The Healthy Diet Cheat Sheet With 6 Practical Nutrition Tips
After over a decade of testing, designing and adjusting diet programs for myself and for clients, I've come to realize a few important factors along the way.
Tracking total intake of macronutrients is effective because it removes a lot of the guesswork. And, since most are atrocious when it comes to eyeballing portions, having an objective measure in place relieves this culprit.
Tracking intake also lets you adjust appropriately. If your body isn't responding, you can look at your intake and macro ratios and adjust accordingly.
Related: 10 Strategies to Avoid Weight Gain and Stay Lean
Putting your intake to paper (or into your app) forces you to face reality - it's hard to hide behind the facts. By seeing the truth about how much you eat (or how much you don't eat) influences a higher level of personal accountability.
Tracking macros also provides a unique learning opportunity about food in general. Most people never learn about food and how it impacts the body. The stats of our country prove that.
By learning how calories and macronutrients play a role in energy and body composition, you regain control of your health and dieting preferences.
However, being this meticulous with your diet also has some drawbacks.
Counting and tracking every gram can be draining - like being forced to go to a wedding you don't want to go, much less know the people getting married. It's time-consuming - even with the advancement of technology.
I'll always track my intake and macros. It's a method I'll vouch for every time. But considering the landscape of human beings, I too, respect the fact that people are different. And, different methods will work for different people.
At the pace we live life at today, simplicity and low activation energy (the amount of psychological and physical energy required to do something) is critical for sustaining a healthy diet.
Having said that, as a health and fitness writer, it's my overarching aim to make nutrition practical for people - and get incredible results at the same time.
Here are 6 ways you can do just that.
The Healthy Diet Cheat Sheet
1. Determine if you're a moderator or abstainer
There are emotionally charged keyboard wars about dieting these days. Paleo vs. vegan. Clean eating vs. flexible dieting.
In my opinion, a lot of this is wasted energy. Or, it's just a way to stroke your own ego and shows off how much you know about a certain dieting method.
Either way, a lot are fighting the wrong battle.
Instead, we need to put the people first, not the method. Sure, there are nutritional pillars that must be met: essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, micronutrients and hydration are foundational to any good diet.
After that, personal preference needs to take precedence.
A practical first step is to establish a healthy diet you can sustain is to determine whether you are an abstainer or moderator.
In the fitness world, the moderation approach is popular because it allows people to have comfort foods as they please. For moderators, the occasional indulgence strengthens their resolve and provides pleasure. It actually helps them be more disciplined.
For abstainers, deciding when to indulge, how much to have, and debating if cheat meals are allowed is very exhausting for them. They aren't tempted when they deem things that are completely off-limits. They also march to a sound of "It's easier to say no once, and never have to answer the question again - abstinence takes zero decision-making capacity."
As you can see, the approaches are very different. And not surprisingly, moderators and abstainers often resemble the political environment - democrats vs. republicans throwing verbal bombs at each other - and all that happens when shots get fired is that everyone ends up more entrenched in their original approaches anyhow.
Don't join the circus. Instead focus on what works best for you.
Your responsibility is to identify which approach most resonates with you operate. Look at your past and see how you do things. Do you tend to be an all-or-nothing type of person? Or do you need flexibility in order to heighten resolve?
2. Tip toe or cannonballThink about a person who has stripped down to their trunks getting prepared to get in the cold lake. They slowly walk up to the edge, and tentatively, the dip their toes to see how it feels. It's certainly too cold to dive right in, but starting with their toes is fine.
So they sit on the ledge and dip their feet and keep them submerged for a few minutes. Then, the sink their legs further into the water to about thigh level for a few minutes. And then finally, after getting accumulated to the water, they gracefully plunge in.
In contrast, think about someone who jumps out of the car, runs towards the lake, and along the way is fumbling to take his shoes off, somehow manages to keep running while ripping his shirt off and then approaches the edge with impressive speed and then leaps a good 10 feet out into the air and makes a big splash into the freezing water.
The examples are quite different right? But they both ended up in the water.
When it comes to dieting, some people like to take it slow - one step at a time. Others, like to dive right in with no hesitation. It's your job to find out how you operate best, and then back your preferred style without an appropriate approach.
3. Build every meal around proteinWhen it comes to optimal body composition, I'm assuming that you're training at a minimum of three to five hours per week. Ideally, your program is based around some type of strength training. And, because the fact that you train in this way your protein requirements are different in comparison to someone who doesn't exercise at all.
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.
- 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man.
- 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
Increased muscle buildingMuscles are dynamic and are constantly being torn down and rebuilt. To gain more muscle, your body must be synthesizing more muscle protein than it is breaking down. Meaning, you need to be operating at a positive protein balance consistency.
Due to the fact that you are inducing more break down than a person who doesn't lift, your protein intake must be heightened in order to sustain a positive protein balance - and thus, continue to build muscle mass.
During a fat loss phase, maintaining a high protein intake allows you to retain muscle while keeping calories as high as possible.
Boosted metabolic rateDiets that consist of about 30% protein from calories have shown to boost metabolism by up to 100 calories per day, compared to diets lower in protein. This is due to the fact that protein has a thermic effect (the amount calories burned due to digestion and absorption) double that of carbohydrates and fats.
Increased fat loss hormonesEating protein induces the release of glucagon - the hormone that helps shuttle fat out of your cells so it can be used for energy. It also assists in preventing your cells from becoming efficient at storing fat.
To make sure you're getting protein at each meal, there are two methods you can try. One is to include two palms full of protein for men at each meal and one palm-full of protein for women at each meal. This method is for those who'd rather get a tooth pulled than count and track their intake.
For those who like to track, start with 30% of your total intake being sourced from protein. Here's an example:
If your daily caloric need is 2,700 per day, multiply that by .30 to arrive at 810 calories. Then, you'll divide that number by 4 (since protein has 4 calories per gram) to arrive at 200g of protein (rounded down) per day.
4.Eat (or drink) your veggies
Protein is the super-builder, and veggies are the sidekick. Unfortunately, most believe that because veggies are the sidekick they aren't essential. They're treated as important but optional. When really, they should be honored as essential for a few reasons:
Veggies help balance your body's pH level. Meaning, it veggies act as an acid neutralizer in your body helping you stay away from chronically elevated cortisol, a crawling metabolism, and inflammation.
Veggies contain high amounts of fiber helping you sustain a healthy blood sugar level which in return stabilized your appetite and energy levels.
Veggies contain high amounts of antioxidants which battle free radicals that run-a-mock in your body causing damage to the mitochondria that run your metabolism.
Admittedly, it's hard to eat the recommended amount of veggies per day. And that's why less than 6% of men and 9% of women ages 25 to 34 eat the recommend amount. Therefore, it's vital that we make it easy to eat your veggies. Here are a few ways to do that:
The most practical is to supplement with a greens powder. These powders are essentially fruits, veggies, and super-foods that are in powder form. Within a minute or two you can shake it up with water and slam it down. Having a green powder supplement is great for convenience, but it's important that you use it to augment your total veggie intake - rather than relying on it as a staple source.
The second way to get in greens on a daily basis is to have a green smoothie. You can bang out two purposes in one meal if you throw in a scoop or two of protein powder into your shake as well. The combinations are endless, however here is a simple template:
- Start with a base of greens (spinach and kale work best)
- Add fruit (Berries of any kind will work. Bananas are popular too)
- Add some fat (almond butter or ground flaxseed)
- Add liquid (Water, coconut milk, or almond milk)
- Add super-food (chia seeds, spirulina, cocoa powder, avocado, coconut oil chlorella)
- Add ice
5. Include fat in your diet every dayThere's no need to demonize fat - healthy fats that it is.
Fat plays a critical role in great healthy and optimal body composition. We need adequate fat to support hormone production, to transport fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A and D, to keep us sated and support a healthy metabolism.
The key to fat intake is the quality of fat. The modern American diet has evolved to eat a diet that is imbalanced with omega-6 fatty acids. Processed, high-sugar, low-fiber foods often come packed with loads of omega-6 fatty acids. In fact, the statics prove that the modern American Diet follows suit with an Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids ratio of 16:1.
The ideal ratio should be closer to 3 to 1.
The reason why omega-3 fatty acids are so important can be attributed for three reasons:
- They decrease inflammation.
- They contain DHA, your brains "think-better" source. It supports the development of the brain and has been shown to prevent brain fog, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease. DHA also supports neurogenesis - helping you remember what you learn.
- They contain EPA, your brains "feel-better" source. People low in Omega-3 fatty acids are more likely to report being depressed and showcase low moods chronically.
6. Carb smartCarbs are the x-factor for everyone. They aren't essential but they definitely play a critical role. Depending on your body fat levels you can manage carbs in a few simple ways:
- If you're over-fat, you're going to have to limit carbs to 20% or less of your total daily intake.
- If you're trying to maintain weight (and you're currently at a healthy body fat level), carbs can be in the 25-35% range.
- If you're trying to pack on some muscle (and you're already lean) you'll be able to source 35-50% of your total daily intake from carbs.
Wrapping UpThese strategies serve as pillars that will never go out of style. Work through each of them to develop your own diet.
Think of it this way:
In the game of football, there are parameters each team must abide by. You can have 11 players on the field at once, there are sidelines, referees, etc. But once the guidelines have been set each team has the luxury of playing how they want. They can choose what plays to run, when to blitz, or call timeouts.
Similarly, the guidelines we just went over set the stage for you to play the game how you want. Within these parameters, you get to choose how you diet. This gives you power. And thus, the strength to stick with a diet you can live with.
ReferencesBerardi, John. The Metabolism Advantage: An 8-Week Program to Rev Up Your Body's Fat-Burning Machine-at Any Age. Emmaus: Rodale, 2006. Web.
Dow, Mike. The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory, and Joy in Just 3 Weeks. N.p., 2015. Print.
"A High-protein Diet Induces Sustained Reductions in Appetite, Ad Libitum Caloric Intake, and Body Weight Despite Compensatory Changes in Diurnal Plasma Leptin and Ghrelin Concentrations." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.