Specific foods that you should be more cautious and discerning about
I’m going to admit. This was a hard topic for me. I try to spend so much of my time trying to help you shift your attitude and perspective around food, thinking in terms of abundance and what you can eat MORE of, rather than restricting yourself. But the fact remains, there really are certain foods that you should be eating less. And when you do, everything changes and your body starts to feel amazing. So I’m going to do my best to be fair and to guide you in the right direction with this topic.
When I was in my early to mid-20’s, my eating habits were atrocious. Breakfast was always some sort of cereal, like Great Grains, Wheat Chex or something like that. Usually, for lunch I would have a pb&j or even just peanut butter toast, a Lean Cuisine microwave diet meal, or grilled cheese sandwiches. I’d almost always have a Luna bar at some point and a Diet Coke. In the afternoons, bring on the Wheat Thins and cheese, or Cheez-its, or some other kind of cracker with cheese or a creamy dip. And then for dinner, I would often eat mac and cheese, or spaghetti, or Hamburger Helper or some other sort of meal that was super quick to prepare.
And I felt horrible. My stomach hurt so bad all the time. My digestive system was a mess. And I weighed 15 pounds heavier than I do now, and trying to trim up was so difficult.
And the common thread among all the foods that I was eating had to do with processing, carbs, and fats. The majority of everything I consumed was some sort of highly processed carbs and cheese.
And this scenario is not at all unusual. If you take a look at the typical North American diet, you’ll see a significant amount of processing, especially with starchy carbs and high fat.
But I have to say that everything changed for me...my overall health, energy level, and even my body composition...when I shifted the foundations of what I ate on a regular basis. I didn’t do a quick fix diet...I didn’t sign up for Weight Watchers or start counting calories. I merely shifted HOW I ate and the majority of WHAT I ate.
Specifically...what I started eating a lot more of, and what I started eating a lot less of. On today's episode, I want to go over these other aspects of nutrition - the flipside of our WHAT… what you should probably start eating less of : Carbs, fats, and processed foods in general. This is not going to be about what NOT to eat. I just want to give you the right information to guide your choices.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS first: How you eat and What you eat.
- HOW - eating slowly and mindfully and fully aware
- WHAT - eating your PRO’s
The problem that many of us have, especially as Americans, is that we eat like I used to eat when I was in my early 20’s - we eat fast, we’re not mindful or paying attention to what goes in our mouth, we don’t eat enough protein, we don’t eat nearly enough fresh produce, and we’re eating way too many processed carbs and fats.
The solution to this problem is to begin to shift the balances back in the right direction.
John Berardi: “Eat more greens, less grains.”
Before we go any further...
Most diets start here: with all the off-limit foods, the food you need to try and eat less of.
- This appeals to our sense of control and power and pride. We get a surge of satisfaction when we cut something out and restrict ourselves.
- In the long run, it leads to:
- a bad relationship with food
- Diet failure...if you’re only focusing on the foods you can’t have and what you have to cut out, you get fatigued with this really quick.
Which is exactly why I didn’t want to start here. I wanted to teach you what you should be putting MORE of on your plate first:
- I want you to begin in a place of abundance - have as much of that good stuff as you want!
- It makes this other part soooo much easier
- Your plate and stomach and even sense of contentment is filled up by all the good stuff that you have less room for any of these things you should not be eating quite so much of
- And you have to learn to TRUST that the good foods are going to provide you with enough satisfaction and contentment and enjoyment as the not-so-good-for-you foods.
BUT, it’s quite clear that there are a bunch of foods that if you eat too often and out of balance, you’ll struggle to feel your best. And these are the foods that I want you to learn how to pump the breaks on… to think twice about them.
- This does not mean that you can’t ever have them - that they’re bad and completely off-limits
- This DOES mean that you need to eat them in moderation, with caution and discernment
Let’s take a closer look at carbs, fats, and processed foods so that you have a good understanding of the role each of them plays in your diet
Are carbs good? Are they bad? Are some of them good? Should we cycle them or time them? Should we even care?
Let's sort this all out and end up with a clear understanding of the place carbs should have in our daily diet.
Energy: Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of immediate energy, and can be categorized as either simple or complex based on how many sugar molecules are connected together. Simple carbs are generally refined grains and sugars and processed forms of carbohydrates and require minimal work to break down. Complex carbs are generally found in whole grains, legumes and PROduce, and require a bit more work to break down because of the fiber that’s found in them.
What’s cool is that your muscles can store carbohydrates in them, in the form of something called glycogen. These glycogen stores are what give your muscles the energy to move and function, especially during a workout (you want big glycogen stores!). But if these storage units are already filled up or they’re not very big because you don’t need them all that often, any excess carbohydrates will be converted into lipid molecules and then stored as fat.
So what do you need to know about carbs?
- In general, it’s best to stay away from simple forms of carbohydrates, like processed grains and refined sugars found in sweets, treats, sugary drinks, bread, crackers, etc. They digest very quickly (since there isn’t as much to break down), they spike your insulin levels, and then leave you feeling hungry not long after. These types of carbohydrates are more likely to be stored as fat and can lead to some major health problems.
- When you eat carbohydrates, choose forms that are more complex, take longer to digest, and inherently have more nutrition packed in them. Vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains are all good choices. And the less processing, the better, because it keeps the grain intact and you’ll get way more nutrients from it.
- If your goal is to lose body fat (an endomorph or some mesomorphs), you should try timing your consumption of starchier forms of carbohydrates. I suggest saving your starchier forms of carbohydrates for workout days and have just one serving on those days.
- If you have a lean frame and have minimal body fat to lose (an ectomorph or some mesomorphs), you can consume a moderate amount of these starchier carbohydrates throughout the day (~one cupped handful with most meals). Just make sure they are a good source of whole nutrition (i.e. still stay away from refined sugars). Your meals should still be based around protein and produce.
- Serving size is important with carbohydrates. You don't need much to benefit from the nutrition they contain. For women, one cupped handful of cooked rice, pasta, quinoa, oats, barley, potatoes, etc. is plenty. This is also equal to about one slice of whole grain bread or one whole grain tortilla. It's easy to overeat carbs and quickly tip the scales into fat storage.
The big takeaway with carbs is that they are not evil...you just need to make sure you are eating them carefully. Always choose complex forms of carbs, especially vegetables, fruits, beans and some whole grains. Depending on your body type and your weight loss goals, you can time or cycle your carbs to reach your goals. And always pay attention to your serving size.
You need to realize that fat is not evil. Our bodies were designed to process fats and use them for good purposes. Every single cell in your body has a fatty protective layer, which determines the health of that individual cell. Hormones are made from fats. Your nervous system is protected with a fatty sheath. Having a good immune system is tied to a healthy fat intake, as well as your overall inflammation. And the list goes on. If you consume too little fat or an imbalanced level of fats, many bodily functions will cease to work properly.
There are three different categories of fat and you need to eat an equal amount from each category. There are saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Each type of fat is essential to the functioning of your body. We went into each of these kinds of fat into far more detail in episode 56.
The problem is that most North Americans eat way too much saturated fat (mostly because they eat a lot of fatty proteins and cheese) and very few unsaturated fats. Let’s break down the different types of fat:
So for now, what do you need to know about fats?
- You should be choosing fats from each category throughout the day. If you eat animal products, you already get plenty of saturated fat. Saturated fats are the easiest to overconsume, so be sure to choose lean cuts of protein, white meat and reduce your intake of cheeses. If you’re a vegetarian, be sure to include coconut oil or palm oil to get your saturated fats.
- Since we usually have the saturated fats covered, put most of your focus on eating more unsaturated fats. Eat a variety of nuts and seeds; cook with olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil; eat avocados and olives. Get in the habit of putting nuts and seeds on your salads and including them in your smoothies. When you bake, you can even add in flax meal and/or chia seeds.
- Portion sizing is important for fats as you can quickly overdo it (fats are very calorie dense…a little bit goes a long way). One portion of nuts, seeds, oil, etc. is equal to the size of your thumb (or about 1-2 tablespoons). As a meal example that includes healthy fats, choose a salad with lots of veggies and either chicken breast or fish, a thumb-sized amount of nuts and/or seeds for texture, and an olive oil-based dressing. Have a couple fish oil capsules on the side. Yum!
Shift your perspective of fats. They are not an evil part of your diet, you just need to make sure you consume them in a balanced fashion and in appropriate portions. When your fat consumption is where it needs to be, you'll experience a much healthier body on the inside and out.
Ok, so now that you know a little more about carbs and fats, it’s going to make a lot more sense when talking about processed foods.
Processed foods - Foods have undergone some sort of processing, usually it’s been packaged into a container for you to consume more easily.
There are varying degrees of processing that a food can go through:
- Bagged salad vs. flash frozen vegetables vs. a lean cuisine meal
“How many steps has this food gone through from its original state to what I’m eating now?”
So, let’s think about boxed macaroni and cheese. The noodles - originally wheat, but they’ve been refined and the germ has been removed, sometimes they go back in after the fact and add back in nutrients to boost their claims. The cheese - originally milk, but it has been processed over and over to get it to the point that it’s a powder and has the color that it does and can be shelf stable.
Generally, with foods that have undergone multiple steps of processing, it includes higher amounts of simple carbohydrates and saturated fats. And these are the ingredients that can seriously impact our health if the scales are tipped too far in that direction.
So, here’s the rule of thumb - the big takeaway:
- Do your very best to eat fresh, unprocessed foods as much as possible. The easiest way to do this is to shop the perimeter of the store and really start to cook and prepare your own food.
- Think twice before eating foods that come out of packages, wrappers, boxes and cans. They underwent a series of processing steps to get to that state, and with every step along the way that food lost some nutrients.
The BIG Takeaways
At the end of the day, the best thing you can do to have a Strong Foundation of healthy eating that will last a lifetime is to:
- Eat slowly and mindfully, paying attention to how the food you eat makes you feel
- Eat Protein and Produce with every meal - Get as much of this fresh, nutrient-dense food on your plate as possible
- Be aware of your carbs and fat consumption.
- Eat less processed foods