Let's wade through the morass of nutrition information on the internet
Nowadays, it seems like as soon as we think we have nutrition figured out, a new study appears from the ether and completely contradicts what were thought to be uncontested facts. Saturated fats are bad for you, oh wait, they're okay. Humans are not evolved to eat grains - wait a second - it turns out we are. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
How can anyone be expected to put together an optimal diet when there is so much information out there? It's enough to make you want to give up and reach for a Snickers. But don't do that just yet! We're here to try and help. We've put together a handy list of things that you can incorporate into your everyday life that will put you on a path to a more optimal diet and, ideally, better health. These rules are tried and true and have stood up through numerous studies. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully, it will offer a little guidance and spark some curiosity to dig a little deeper and do some research of your own (You didn't think we were going to do all of the heavy lifting, did you?).
Eat A LOT of plants - especially dark, leafy greens
And by a lot, we mean that the bulk of your diet should consist mainly of plants. Numerous studies have shown that a diet based on plants offers a lot of health benefits. These include, but aren't limited to improved blood pressure, decreased risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, better weight control, and even the prevention of certain cancers.
Eat foods with a wide variety of colors
According to Michael Pollan, the author of Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, the colors of many vegetables reflect the various antioxidants and phytochemicals (I'll let you look up that word) they contain. These chemicals help protect against chronic disease, but each in a different way. To cover your bases, eat a diet that contains as many of these phytochemicals as possible.
Eat whole grains instead of white bread
This article from SFGate offers a nice, tidy breakdown on the differences between whole-wheat and white flower. Basically, white flower contains much less nutrition than whole-wheat flower due to the heavy processing it goes through. White flower contains less fiber, less vitamins, and has a higher glycemic index, which could leave you hungry and irritable soon after consuming it. Trust us, stick with whole grains!
Limit your snacks to unprocessed plants
Starting to notice a pattern? Plants are good for you! If you are looking to manage your weight, cutting out the salty, fatty, sugary snacks should be the first thing you do (aside from drinking more water). Eat a mixture of fruits, vegetables, and nuts instead.
Avoid added sugar
This is a big one. By "added sugar" we mean any sugar that doesn't occur naturally in food - like the sugars found in apples or bananas. When you look at the list of ingredients on a food label, the ingredients are listed by weight. If sugar (or any of its many other names) is listed first, second, or third in that list, it contains way too much. Incidentally, avoiding added sugar will probably eliminate 90% of prepackaged meals from your diet, which you should probably do anyway.
The science of nutrition is always moving forward and changing. Here are two sites we visit regularly when we want to get the skinny on the latest food studies that have come out, or just get basic information on the nutritional content of certain foods.
Dr. Michael Greger is a physician, author, and speaker who has made it his mission to parse the latest nutrition research and explain it to us plebs in plain english. The best part is, he explains it all in nice, short YouTube videos. We use this daily!
SELF Nutrition Data
If you really want to find out about every bit of nutritional content in a certain piece of food, this is the place to go. They have a handy search engine where you can type in whatever you want, and chances are it'll be there. A very valuable resource!
So there it is. Hopefully this list will help give you some guidelines to live by when putting together your meals. We could have really gone down the rabbit hole with this post, but then you'd be sitting there for hours reading! As always, feel free to comment below.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, saturated fats still aren't good for you. Seriously, they aren't.