**I edited this post because I don’t need to explain why fruits and vegetables are better for you than processed junk. I give the general population the benefit of the doubt in assuming they already understand this.**
I often think of ways to explain the concepts of nutrition without sounding like a crazy, pretentious hippie, and I’m at a loss. It doesn’t seem possible. So I think, maybe if I just put it into quick, simple terms, and make the knowledge relatable and accessible…that should work, right? Or if instead of barraging my readers with facts about why vegetables are healthier than double cheeseburgers, and offer a solution to help them get on track, maybe that will insight a change.
I’ve always struggled with nutrition. The idea of eating something other than the food I wanted to eat never took hold in my life. If I wanted a cheeseburger, I was going to eat a cheeseburger. Blogs, doctors, my parents, news stories, and personal experience weren’t enough to sway me. I still wanted digestive freedom. And looking back on how i used to think gives me insight into how most people probably view the subject of nutrition; “I’d rather eat what I want because it’s easier and makes me happy (read: fat).” Of course that was much easier to justify as a teenager, and quickly got me up to 295lbs. However, as with other aspects of my life, it’s time to grow up.
Everyone knows how to be healthy. It’s not really a mystery or a complicated puzzle. The problem is that junky, quick, cheap, easy food is all around us. We can get it without even trying. We’re far too busy to stop and pay attention to what we’re eating. Or even worse, we lie to ourselves and justify what we eat with outlandish misinformation. I had a lady tell me that cheese was made of healthy fats and was good for her, so she put it on everything. Cheddar cheese is 60% fat (21% saturated fat), and it’s an animal fat. Nothing about the fat in cheese is healthy. Yes it has protein, but most of the protein from animal sources is largely indigestible and lacks amino acids, making it an incomplete protein.
I know, I know, I said I was going to simplify things and I just explained cheese in the most complicated way possible. My point is that we can all largely agree that cheese isn’t good for your body. It’s fatty, greasy, and unnatural (cheese wouldn’t exist without human intervention). Despite that one example, we all have this built-in ability to decipher the “healthiness” of food. Unfortunately, as with the cheese story, we over think things and start making crazy justifications so we can live with our choices. The largest drawback to that mentality is that your body still suffers whether you can justify unhealthy choices or not.
Nutrition is an unbelievably simple concept: put good in, get good out. The confusion comes from the seemingly gray area of what constitutes “good food.” In the simplest terms, good food is something that provides your body everything it needs (vitamins, minerals, unsaturated fats, proteins, water, carbohydrates, sodium, etc) with the least amount of maleficial components (bad cholesterol, saturated or trans fats, etc.). And while most food begins with a plethora of nutrients, cooking is actually shown to reduce them significantly [as shown in this chart]:
The irony is that purely nutritious food that fits the above criteria is bountifully available, indefinitely renewable, and cheap, but we’ve succeeded in pushing it aside in favor of the far more convenient fast food chains. To succeed with any diet change, the food needs to be accessible to a degree that meets or exceeds the accessibility of the garbage we normally eat. If you’re out and about, and you’re hungry, that drive-thru beckons. It’s a hard beast to tame. I wish I could tell you that personal restraint wasn’t necessary, but that would make me a liar. And I don’t like lying to people.
My best tool for success is to anticipate where I will be for each meal and make sure that place has all the fruits and vegetables I need to get through the day. I wake up and drive to work. I have a stash of bananas, apples, avocados, tomatoes, limes, oranges, spinach, almonds etc at my desk. When I’m hungry, healthy nutritious food is at arms length for my entire 8-9 hour shift. Right before I leave for the day, I eat a hearty handful of almonds, a banana, and a handful of spinach or some other green. It fills me up for the drive home so I’m not tempted to stop anywhere. And I have another stash of healthy food waiting for me at home. The best part is that I spend probably 60% less cash on food. I can eat an entire cantaloupe, a cucumber, an avocado, a peach, and 4 carrots for lunch, and spend less than $4. Price per calorie is significantly lower than any fast food, and nutrients per dollar is exponentially higher than junk food. You could save money and eat nothing but rice and beans, but that won’t get you very far nutritionally.
I hate when people tell me that healthy food is too expensive. My breakfast this morning was an entire canteloupe, 8 strawberries, and an apple. I paid about $2. I ate a supersized lunch the other day (1200 calories, 53g fat, 19g complete protein, 455mg Vitamin C), and total cost was about $5. You can get 1200 calories for $5 pretty easy at McDonald’s, but you get processed trans and saturated fats, incomplete proteins, and virtually no Vitamins. Those are foods that can only be described as dead. It does nothing more than provide calories; calories that turn to fat without providing an ounce of benefit. If you’d rather consume calories that don’t provide essential nutrients, you may as well eat a salted stick of butter.
I should disclose that I’m not a professional. I rely on logic to explain the world around me. Sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I’m not. But if you’re building a house, wouldn’t you want to use the best materials that give you the most function and purpose for your money? Or would you rather use whatever’s nearby to build something that slightly resembles a house, but lacks function and purpose?
I don’t think you need to be a professional to answer that question correctly.