THE NEW WAY TO EAT
HINT: It’s a lot like the old way to eat, but bolstered by decades of research. We’re talking about going back to a time before meals were broken into carbohydrates and calories, when food was a source of energy, sustenance and pleasure that kept your body going strong for a lifetime. These 12 principles put the focus back on whole, seasonal foods, and put happiness into every bite.
Expand your food horizons. The first ‘rule’ of eating is not to rule anything out completely, be it dairy, fat or sweets. Instead, go for a wide variety of whole foods that you truly love, prepared in delicious ways. The happiest, healthiest people in the world don’t diet. Nothing is off-limits to them, so they eat in a life-affirming way. Similarly, rather than counting calories at each meal, fill your plate with nutritious, colorful foods. At least half the circle should be vegetables, a quarter protein and the other quarter a starchy vegetable or grain, like quinoa or barley. In the middle, add in healthy fats like nuts and seeds.
Get satisfaction. Time and time again, studies have shown that when we eat what we want and slow down, turn off screens, and pay attention to tastes, smells and textures, we feel sated long before overdoing it. Mindful eating feeds us emotionally too. Time is a precious commodity, but we’ve got to rethink the conversation around food and bring soul nourishment, not just nutrition, back into it. When you eat, take a break and break bread with a friend, coworker or family.
Let things simmer. Slow food is super-powered food. When you cook vegetables gradually, their flavors are fully released. Better yet, ‘water-cooking’ methods (steaming, making soups and stews) preserve nutrients and prevent glycation. When meat is cooked quickly at a high temperature, it produces toxins that increase inflammation in the body. So plug in the slow cooker, and if you grill often, marinate meat in an acid like vinegar or lime juice first. This blunts production of some damaging molecules.
Be smart about starch. Here’s a reason to rejoice: It turns out that eliminating carbohydrates from your diet is actually a crime against nature. Last year, researchers from the University of Oregon found a seventh taste bud on the tip of the tongue that is a receptor for starch. Your body craves it for a reason: carbohydrates are full of fiber and satisfying. Historically, they were the primary sources of food for all large, successful populations; they ate rice, potatoes, and wheat, among others. The longest-lived women are Okinawans, and about 60% of what they’ve consumed for about a third of their lives is sweet potatoes, a superfood. So incorporate good, old-fashioned rice (bonus points for the brown kind, which has a lower glycemic index), or potatoes (but hold the fries) into meals, along with more exotic varieties , such as black rice (shown to have anti-inflammatory properties) or amaranth (rich in iron, calcium and all the amino acids).
See seafood differently. Fish is the original smart food. It’s full of vitamin B12 and other nutrients related to brain health. But given concerns like high mercury levels in larger species and overfished oceans, veer away from big guys like tuna and swordfish, and think smaller, as in whole sardines, anchovies, herring, or simply roasted Spanish mackerel. When in doubt, check your choices against the Marine Stewardship Council (website: msc.org). For convenience, try tinned varieties, too.
Wine is fine. If you uncork a bottle of vino now and then, there are some compelling reasons to continue. The trick is to have it with a plant-based meal, because wine triples the uptake of certain nutrients, increasing the absorption of flavonoids. Centenarians drink a glass or so a day, usually with friends. A dark-red variety is also high in the antioxidant anthocyanin.
Go for full fat. If you don’t do well with dairy, skip it altogether. If you’re a fan, enjoy it at its richest and creamiest. Look for milk from pastured cows that eat grass, and choose whole-milk products, whether cheese or yogurt. The fat can be a source of valuable nutrients. Science shows that cutting out the fat in dairy is NOT beneficial to us, and it takes a lot of processing to remove it. Plus, full-fat is more satisfying.
Fill up on fiber. Yes, vegetables are brimming with antioxidants and vitamins. But the main reason to pile on fresh produce is fiber. Ancestrally, we got 70 grams and up a day; today we maybe get 15. The reality is that we need 25-38 grams a day. Fiber aids digestions and helps lower cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammation. Go for local varieties when possible, and remember: foods that grow together taste good together. Which explains why tomatoes, eggplant and basil make an amazing meal.
Finish strong. Before serving a side, add something that packs a wallop of satisfying flavor. Sprinkle on crunchy sea salt. If you cook at home, it’s a lot more difficult to OD on sodium just by seasoning to taste. Use sugar as an accent, too. Sixteen calories’ worth on your oatmeal is nothing. Shower food with one herb today, a different one tomorrow. Diversity is the key. Parsley, cilantro and basil all help detox the body. Another tasty trick is to add an acid, like lemon or vinegar.
Eat sweets with intention. When it comes to dessert, zero-tolerance policies don’t work. When we’re restricted, we have psychological mechanisms that tell us to rebound and overdo it. The solution? Just eat it! But do so mindfully, and occasionally. You want to indulge by design, not eat dessert in disguise. And there is a wonderful side effect to eating honest-to-goodness treats less frequently. We stop craving them. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with who, once they’ve gone off really sweet sweets, just don’t want them anymore.
Take the spice route. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves: they’re good for your brain and gut, and anti-inflammatory. They’re also full of antioxidants, delicious, and easy to incorporate into every dish, from morning oatmeal to soup to stir-fries. Turmeric in particular, which contain the anti-carcinogenic compound curcumin, has been heating up studies lately. If possible, look for fresh turmeric root, which you can grate like ginger and sprinkle lightly onto sweet and savory dishes.
Lock it in for life. To eat well forever, not just for the moment, focus on real food, and build habits around it. Probably the most important one is to cook for yourself. The next step is to figure out simple, good-for-you weekday meals that you enjoy enough to eat on the regular, and keep the fixings on hand. If you nail breakfast and lunch daily, that’s a huge win. Then if you cook dinner three or four nights a week and are fairly active, you’ll be healthier.