In a world where drinkable soup and lab-grown Frankenfoods exist, it’s time to get back to the basics of eating well. Much like learning anything in life, you always start with the fundamentals.
Your first few weeks of CrossFit look nothing like the CrossFit Games competition. You’ll work on proper form and body mechanics with an empty barbell until you’re ready to add weight. Your first job out of college or vocational training is entry level for a reason. You need to learn the basics before you advance into more demanding responsibilities.
If fundamentals are necessary in every other aspect of life, like sports and career, then why do we base our food choices on complicated and contradictory diet guidelines instead of our body’s innate intelligence of what and how to eat?
We’ve forgotten, or perhaps never learned, the fundamentals of eating well. Instead we look to keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, macro counting and biohacking to give us the answers to eating well, when the answer for many of us is much, much, simpler.
For a majority of people, focusing on these 3 fundamentals will greatly improve their health and relationship with food:
Make eating an occasion.
How often do you eat standing up, on-the-go, or at your desk when you’re cramming out the last few slides of a work presentation? We don’t prioritize eating anymore, it gets wrapped up in our multitasking and sets us up for less-than-stellar food choices and we end up eating in a stressed state of mind.
For digestion to work properly, you need to be in a relaxed state: sitting down, chewing slowly and deliberately and focusing on the meal in front of you versus the 1,000 other items on your to-do list. Digestion starts in the brain, and taking a few moments to sit and eat mindfully helps you properly digest and absorb the food you eat and prevents indigestion, acid reflux and bloating.
Eat whole, nutrient-dense foods (as nature intended).
Eat real food that is as minimally processed as possible. High quality meats, vegetables, fruit, dairy and grains are all great choices as long as you feel good eating them. The outer edge of the grocery store is where you should purchase 90% of your food.
When it comes to packaged foods, find varieties that have no added sugar, artificial flavors, additives or poor quality oils (man-made hydrogenated oils, soybean oil, sunflower oil, canola oil). There are plenty of packaged foods brands out there that focus on quality, real-food ingredients. Find some that you like and stick with them when you need the convenience, because life is hard and we all need to eat almond flour crackers out of the box sometimes.
Prepare those whole, nutrient-dense foods properly.
Try cooking most of your food with butter, ghee or coconut oil when using a higher heat, and olive oil is a good choice when cooking with more of a low to medium heat. Not only are these animal fats and oils packed with health benefits, they’re a much healthier option that those hydrogenated vegetable oils and highly processed seed oils that cause free radicals and inflammation in the body.
Fermented dairy, like yogurt and kefir, is a solid choice since it includes gut-friendly probiotics. If you can find raw cheese at your grocery story, it will include more healthy enzymes and nutrients than conventional cheese since they were not exposed to the heat of pasteurization.
Soaking or sprouting your grains and legumes helps them become more digestible in the body and makes their nutrients more available to you. Without soaking or sprouting, many people experience digestive discomfort after eating grains or legumes because our bodies don’t digest the outer layers of those foods, which leaves undigested food in our digestive tract for too long and can damage the gut lining.
Once you’ve mastered these fundamentals, additional tweaks may be needed based on your goals, health conditions and lifestyle. But starting with this foundation will help you establish new eating habits that set you up for success in the long term.