e live in an age in which startling diet revelations pop up in the media constantly, often contradicting the startling diet revelations from just days before. Is fat bad for your health or good? Do meat rich diets help or hurt us? Does alcohol increase longevity or promote disease, or both? The answers flip and flop depending upon whom you ask and when you ask them. Our science has not yet solved the diet riddle. There are some basic guidelines, though, that (while not startling or revelatory) seem to be on the right track.
Most importantly, a healthy diet is full of fruit and vegetables – preferably fresh, locally grown, and (more controversially) organic. It also consists of whole grains. Such a diet is high in fiber and provides nutrients that the body is adept at absorbing.
One often overlooked indicator of proper diet is – sorry, this next bit won’t be pleasant – feces.
The stool chart represents a spectrum from constipation to diarrhea, with the ideal being smack in the middle, type 4. Healthy feces is banana or S-shaped, honey colored, floaty, and as smooth as peanut butter. A high fiber diet keeps things moving smoothly throughout the intestines, whereas fatty or over-processed foods create difficulties for digestion.
The USDA identifies five types of vegetables and recommends a diet rich in all of them: dark green, orange, legumes (dry beans), starchy, and other. Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein and beneficial oils. For those people who eat meat, lean meat is probably better. For those people who consume milk products, fat free or low fat milk is probably better.
A moderate caloric intake is probably also wise. A good diet is not just about eating the right kinds of foods but eating them in the right amounts. Smaller doses of food mean your body exerts itself less in digestion.
We’re frequently told we ought to drink eight glasses of water per day, but this advice may be spurious. The USDA states that normal drinking behavior is usually sufficient to maintain proper hydration. If you drink when you’re thirsty and eat juicy food, you’ll consume enough water without worrying about it. Exercise and heat are complicating factors, though, so athletes and those in warm climates need to pay special attention to hydrating and to replenishing electrolytes. One’s urine ought to be light yellow, not dark yellow. If you find your energy is lagging you may be dehydrated; try drinking a cup of water. But be aware that there is also such a thing as hyper-hydration, aka water intoxication, which can be deadly.
The best way to get vitamins is through fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and (for non-vegetarians) lean meat/poultry/fish. Vitamin pills are surely inferior to vitamin-rich foods, if they’re effective at all. However, people with special diets might be at risk of deficiencies, and a multi-vitamin probably helps round things out. Vegetarians usually don’t need to worry about protein or iron but they must be careful to consume enough Vitamin B12, since it is relatively hard to find outside of meat.
Lastly, a healthy diet consists of good tasting food. Eating should be enjoyable and should not cause stress. A good diet is mentally healthy as well as physically healthy. Healthy food can taste good. And sweets do have a place in a healthy diet.
- Add the following?One’s diet should consist of natural food, properly cleaned, free from additives and preservatives, unrefined, and preferably organic. Avoid added sugars of all kinds, saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and excess salt. Over-processed food should be avoided. The ingredients list in packaged food should be short and contain only natural and familiar things. A lengthy list of unpronounceable ingredients is a bad sign.↩
- Recent studies indicate that most vitamins are probably unhelpful, and some may actually hurt! For example, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22275325↩