Ten Nutrition Habits That Should Be Common Sense (But Aren’t!)
If you consider the traditional diets of different people around the world you’ll find that they all developed diets that allowed them to be lean, healthy, and free of chronic disease.
Eating wasn’t complicated and it didn’t lead to obesity or eating disorders. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case due to a number of factors:
Food marketing, which has nothing to do with health and everything to do with making money.
The obscure government nutritional guidelines that inform how we’re supposed to eat.
The acceptance of processed food as part of the diet.
The fact that our environment shapes how we eat—the sad reality is that we have created an obesogenic environment.
Nonetheless, it’s still possible to identify nutrition habits that should be common sense. Here are ten of them.
#1: Don’t ignore how food makes you feel.
There’s a bizarre belief that no food should be off limits, even if it makes you feel sick or tired. This is utter nonsense.
Anytime a food makes you feel less than excellent, it’s probably because something about that food is hard for your body to digest. Maybe you lack enzymes necessary to process grains or dairy.
Or maybe your liver isn’t functioning optimally and you’re not able to metabolize fat effectively. Perhaps you have insulin resistance and aren’t able to tolerate carbs well.
If a food makes you feel crappy, don’t eat it!
#2: Every meal should contain protein, fibrous veggies, and fat.
Most people think of food in categories: Breakfast is high-carb foods like cereal, a bagel, or eggs and toast. Lunch is a sandwich. Dinner is protein. Fat loss foods are low-fat processed foods of 100 or so calories each.
Thinking this way is the reason we have an obesity problem and high chronic disease rates. Instead, try planning every meals around protein, fibrous vegetables, and fat:
It’s nutritionally-rich for the calories provided—fat provides bioavailable vitamins and improves satiety, veggies provide fiber and phytonutrients, while protein contains the amino acid building blocks for tissue and bone repair.
In an overweight society, a “balanced” diet is one that provides all the macronutrients and the greatest nourishment for the fewest calories, while minimizing hunger.
#3: Taking care of your gut is a top priority.
Most people aren’t very in touch with their guts. This is a huge mistake.
In many ways, your GI tract is the control center for your entire body. The bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tracts affect brain function, thinking patterns, and how many calories our bodies absorb.
Functioning properly your gut can keep you lean and attractive and help you avoid getting sick. In fact, one of the most promising areas science has for fighting obesity and curing chronic diseases is by improving the bacteria content of the gut.
Taking care of your gut is a combination of plenty of probiotics that help beneficial bacteria to flourish, and indigestible fiber so that good bacteria have food they can live off.
#4: Avoid processed food like the plague.
Food marketers do a genius job at hijacking our brains so that all common sense goes out the window. We’re confronted with all manner of seemingly delicious processed foods that literally trigger areas of our brains to light up so that all we can think is that we must have the food in question NOW.
Unfortunately, no matter how many nourishing or healthful marketing slogans they use, processed foods are a disaster for health. They contain chemical preservatives, artificial sweeteners, needless food dyes, and man-made fats and sweeteners that the human body is not designed to metabolize in large quantities.
#5: Don’t trust media headlines—consider them entertainment.
The media creates a lot of the nonsensical habits people have with food. This is partly because media outlets are businesses and their goal is to sell ads and increase readership, not scour respected scientific journals for relevant food and health information that will make a difference in your life.
Headline writers do a great job at catching our attention, but often when you look past the headlines and read the actual studies, the evidence is taken way out of context. The actual results are not that interesting or they are relevant only to a very specific population…like rodents.
Best approach is to remember that the media is a form of entertainment and find a reputable academically-grounded source for your information.
#6: Monitor your eating when stressed or sleep deprived.
Lack of sleep has a profoundly negative effect on eating behavior because it increases our hedonic, pleasurable drive to eat high-fat, high-sugar foods. It also increases our tendency to take risks and leads us to be less active.
In one study, sleep-deprived individuals voluntarily increased calorie intake by 300 calories over normal. In another, lack of sleep led them to drastically reduce physical activity so that their total energy expenditure was much lower than normal.
The effect of increased eating and decreased activity is seen in studies that show short sleepers are at greater risk of obesity. Other ill effects of sleep deprivation are poor blood sugar tolerance and reduced insulin sensitivity so that your body favors fat storage from the food you eat.
To counter this, you need to consciously make ideal food choices and stay active when exhausted. For example, when you’re sleep deprived, make the extra effort to get a lot of protein, water, and fibrous fruits and veggies. Track your food intake and try calling a workout partner instead of bagging your training session.
#7: Eat animal foods that provide key nutrients that can’t be gotten from plants.
The mainstream view of nutrition is that meat and other animal products are unhealthy and should be avoided. This is not supported by the largest, most rigorous studies.
For example, an analysis that pooled the results of 20 studies that included 1,218,380 individuals found no association between red meat consumption and heart disease or diabetes. There was an association between processed meat and these diseases, but we’ve already talked about how processed foods should be actively avoided.
Although there is some evidence of a link between cancer and meat consumption, it’s most likely that the overall composition of your diet plays a pivotal role in dictating health outcomes.
For example, in Asian countries where the diet is vastly different from the typical Western diet, meat consumption, including red meat, has been found to be associated with a lower risk of mortality, and a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
Which brings us to the benefits you can get from including meat and animal products in an overall healthy nutrition plan:
The nutrients creatine, carnosine, and carnitine, which are key players in athletic performance and metabolism, can only be gotten from meat.
Animal products like butter, eggs, and organ meats provide vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, D, K, iron, and zinc in a highly bioavailable form.
Animal proteins provide all the essential amino acids for higher levels of protein syntheses. In addition, high-quality protein intake is associated with less belly fat—a key marker of poor health and disease risk.
#8: Have a set meal frequency.
It’s currently trendy to say that having a set time that you eat your meals is pointless. If it works for you to eat only one meal a day or eat at totally random times, that is fine. However, both common sense and the scientific literature indicate that eating meals at the same time each day has advantages.
Additionally, recent studies show that time-restricted eating in which you just eat within a 10 or 12 hour window everyday is better for body composition and health than eating at all hours of the day and night, as many people do today. This improves circadian rhythms and enhances our sensitivity to the satiety hormone, leptin.
Frequent meals every 4 hours during the eating window appear to yield the greatest satiety and the least hunger for the majority of people.
#9: Have a food ritual: Chewing, thanking, being aware of what you’re eating…
Mindful eating may seem like a cliché but the reality is that it pays off. Studies consistently show that people who take the time to perform a ritual before they eat, either by saying grace, meditating, or just acknowledging where their food came from have more satisfaction from meals and eat less. They get full more quickly and tend to be leaner.
The reason likely has to do with how mindfulness practices improve release of gut hormones that reduce hunger. Another practice that has the same effect is to chew each bite thoroughly instead of inhaling your food. Proper chewing has the added benefit of improving digestion and assimilation of nutrients.
#10: Continuing to count calories when it hasn’t worked before.
You’ve surely heard Einstein’s quote that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
It’s never more true than in regard to the whole “calorie is a calorie” mess. Calorie counting has a place in a smart nutrition program, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus. After all, the first law of thermodynamics says that energy can’t be destroyed, it can only change form, which means that if we take in more calories than we expend, we gain weight. This should not be news to you.
But common sense will tell you that because different foods affect metabolic rate and hormone levels differently, it’s a no-brainer to use these differences to your advantage. For example, when you cut calories, the stress hormone cortisol is elevated in order to free energy stores and the hormone ghrelin is elevated in order to stimulate appetite and food intake.
If you plan meals around the protein, fibrous veggies, and fat trifecta that is recommended in #2 you’ll avoid having your cortisol go sky high and keep ghrelin low so that hunger is avoided. This will also keep insulin low so that calories are stored as glycogen instead of as fat.
Finally, because protein is the most costly macronutrient for the body to process (a meal of pure protein burns 25 percent of the calories provided as the body digests and assimilates it) metabolic rate is enhanced.
Final Words: We all know that common sense is not that common, but that doesn’t mean that you have to eat in a way that goes against your own interests just because everyone else does so. Use these habits to develop a way of eating that takes into account your unique genetics and keeps you satiated and energized.