For the past seven years, I've been very strict about my diet. My diet has gone through various incarnations, with most things besides meat consumption being relatively consistent over the past seven years. Throughout this time I've read a lot about diet, experimented a lot, and learned a lot.
While I think that my whole diet is close to the optimal way for humans to eat, I'll be the first to admit that the various changes I've made have had magnitudes of impact upon my health. If you're starting out transitioning to eating healthy, you might be better off following a subset of the diet to get most of the benefits with a fraction of the change. As with most things, consistency is more important than perfection.
By far the most important thing you can do for your health is eliminate all sweeteners from it. That means sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, aspartame, splenda, agave nectar, etc. If it is meant to be added to something to make it sweeter, don't eat it. This does not eliminate whole fruit, but does eliminate things sweetened with fruit juice. This sounds extreme at first, but it's actually not bad at all. Yes, it takes time to get used to not having things that are sweetened. As a result, your tastebuds recalibrate and eveything tastes sweeter. In my most strict phase, I went for around three years with no sweeteners at all. It really wasn't hard.
Eliminating sweeteners is 40% of having a good diet. That's a big win. The next twenty percent is refined grains. White flour is the worst of these, but white rice, pasta, and corn flour are also bad. The catch here is that every advertiser will try to trick you into thinking that what you're eating is whole grains, even when it's not. Whole wheat bread, for example, is almost never actually made from whole grains. Usually it's mostly white flour with a bit of whole wheat in it. Not good enough. Ezekiel and Alvarado St. Bakery are the two bread brands I'm aware of that are actually good.
If those two things sound like an overwhelming change, stop here. If necessary, start with sweeteners and work on grains later. But if you've already made some progress, move on to the next step which is a good 20% of the possible improvement.
You want Omega 3 fats in your life. You need 6 and 9, but without trying you already eat too many of them, so 3 is the one to focus on. To get enough Omega 3, along with a healthy dose of monounsaturated fats, cut out alll oils besides Coconut Oil for cooking and Olive Oil for dressing. Butter from grass-fed pasture raised cows is good, too. Speaking of grass fed, you'll also want to only eat grass-fed meat and wild caught fish. Sounds like quibbling, but the fat composition of animals changes wildly once they're fed an unnatural corn and soy based diet.
Three changes. Cut out sweeteners, substitute whole grains for refined grains, switch to healthy oils and well-raised animals. There's a lot more that can be done with diet, but if you focus on thes three things, you'll be almost all of the way there. You'll lose weight, gain energy, and be more healthy. Fair trade, right?
Posted because JWes requested it...
Awesome! Thanks Tynan! I have a few questions:
- Would you also give a brief explanation of what the sweeteners and refined grains do specifically to our bodies?
- I almost never use oil or butter when I cook, are there other ways to get Omega 3's?
- Oatmeal and brown rice = good? I vaguely remember there being two kinds of oatmeal, quick & regular; quick=bad like white rice?
- How about salt/sodium; too much = bad?
- My go-to meals have been:
tacos (eggs, beef, black beans, mozzarella cheese, green onions, my own cooked-jalapeno & avocado salsa, and tortillas)
stir fry (chicken, coconut cream [not sweetened], red curry paste, a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, rice or pasta)
spaghetti (beef, jar of pasta sauce, noodles)
... do healthy alternatives exist for pasta, noodles, tortillas, and typical pasta sauce that has sugar in it? I use canned beans, but drain off any syrup. Anything else in the above examples that need attention? Egg & cheese = good?
- Finally, if you have time, I'd love to read about some examples of some of your favorite meals to cook. I think in one of your RV videos, you mentioned cooking a kind of stew in a huge pot that provides enough food for a few days, which definitely is my style.
Dude, thanks again!
The main problem with sweeteners is that our body doesn't know how to process them so it releases a ton of insulin, which is a bad thing. Read "Fantastic Voyage" by Ray Kurzweil for a really good detailed explanation. Searching for insulin + sugar should find some stuff, too.
Lots of good ways to get Omega 3... grass fed beef and certain fish are excellent ways. Mix chia seeds in with everything you eat, or just do fish oil.
Brown rice and steel cut oats are good. The less processed the better (instant oats are bad, steel cut are good, etc). Some people say grains are bad, but what I read a few years ago indicated they were good. Either way, my guess is that whole grains are neutral or a slight negative at worst, and eating them makes finding food way easier.
Salt and sodium are fine. The water/salt ratio is important, not the total volume, so make sure you get enough water. This cycle is pretty much self regulating.
There are alternatives to all that stuff. Research Ezekiel 4:9... not the bible verse, the company. They make the only bread I eat and good pasta.
I'm also very curious about your knowledge/opinion on grassfed cheese/milk. Since I'm mostly vegetarian (only eat caught fish (ie fish out of the sea, not out of some artifical facility), have cut out about 95% of the sugar and white flour out of my diet I think I'm doing OK, but the whole dairy thing could ruin my score easily.
And what exactly is the problem with Honey? As this is a natural sweetener I figured it wouldn't generate the Insulin spike you described in your MaxDiet posts.
I have been asking around, and I still haven't been able to figure out why Coconut Oil is advantageous for cooking over Sunflower Oil?
Coconut oil is considered beneficial because of it's high amount of medium-chain triglycerides.
Eating while living in a RV fulltime is taking some getting used to but the gf and I are finally getting into a pattern that works for us. She is vegan (mostly just fruits and veggies) whereas I am somewhat paleo. Once or twice a week we'll hit up a farmer's market to fill up our stores. She nabs things for lots of salads and I look for eggs (pastured preferred) and meat (grass fed only).
Most breakfasts I'll make a scramble with onion, garlic, and leafy veggies while she has granola with almond milk.
Lunch usually consists of fruits and veggies for both of us.
Dinner consists of grass fed meat (have been experimenting with tartar lately) and she has a large salad.
This seems to be working for us for the most part, and being active ultrarunners, we still have plenty of energy to go play on the trails.
Oh, and coconut oil and Udo's oil are the only oils we use.
This needs to go on the front page. Also can someone write a recommendation post about what to eat? It seems most of the literature out there focuses on what not to eat rather than what to eat. I've tried several times to go to a healthy diet, but each time I end up not getting enough calories and I have to switch back.
Also, do you pretty much have to shop at a specialty grocery store to eat healthy? In Waco, all they have is H-E-B, and I've always had a hard time finding enough good food to eat.
Nate, I'm down in Austin, and choose H-E-B, or even Wal Mart, over Whole Foods probably 95% of the time.
Basically, I eat some fruit and a handful of nuts for breakfast, and veggies and/or meat for lunch and dinner. I'll keep some of my favorite veggies raw in the fridge, and always have some canned options for a quick side, too. I buy some chicken breasts and beef, and make most of it all at once to keep in the fridge for easy grabbing (my next change is going to be buying meat from a butcher; I'm new at this too haha).
I'll also keep lots of frozen veggies for a stiry fry, and add in either chicken or small shrimp (7 bucks for a a giant bag of shrimp will last me a month, easy). I keep minced garlic, dehydrated onion, and a variety of spices on hand and use them generously.
In general, though, I make a lot of the same meals as before, but leave out the grains and sweeteners. Ever been to Chipotle? You can get their burritos on a bed of lettuce instead of on a shell - I make the same thing at home all the time. Any chinese-style dish tastes just as good without the rice. Burgers, pork chops - the bun is convenient, but completely unnecessary. You won't miss pizza.
I'd suggest reading the slow-carb section of The 4-Hour Body. Basically, Tim really focuses on the idea that you need to make the same few things over and over again (we already do that anyway) and they need to be foods you enjoy. And most importantly, if you aren't big on cooking now, don't expect to be. A 1 pound bag of frozen veggies with half a cup of shrimp or half a chicken breast not only completely fills me up, but is healthy and only about $2 total.
Hi - just wanted to caution you that if you are buying huge bags of frozen shrimp for $7, they are likely to be farmed in conditions which are less than wholesome. Might want to take a look at the recommendations in http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx
Cool, thanks for the reply. I guess I usually just have a hard time finding quinoa and similar stuff (i.e. the stuff you wouldn't know about if you hadn't ever made an attempt to eat healthy) at HEB.
I hadn't even considered frozen stuff... They don't use any preservatives or anything?
I just got a book about different sauces and spices from Casa De Luz. I asked a guy who made headlines a year or two ago about how he lived on $5 a day, and he said he pretty much cooked the same things but varied the sauces.
I'm still a tad worried about caloric intake, as it was my undoing the last few times I tried consistently eating healthy. Besides avocados and sweet potatoes, aren't all the other veggies basically no calories? Chicken/fish ought to help a little bit, but when compared with red meat aren't they still a bit on the low end?
The one easy thing I always eat for breakfast is peanut butter and jelly (no sweetners, idk if it's technically "jelly") ezekiel bread toast. That's pretty much the one meal I've conquered, and you're right- I make it over and over again and don't get tired.
Many larger Walmarts carry a surprising array of foods such as quinoa.
Frozen vegetables generally don't contain any preservatives or any other ingredients except the vegetables.
The Bird's Eye brand brown and wild rice with carrots and broccoli is a favorite of mine for quick meals. There is nothing in it except the aforementioned ingredients in it. You can add whatever flavors, sauces you want to it. I usually sprinkle some mushroom seasoning (available online or in Asian supermarkets) and chilli flakes after heating, stir, and, I have a quick, tasty, nutritious meal. On sale a bag of this rice is $1, and I stock up during sales, a bag is enough for 2 meals for me, or for one meal if I'm ravenous.
You will for sure have to eat enough calories for your needs. Brown rice is a good addition to boost calories while staying healthy. Try the brown basmati rice from Trader Joe's. Try and find basmati rice imported from India. Just as oranges grown elsewhere do not compare to ones grown in Florida (even if they are grown from Florida orange seeds) basmati rice grown in the U.S. or Canada does not compare to that grown in India. Trader Joe's is one of the few places that has real Indian brown basmati rice.
If you want to put more calories into your diet grassfed butter and coconut oil are good choices. http://www.bulletproofexec.com/the-complete-illustrated-one-page-bulletproof-diet/ gives you a more expensive list.
Can you give us some examples of the type of things you cook and eat every day?
Also, is it ok to eat things like Siracha sauce and salsa when it has only a tiny bit of sugar in it?
Spot on. This is enough to live a healthy balanced life. It's worth every penny.
I'm still pushing the extremes with the bulletproofexec.com diet. I'm currently on 4500 calories a day with almost all of it coming from over 1 kg of grass fed meat + 250 grams of grass fed butter.
And I'm doing it from Shanghai which is destroying my savings.
Tynan, what do you, DROdio and anyone else in the same camp about sweeteners think about stevia (the pure, 100% stevia products, not ones mixed with chemicals or anything else)? Would like to hear anyone's thoughts on stevia.
I won't eat it. They've shown that even stuff like aspartame that shouldn't trigger an insulin response does just because your body THINKS that it's sugar. Stevia is probably the same way. I also remember reading some stuff about it messing with testosterone, but I can't remember the specifics. Bottom line is that it's best to just drop it all and get used to the natural sweetness of things.
Damn! I was hoping Stevia would work. Okay, time to change my preferences then.
What do you recommend to use to transition out of sweets, as I'm someone who's a hard core sweets junkie, and cold turkey sounds like it'll deplete a lot of will power without something to replace the vacuum removing sweets will create?
The problem is that sweets are so crazy sweet compared to normal food, that there's not much that will substitute. When I started eating healthy, though, I noticed that I most wanted to cheat when I was hungry. So stay full, but not of sweets.
Cutting out sugar should be interesting, because you know that it's 100% possible and know 100% how to do it, so it's a really good test of discipline, and the process could teach you a lot about yourself. I'd go cold-turkey and keep some notes on the process.
This post almost exactly mirrors what Sue and I believe about healthy eating, and it's very well written.
Agree completely about sweeteners -- also a rarely known fact is that agave is a processed sweetner. When sweetening at all, I use honey.
Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Great article Tynan. You were actually the reason that I went vegan for a few months, after reading your posts about the "Max Diet". I became much more educated about the food that I ate. Like you, as I became more educated, I realized that there is much more to the story than simple health considerations. Effects that the modern food industry has on the environment, our societal health, and our healthcare system is truly astonishing. I recently finished "The Paleo Solution", by Robb Wolf. The recommendations you give above are almost exactly in line with the "Paleolithic Diet", which I have recently adopted with great results (so far). Also, it just dawned on me that your blog is the first place I had ever heard of "CrossFit"! I have been doing it for a few months and feel amazing....I always look forward to reading your articles man, keep it up.
I gave raw food a try a while back for somewhere around forty five days. I bought a dehydrator, made a lot of my own foods, and bought the rest from the Whole Foods raw bar. In the end, I didn't stick with it. Here's why:
Despite all of those reasons, I always had it in the back of my head that I would become raw later. The dogma just sounds so good, and it's hard to argue against eating anything as raw and unprocessed as possible. Once I could afford to hire a chef or eat every meal out, I'd do it, I thought. But recently I learned something that changed my opinion. Barring any overturning evidence, I will never be primarily raw.
As it turns out, we've been eating cooked food for TWO MILLION YEARS. Two million! While we haven't had time to evolve to a refined grain diet, we have certainly evolved to eat cooked foods.
Nutrition and health is something I take very seriously. Thus eating Healthy without going crazy is one of the key elements to having amazing health.
Although when I'm out eating I put no limits on what I eat, because I like to try new and varied things, when I am home I am very picky. Eating healthy is one of those things I refer to as cumulative habits; Eating healthy for one day or a week out of the year has practically no effect on your life, but eating healthy for 80%+ of the year might add an extra 2 months your life as well as possibly fill you with energy you never knew you had.
Information regarding healthy eating is almost as insane, and convoluted as information regarding how to bake an apple pie, there tons of it, a lot of it is bogus, and most of the good information is filled with confusing words or assumes you know the specifics of how the body works. Thus I've decided to make my own small guide on the decisions I make daily to eat healthy, although sometimes when I go out I don't follow them. NOTE: if you are overweight, I highly recommend you get that handled before you start alternating, unless you are doing a slow-carb type diet with a cheat day. Regardless being overweight is bad, and is one of those things in life that comes with no benefits.
Eating healthy does not be hard, in fact I'm going to outline what to do in three easy steps. Its going to look so easy that people might think I'm crazy.
1. Get rid of all simple carbohydrates. This means Sugar, Bread, Pasta, Rice, potato, corn syrup. I would avoid any "whole grain" products as well, as they usually are just white carbs with color or grains readded. Brown Rice is acceptable. As a general rule just avoid anything made with flour or that's sole purpose is sweetening. Agave, sucralose, honey,bread, pasta and rice all fit in this category