weight loss diets, however, are a whole different species – a dangerous species that can lead to muscle loss, slowed metabolism, damaged self esteem, and stress to the body and mind. I thoroughly believe in Intuitive Eating, which is about getting off the diet train, learning to tune in to your body, and making peace with food of all kinds. There are many resources on Intuitive Eating, my favorite being the original book of that title by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. (Here is a link: Intuitive Eating on Amazon) Nutrition is important to me, but it is not the most important thing. I feel very much at peace with enjoying both highly nutritious foods and not-so-nutritious foods because I think both are beneficial to my overall wellbeing. I hope that you can find similar ease with food.
1. Joshipura KJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, Speizer FE, Colditz G, Ascherio A, Rosner B, Spiegelman D, Willett WC. The effect of fruit and vegetable intake on risk for coronary heart disease. Ann Intern Med. 2001;134(12):1106-14.
2. “The Word of Wisdom.” ComeUntoChrist.org, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2017, www.comeuntochrist.org/articles/word-of-wisdom.
3. Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Schulze MB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hu FB. Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(7):555-63.
4. Duyff, Roberta Larson. American Dietetic Association: Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. 4th ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012.