Whole foods, macronutrients, and superfoods are the three things I work to consume for an optimal diet. Eating whole foods, many of which I choose to buy organic, ensures that I am eating food the way it was meant to be eaten–in its whole, natural form. I like my foods unprocessed or minimally processed. Planning my meals and snacks helps me consume a healthy amount of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Incorporating superfoods helps me get my micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), phytochemicals, and additional benefits such as immune support and anti-inflammatory properties.
As I study for my nutrition and wellness certificate, people are always asking me if I wish my degree was in some sort of health or nutritional science. My answer is no. My degree is in English, and I am so happy that it is. The nutrition field is something that is constantly changing, especially right now. We are constantly putting new studies at work and making new discoveries that relate to health, food, and fitness. But more importantly, I find that I do not agree with conventional nutrition as much as I agree with holistic nutrition. I chose to do my certificate through the American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA) because their course touches both sides, and I think that is very important. It’s one thing to disagree with a method or approach and another to be able to explain why you disagree. This course has taught me many things that I needed to build a good foundation for my next step: counseling and consulting. From the side of conventional nutrition I have learned about the macro and micronutrients, anatomy of the human body in relation to nutrition (the digestive system and other supportive systems such as the heart, liver, and pancreas), and the proper portions of different foods that provide sufficient amounts of the macro and micronutrients.
There are a few things, however, that I do disagree with. It concerns my take on whole foods. For example, my textbook urges people to choose low-fat milk and dairy products over whole, full-fat milk and dairy products. The reason why I disagree with this advice is because it is encouraging a processed, unnatural form of food. I believe that if you are going to drink milk, you should choose whole milk because it is milk in its natural state, the way it was meant to be. The fat in the milk is there for a reason. It is how you absorb the nutrients from the milk. Low-fat milk is stripped of its fat and then fortified with nutrients to replace what has been removed with the exception of the fat. To me, that it just too much human involvement. Leave it alone. Instead, I think it is more important to practice proper portions. For instance, if you are going to have a glass of milk, have one 8 ounce glass of whole milk. That way, you are getting all the nutrients and benefits the milk provides without going overboard. Learn how to measure! Do not pour yourself a giant glass of milk that is going to wind up being close to 16-20 ounces. That’s insane! You do not need that much milk in one sitting. What’s also important is striving to consume a wide variety of foods. To get your calcium, vitamin D, protein, or whatever nutrients you are trying to get from the milk, incorporate other sources of those nutrients into your diet throughout the day. This way, you won’t go overboard on any one food source, and you’ll get more nutrients because different foods are made up of different things. By doing this, you’ll also get to eat more! Not necessarily more in the sense of a large amount, but you’ll be eating more kinds of food in a day. This means more tastes and more pleasure from food.
*My textbook even contradicts itself.I read that you should choose low-fat milk and dairy, but I also read that whole foods are the best choice and most nutritious. Cue alarm going off in my head. CONTRADICTION. If whole, untouched foods are the better, more nutritious choice, then why is conventional nutrition recommending stripped and fortified dairy? I think I know the answer: to make things easier for people. I don’t mean to be a pain, but come on people. Be smart. Be strong. All you have to do is practice healthy portions. You may have to work a little harder in the beginning, to learn what these portions look like, but you’re better because of it! Instead, reduced-fat milk and dairy is being pushed so people can eat what they are used to, eliminating the effort and making things easy. That is so wrong! And insulting! Are you going to let them tell you that you’re not smart or strong enough to figure out how to do things right? That THEY need to help you by adjusting food products? I am so against it. Have some self-respect. YOU are better than that. We are all better than that. Show them that you are smarter than they are. Show them that you can purchase organic whole milk and have the sense and self-control to use a measuring cup. I use Silk Unsweetened Almond Milk as my go-to milk every day, but I do consume whole milk after my runs and in my coffee when I am out and places do not carry almond milk. Silk almond milk does not contain carrageenan (a carcinogen) like other brands, so read your labels!
My next big issue: the fear of carbohydrates and fat. Macronutrients are essential. You need all of them. Forget anything any fad diet that has told you otherwise. You do not need to be afraid of carbohydrates (your main fuel source) or fat. Some people choose to get their macronutrients from various sources. For example, vegetarians obtain their fat and protein from sources other than animal meat. If you follow a diet such as vegetarian, vegan, paleo, ect., my only concern is to make sure you are still getting your vital macro and micronutrients. This may involve some research, studying, and trial and error, but if you get it right then you are golden. Nutrients are the most important thing. Get all of your nutrients. I do not follow any of those diets, so I don’t have to do as much dirty work as those guys. In all honestly though, you can easily find a list of foods that will adhere to the restrictions of those diets and meet your nutritional needs. You just have to work at purchasing them and incorporating them into your diet. For the rest of us, we’ve got a much easier job. Eat a wide variety of whole foods. Practice good portions, mix things up, and you’re practically set.
My main problem with the whole carbohydrate and fat nonsense is that people are not taught portion sizes! Of course there are carbohydrates that are better than others and fats that are better than others–another confusing issue. But you must, must practice healthy portions. Good carbohydrates consist of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Do not fear fruit! Fruit has so many essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. And it’s delicious! Do not fear the sugar in fruit, just don’t go overboard. I aim for 3, no more than 4, servings of fruit a day and 4-5 servings of vegetables. To do this, know what a serving is! Usually it is 1/2 cup or 1 single piece of a whole fruit such as a banana, orange, apple, etc. Vegetable servings can range from 1/2 cup to 1 cup, but vegetables really do not need to be monitored. The more the better. But again, this is in terms of variety. You do not need to eat a whole bag of baby carrots in one or two days. Have a handful each day. You’ll find that this also leads to buying less food, which means a lower grocery bill! So mix it up!
Now the tricky part–whole grains. We all know whole grains are important and whole wheat is better than refined wheat. Just so you know, enriched wheat is refined wheat that has been fortified with nutrients, so that’s not good either. Some whole grains that I like are oats, quinoa, brown rice, basmati rice, and whole wheat. In terms of breads, sprout bread and Ezekiel bread are great healthy choices. Like granola? I love KIND granola (they have gluten free, too!). You want whole, healthful whole grains that are rich in nutrients and fiber. Forget anything white, refined, or enriched. Read your labels. End of story.
And the biggest culprit, fat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the best, and saturated and trans fats are the worst. However, there are some quality superfoods that contain “bad fats.” Just to get it out of the way, sources of the good fats and healthy Omega-3 fats are olive oil, peanuts, olives, avocados, nut butters, walnuts, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, flaxseed), and fish. Those are my favorite sources of the “good fats.” Now, the issue. Fat is the main health concern of the population today regarding health issues–high fat and lack of exercise. Can you guess what this comes down to–in my opinion? You got it–portion sizes. Don’t get me wrong, there are endless culprits of trans fats that are practically, if not 100%, all man-made food-like products: commercially baked goods, packaged snack foods, margarine (such a fake product!), fried foods, candy, etc. The things that you think of as pure junk. Stay away from junk foods and processed, packaged foods and you’ll immediately reduce, if not eliminate, your intake of trans fats. Oh, and forget about fast-food.
Saturated fats, however, are a whole separate issue. High fat cuts of meat, whole milk and dairy products, butter, and coconut oil are all healthful foods that get a bad rep. Again, don’t get me wrong, I choose lean meats like chicken, turkey, and fish over other meats time and time again. But I do eat red meat, just not very often. That’s just how it works out for me right now. Down the road I may incorporate more red meat into my diet. Who knows. But if I do, you can bet I will practice healthy portions and keep track of my consumption. Red meat has many health benefits, mainly providing you with essential minerals like iron. But choose your meat wisely. Go for organic, grass-fed beef and organic (or at least natural, hormone and antibiotic free, vegetarian or organically fed) lean meats. My deal with butter and dairy products goes right back to the whole food issue. Leave it the way it was meant to be and have a little. Coconut, too, is a whole food that has amazing health properties. I use coconut in so many different forms, from flakes to flesh, milk, and oil. Yes, it has saturated fat, but its fat also helps renew the lining of the digestive system and aids the thyroid gland in regular function, regulating metabolism and mood (I have hypothyroidism). Coconut oil also helps reduce exposure to aging free radicals that are produced in cooking procedures such as baking, roasting, and frying. Coconut oil is a big thing right now, and you can easily take yourself over to Google and find an endless amount of articles on the benefits. I’ve also posted about coconut oil before, so you can always type it into the search box.
My take on whole foods, meats, and coconut are all attributed to having an open mind and being a follower of holistic health enthusiasts. I did a lot of reading and made my own decisions based on what I’ve read. The most controversial are laid out here in this post, and I did my best to explain why I believe and eat the way that I do. I hope I opened your mind to some new things and got you thinking and questioning the food industry. For your convenience, here’s a guide to help you follow one of my biggest rules, practicing healthy portion sizes (the biggest being eat whole, natural foods)!