In the previous post, I wrote about how there are so many different nutrition camps and everyone seems to be recommending what they, per their research, believe is the best way to eat. Unfortunately though, all these theories have research and anecdotal evidence proving and disproving them! A sad state really.
In my journey towards health and fitness, I’ve spent a significant amount of time (and money!) experimenting with myself. High carb, low carb, high protein, leangains, p90x, weight watchers, very low carb, zero carb, zone, paleo/primal, south beach, atkins, vegetarian, ketogenic, vegan, raw, GOMAD, warrior – I’ve tried ‘em all! Which one works? Well, every single one of them! Let me explain.
It all depends on your goals. If your goal is “weight loss”, then pretty much any diet that restricts calories in some way will work (for a while). So every time I tried one of these diets, I had a specific short term goal in mind (fat loss mostly) and these diets helped me reach my goal. But this wasn’t enough. I wanted to learn to eat in a way that helped me stay healthy, strong and in shape for the rest of my life without having to worry about diseases that plaque 90% of todays population – from the common cold to cardiovascular disease!
But the way it turned out,
- The diets that gave me quick results weren’t healthy in the long run.
- The ones that were healthy weren’t affordable.
- The ones that were healthy and affordable were not ‘real life friendly’.
Clearly, none of these ‘diets’ are really a solution! So, how do I get past this yo-yo dieting that most of us end up doing and find an ultimate solution? How do I redefine nutrition? The answer was simple really - Read more. Learn more. Experiment more.
This was when I met Arvind Ashok, who was on the exact same journey as me and from that day forward its been nothing but research, experiment, measure and record… over and over and over! From all the experimentation and monitoring we did on our bodies, lipid profiles, CRP, performance, endurance, strength and body composition and from all the data we collected from our clients, we came up with the following dietary guidelines which we believe will result in long term health while helping one stay in awesome shape without having to go on multiple diets. In other words…
This is the last ‘diet’ you will ever be on!
Without further ado, here are the ‘Eat Real Food’ guidelines in my words…
Rule No. 1 – Eat Real Food
Real food is any food that you can safely consume raw. Oh hell no! I’m not suggesting that you eat everything raw. I’m just saying choose foods that can safely be consumed raw and base your meals around these foods. To get specific, things that can be eaten raw are meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, nuts, dairy and tubers and things that cannot be eaten raw are grains, legumes, food additives, junk, fillers and other chemicals/ingredients you can’t pronounce! This is a pretty harmless recommendation I think, but if you are wondering why you should eat real food, here is why.
Let’s say you earn 100$ a month and thats it. What will you spend your money on? New shoes? TV? Candles? Maybe a haircut? No? Why not? Well, you earn only a few and you want to use the money wisely on stuff that really matters… like food, water, clothing and shelter.
Similarly, you can only eat so much per day without getting fat and you want to use those calories wisely to supply your body with as much nutrients as possible. Real foods are loaded with micro and macronutrients and any smart person will ensure he/she takes advantage of this.
Food and evolution
In the most simplistic terms, all living thing (plants and animals) don’t want to be killed and eaten and hence have developed defense and offense mechanisms to help protect themselves. Animals fight/run/hide and plants contain harmful toxins. While we, as a part of evolution, have learnt to fight/chase/find animals and have developed defense mechanisms against some of these plant toxins, evolution is an excruciatingly slow process and we still haven’t physically evolved to digest grains, legumes and other non-real foods. While these toxins are not acute toxins (like alcohol) they are chronic toxins and do have a cumulative negative effect on our health. For example – Grains are rich in energy (calories) and will be an amazing source of calories for a population of 7 billion people. But unfortunately we (unlike birds and rodents) haven’t evolved yet to deal with the anti-nutrients they posses. Oh well!
To spell it out, base all your meals around…
- Meat – Grass fed beef/lamb, organic free range poultry, wild caught fish, pastured pork
- Vegetables – Any and all vegetables that you can tolerate
- Fruit – Any and all fruit that you can tolerate (in moderate quantities)
- Nuts – Raw nuts (in limited quantities)
- Dairy – Raw or organic unprocessed full fat dairy
Rule No. 2 – Mix it up
By now it should be obvious that no one food contains everything we need and there is no food that isn’t harmful at high doses. So clearly, eating the same food day after day will result in the deficiency of some nutrients and overdosage of some others. For example, spinach, though extremely nutritious, contains oxalates which when consumed in high doses can lead to kidney stones.
These potential risks can be overcome by eating a wide variety of foods in each class. Practically speaking, quit eating the same rice and lentils or chicken salad or turkey sandwich day in and day out. Vary your food choices every week and eat some seafood, poultry, eggs and red meat along with a nice mix of cruciferous, fibrous and starchy vegetables with a bit of fruit to satisfy the Vit C cravings! Whole unprocessed (and especially fermented) dairy can of course be added to some of these meals. As for the vegetarians, get a bunch of eggs along with whole milk yogurt, some organic tempeh, natto and miso instead of meat and seafood.
Rule No. 3 – Hate them numbers!
Your body isn’t dumb! Realize that the human body is a product of 4 million years of evolution. It is a machine that has been continually improved for years and years and years. This machine is equipped with some stunning organs and millions of cells, all with one purpose – to keep you alive and well! So, in spite of whatever crap you do to your body, it will doing everything it can to make the best out of the situation and keep you alive and kicking for as long as possible.
Are you telling me that such a complex machine with such a noble cause can’t control hunger and appetite? You can bet you ass it can! Your body doesn’t need you to periodically feed it with a certain number of calories. Listen to your body. When you are genuinely hungry – eat. When you are satisfied – stop. I swear to God it is as simple as this!
Note: The issues related to obesity/appetite dysregulation (which is caused by and result in leptin & insulin resistance) come into play only when you eat non-foods… especially sugars. As long as you eat real food, you have nothing to worry about.
Rule No. 4 – If its food… eat it!
This is simple. Really. You need protein, carbs and fat. Sure your body can make do without carbs. Sure your body can survive with minimal protein. And sure you can build an awesome physique on a super low fat diet. But considering each macronutrient plays one or more critical roles, your body thrives when all three are available in optimal amounts. Now how much of each is optimal? Totally depends on your activity level and training regimen and I’ll be sure to dedicate a post to macro-nutrient ratios in the near future.
But what about the good protein? Good carbs? Good fat? Well, this could get really long, so I’ll try to come up with a general rule.
- How much? 1 gm per kg of bodyweight is plenty if you are sedentary. That amount can increase unto ~ 3 gm per kg of bodyweight if you strength train.
- From where? From animals and animal products just ‘cos those are the most complete and bio-available proteins. I’m talking meat, seafood, eggs and dairy. Click here for a comprehensive list of vegetarian protein options.
- How much? As much as you want ”need”. If you do a lot of glycogen depleting work, you’ll need more and if you don’t do much, you need less.
- From where ? Plants… and not plant products. I’m talking vegetables, fruit, roots and tubers.
- How much? As much as you need to feel satiated. There is really no upper limit to this.
- From where? Real foods. Meaning, try to limit the use of “oil”. Get your fats from meat, eggs, milk, coconut, avocado, fish and raw nuts. Ghee is an exception simply because it is fureeeekin delicious (and bloody damn healthy!).
- What about good fats? Here ya go!
Rule No. 5 – Fuel ‘your’ body
As far as I’m concerned you need to fuel your activities. In other words, you need to eat based on your lifestyle. If you strength train 4 days a week your diet should be drastically different from that of someone who runs 40 miles a week or someone who hardly ever trains. If your definition of exercise is walking to the restroom and back, then you’re better off with some protein, fat and a tonne of fibrous veggies. But if you consistently workout/train, things get a little tricky.
You need to feed your body based on the stimulus you provide it. If the stimulus is high in intensity and frequent, deviations may be required and are acceptable. Folks who strength train on a regular basis or are currently undergoing a body transformation can do well with some quality liquid protein (whey or egg protein) immediately post workout. Sure it isn’t the most real food, but its also not real to balloon up and then work hard to shrink down. Desperate times calls for desperate measures. Once you have reached your goal, drop the liquid protein and get back to real food.
I’d make a similar argument for rice. If you perform some form of glycogen depleting activity, glucose becomes a requirement and the best source of glucose is starch. In addition to sweet potatoes, yams, taro and tapioca, white rice seems to a decent source of starch with very little anti-nutrients. It is also noteworthy that the most long lived traditional cultures have been consuming rice on a regular basis with no known ill-effects (unlike wheat and corn).
Rule No. 6 – Devour that ice-cream!
Ha! I saw those eyes light up!
The paleo diet with organ meats and grass finished beef and wild eggs might be the diet that will help you do the chicken dance on your 112th birthday… but what if you just cant live on meat and veggies and fruit? What if eating a pizza meal every other Sunday will take you to say 95? Heck I’ll take it!
Listen, I agree that a diet which is 100% real and minimally cooked is the best diet there is. But you need to realize that we live in a different world today. A world with weekly parties and donuts and pizza and TV and sport and movies! In such a world, the best ever diet is of no use to you if it isn’t sustainable! Make the ‘eat real food’ guidelines sustainable for you! And yea, even when you cheat, have some common sense and stay away from stuff that you are allergic to.
Nothing ground breaking here really. I’m saying, for the most part,
- eat red meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, whole milk, whole milk yogurt, unprocessed cheese, any and all vegetables, any and all fruits, nuts, coconut, rice and whey.
- eat per hunger/appetite and never count calories.
- make the diet sustainable by eating your favorite foods once a week.
You tell me – Is this really too hard? Is extended disease free life, strength, endurance and awesome body composition not worth giving up junk and sugars and grains?
Finally, I realize that this is just a very broad framework and most of you will have specific questions about how much protein/carb/fat, what kind, when etc etc. In the next few days, I will get into the nitty gritty of eating real food and follow this post up with a post on macro-nutrient composition for various ages and activity levels (pre-natal, senior, endurance, strength, general fitness, general health etc.). I obviously can’t tell you the exact numbers here, but I’ll guarantee you that this ain’t low carb or low fat or anything that even resembles a diet!
But I can do this only if there is enough interest! So 50+ comments and I’ll write the macro-nutrient recommendations post soon!
Let me know.