The Top 20 Food Rules You NEED to Know to be Truly Lean & Healthy
Everything you wanted to know about protein, carbs, calories, probiotics, vitamin D, cooking oils, foods that burn fat, foods that make you fat, foods that can kill you slowly, and much more.
This article is one that you're going to want to bookmark to come back and reference at any time. And you'll also want to share this page with all your friends and family to help spread what true healthy nutrition is all about. Seriously, there's more great information about nutrition on this page than a lot of entire books.
I'm going to rattle off a bunch of random important facts (in no particular order) about food and eating healthy that you need to know. I'll also refer to any of my previously published articles where appropriate, and where a more full explanation might be needed if you want more details on that topic. All references to other articles will open in a new window so that you can stay on this page when you're done any of the other reference articles.
Before we start this list, let's establish a big picture view first, before we dive into various smaller topics like specific foods...
The Big Picture View (most people have never thought of food in this way)
Let me give you something to think about, and this is VERY big picture and VERY important... if we took away modern society and plopped you on a deserted island, what is the #1 most important thing in your life at that point? That's right... FOOD! What will I eat to survive and thrive. At that point, you can forget about careers, technology, video games, television, nightlife, cell phones, and just about every other aspect of modern life... the single most important thing you need to focus on at that point is what to eat.
However, in our modern day, most of us don't have to think about what to eat at all, and in fact, most people NEVER think about what they put in their mouths... they just eat whatever they see in front of them that they know tastes good, without any thought about whether it's an appropriate food for humans to eat.
You can call that the "See-Food Diet"... you "see" the food and you eat it.
Isn't that a major disconnect? Food is quite literally one of the most important things in our daily lives, yet barely anybody thinks about the ramifications of what they eat and how it will affect their health and the quality of their life (until, of course, they lose their health).
Since food is one of the most important things in our lives for our quality of life, don't you think that it should be a priority as one of the fundamental topics that children learn about throughout school? It should be a priority, but it isn't. Kids get a thorough education on topics such as Math, History, Science, Languages, etc, but never get more than a couple hours in their entire 12 years in school about the most important thing in our lives...what to eat.
If you think about it, that's absolutely insane... One of THE single most important aspects of our lives is never really taught to children in school. And parents don't generally pick up the slack and teach kids nutrition because they were never taught about it either. This is a modern day phenomenon because the abundance of food all around us in modern day life means that we don't have to think about what's appropriate to eat.
If you want to be lean and truly healthy, obviously you NEED to think differently than the average person who eats the "SEE-food diet" where they eat without thinking.
There needs to be some simple rules to follow if you want to successfully navigate the current food landscape out there where so many foods are making you fat and sick.
And THAT's why I wrote this page for you... to simplify and give you some simple food rules to be lean and healthy, yet still ENJOY food.
Food Rules Simplified
Okay, so let's simplify nutrition a bit here... everyone out there seems confused about what is the best "diet" to be on. People seem to love to always jump from fad diet to fad diet such as low-fat diets, atkins diets, south beach diets, grapefruit diets, detox diets, vegetarian diets, and other sometimes ridiculous diets that most times are based on one person's opinion or marketing scheme (or personal agenda) rather than based on actual science.
The only "diet" that's actually based on real science is the study of paleolithic nutrition (aka - paleo diet). But I hate to call it "paleo diet", because it's not like any other fad diet, since it's based on real archaeological nutritional science about what our ancestors ate before the agricultural revolution came around. The idea is simply that for the first 99.5% of our existence (ancestors back as far as 2 Million years ago, homo erectus), we only ate wild plants and animals, while for the last 0.5% of our existence (since the agricultural revolution in the last 5,000-10,000 years), humans now almost entirely eat farmed plants and animals. The biggest change this represents is the massive inclusion of grains in our current diet (and what our animals are fed) now compared to our Paleolithic ancestors.
There are lots of other changes this represents too, such as the presence of chemicals in our food supply (pesticides, herbicides, xenoestrogens, etc) that didn't exist in the ancient diet, as well as the dramatic changes caused by hybridization of many of our foods, which creates versions of fruits and vegetables bred more for size, sweetness, and appearance as opposed to natural nutrition... this aspect has decreased micronutrient content in the modern day food supply (just look at wild blueberries vs cultivated blueberries as an example of that with wild berries coming in at more than DOUBLE the antioxidants from ORAC testing).
Many people think that we don't know what ancient humans ate... but this is false.
Nutritional archaeologists know pretty convincingly what ancient humans ate as they study a lot of evidence such as ancient fossilized feces remains as well as studying isotope ratios in ancient human bone samples from all over the world through every time period in history to determine ratios of animal protein vs plant protein that ancient humans ate -- which by the way, was always an omnivorous mixture of plants and animals, and a fairly high protein intake...there was no such thing as ancient paleolithic vegans...any Nutritional Archaeologist can confirm that ancient vegans simply didn't exist. We were ALL omnivores that ate different ratios of plants and animals based on what part of the world, what latitude we lived, and the time of the year.
So what exactly did our Paleolithic ancestors eat for the first 99.5% of our existence, representing what we are still programmed to eat? Simple:
Grains were only a very TINY fraction of the ancient Paleolithic diet (and only in certain parts of the world) as there was no way to process large amounts of grain back in that day into flour, so amounts of wild grain would have been small such as a handful or two of gathered grains added to a meal of meat and veggies. As you can see, this is vastly different from the modern human diet that includes refined grain at almost every meal and in very large quantities in cereals, breads, pasta, muffins, bagels, etc.
One other note... I mention "wild meats" above, and for most people, that's not realistic since you might not hunt. However, as you'll see below in my 20 rules, grass-fed free-range meats can have the same health benefits as wild meats, while avoiding the harmful nutritional components that come with factory-farmed grain-fed meats.
So with that big picture explained...let's get into the details of my top 20 food rules:
Food Rule #1. Not all carbs are bad, but...
Carbohydrates don't need to be eliminated... they are not inherently "bad" in reasonable quantities. But grains and processed sugars in particular should be minimized. So to make things simple, you will be leaner and healthier if you get most of your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables instead of grains and processed sugar.
The biggest problem with grains (breads, cereals, pasta, bagels, etc), aside from the abuse to your blood sugar regulation system (pancreas and insulin sensitivity), is that grains typically contain a lot of anti-nutrients which prevent your body from absorbing some minerals, as well as gluten and other substances that cause chronic gut inflammation and even possibly digestive system damage in some cases of severe gluten intolerance.
Please note that potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other tubers or roots have less problems in terms of digestive system inflammation than grains do. Roots were a more common part of the ancient human diet as a source of carbohydrates than grains ever were. Potatoes and sweet potatoes can be much better tolerated by very active people that have no problem burning off the extra carbohydrates.
What do I personally do? Well, I avoid grains as much as possible, except on 1 cheat day per week. That will always be a meal dining out, so that we're never tempted with breads and cereals in our house. I eat whole fruits (never juice) and veggies daily, and might have an occasional potato or sweet potato once or twice a week.
I posted a controversial article on the topic of carbs and Paleo nutrition here that's gotten a lot of attention... please make sure to read that one for my full opinion on Paleo nutrition.
Food Rule #2. Healthy vs deadly protein sources
Focus on quality protein sources such as wild game, wish fish and seafood, grass-fed meats, and free-roaming organically fed eggs, while trying to avoid most farmed meats and farmed fish that were fed mostly grains and kept in unhealthy "factory farm" environments. You can read my article about why grass-fed meats are superior to grain-fed meats here.
Food Rule #3. Your "Omegas" are out of whack
Most people need to be more aware of the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of the food they eat.
The ancestral human diet of the Paleolithic era appears that it had a ratio of approximately 1:1 to 2:1 omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats. The current average western diet contains anywhere from 20:1 to 30:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats due to the high consumption of grain and soy-based foods and derivatives like soybean oil and corn oil that is pervasive in the food supply (and don't forget the corn and soy that's used as the main animal feed component instead of natural forage). This is a major problem causing massive inflammation in most people, and one of the causes of many degenerative diseases.
In order to balance this out better, you need to AVOID corn oils, soybean oils, cottonseed oils (or anything cooked in these oils), and minimize grain-fed meats and farmed fish that were fed grains. Instead, focus on wild fish, grass-fed meats, grass-fed dairy, free-range eggs, as well as other foods that can help you get more omega-3's like chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and fish oil and/or krill oil, which are vitally important sources of DHA and EPA. I personally take both fish oil and krill oil, as the fish oil has a larger quantity of DHA and EPA (and more omega-3 volume overall), while the krill oil has more antioxidant benefits from the astaxanthin and a higher absorption rate than the fish oil.
Take note that animal sources of omega-3 fats are MUCH more powerful to your health than plant sources of omega-3's like walnuts, chia, and flax. This is because animal sources of omega-3's already contain DHA and EPA already converted whereas plant sources don't, and your body is very ineffecient at converting plant sources of omega-3 fats to DHA and EPA.
Food Rule #4. 80,000 species of plants, animals, and fungi?
Aside from processed sugar, if I had to pick 3 of the WORST foods in the average western diet that would be most important to start avoiding, it would be corn, soy, and wheat, and their derivatives such as corn syrup, corn oil, soybean oil, soy protein, etc. Do you want to hear an appalling statistic about what the average person eats... Currently, the average adult eating a typical modern western diet in countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, etc consumes approximately 67% of their total caloric intake from only 3 foods -- CORN, SOY, AND WHEAT (and their derivatives).
Keep in mind that ancestral humans have historically eaten over 80,000 species of plants, animals, and fungi throughout human history, yet modern humans are getting 67% of their calories from only 3 foods. That's a problem! Read this article to see why it's a terrible idea to get most of your calories from corn, soy, and wheat and the health problems this is causing worldwide.
Food Rule #5. Beware of hidden sugars
Beware of hidden calories and inflammation-causing ingredients in condiments and dressings. You can read my article here on my vote for the top 5 picks for healthiest condiments as well as the worst.
Most people don't realize just how many calories and metabolism damaging high fructose corn syrup they are ingesting in things like ketchup, salad dressings, cocktail sauce, marinades, etc. For example, 1 Tbsp of ketchup has 5 grams of sugar (usually from HFCS), but the average person uses 2-4 Tbsp of ketchup with a typical burger and fries meal. That's anywhere from 10-20 grams of EXTRA sugar just from the ketchup alone, and not even counting the sweetened drink that most people have with the meal too.
Be a label reader and avoid HFCS! And despite deceptive advertisements out there from the corn refining industry that claim "HFCS is no worse than sugar and is natural", this is far from the truth as you can read in this article that shows why HFCS is indeed worse than plain sugar, despite them both being terrible for you.
Food Rule #6. Sugar is TOXIC in your body
Speaking of sugar, most people don't realize that they are addicted to sugar, and just how bad sugar is for your body internally. I hear people say things all the time when eating candy or drinking a sweetened drink that "oh, it's just sugar, I can burn it off easy". Oh, if it were only that simple. You can read the article (and video) here about why sugar is actually TOXIC in your body.
That's right... not only does sugar make you fat, it's one of the direct causes of diabetes, heart disease, as well as feeding cancer cells. Avoid sugar as much as possible with the exception of a small amount of natural sugars in a piece of daily fruit.
Food Rule #7. Do NOT eat these oils or foods with these added
AVOID soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, and other cheap "vegetable oils" as much as possible. These oils are highly inflammatory in your body, disrupt your omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid balance in your body, and also are typically made of genetically modified crops, of which the long term health consequences are not yet fully understood by scientists.
This article here details everything you need to know about which cooking oils to fully avoid and which oils are healthy for you. You might be surprised to see why fats you falsely thought were unhealthy such as butter, lard, and coconut oil are actually the healthiest fats/oils to cook with.
Food Rule #8. Canola oil is terrible for you
Avoid canola oil as much as possible... despite the false marketing claims that canola oil is "healthy" and contains lots of monounsaturated fats just like olive oil, canola oil is NOTHING like olive oil from a biochemical standpoint and how it reacts internally in your body. Read this article for the full story on why to AVOID canola oil at all costs. Note that most canola oil is genetically modified too, so yet another reason to avoid it.
Food Rule #9. Why you should LOVE butter & cream!
Butter vs margarine? I have no idea why anybody is still debating this... I use grass-fed butter on a daily basis, but I would NEVER even touch margarine... not even the so-called "healthy" margarines, which usually still contain inflammatory soybean or corn oils. REAL butter is the only answer in this case. You can read my article here with more details about why real butter can actually HELP you to get lean.
Also, it's not just butter that's good for you... dairy fat in the form of grass-fed cream, aged cheeses, full-fat yogurts and other dairy fat has even been shown in some studies to PROTECT your arteries from clogging! Don't believe me? Read this article for the full story:
Studies show dairy fat PREVENTS artery clogging (butter, cream & cheese can be great for you, but avoid ONE type of dairy shown in that article!)
Food Rule #10. STOP avoiding egg yolks -- eat whole eggs
Egg whites vs whole eggs? Once again, I have no idea why anyone is still debating this. Most of the general population has still not gotten the memo that egg yolks are actually the healthiest part of the egg, with over 90% of the micronutrients and antioxidants, and 100% of the fat soluble vitamins that are so important for our health. Why anybody would only eat egg whites and avoid yolks is beyond comprehension. And no, the dietary cholesterol in eggs is not bad for your heart... in fact, it increases your good HDL cholesterol. I have a full article here on why whole eggs are much healthier than egg whites, help increase your fat burning hormones, and why I personally eat 3-4 whole eggs per day and how this helps to stay in single digit body fat range.
Food Rule #11. Beware of chemicals in your foods
Let's start with this one to avoid: This additive makes you 3x more likely to be overweight.
Also, beware of the carcinogenic and estrogenic chemical BPA that is commonly found in some canned foods and bottled drinks. BPA has been linked to increased abdominal fat, birth defects, cancer, and more. Remember that canned tomatoes are one of the worst offenders with highest concentrations of harmful BPA because of the acidic leaching effect of the tomatoes. You can read all about BPA and canned foods and bottled drinks here to learn the best ways to avoid this harmful chemical.
Food Rule #12. Why I haven't used a microwave in 10 years
In my opinion, it's best to AVOID microwaved foods. Some scientists believe that microwaving food changes the the biochemistry of the food in ways that cause negative effects in the body compared to raw or conventionally cooked food. Think of this from a logical perspective... the human digestive system evolved over a period of approximately 1.9 million years (our ancesters homo erectus & neanderthal, as well as current homo sapiens) eating a combination of raw and cooked food that was cooked with either fire or hot water, not microwaves.
Microwaves are a new invention which cooks food in an entirely different way than hot water or fire, creating damaged molecules in food that were not found in nature previously, and that our body does not know how to deal with. Logically, it's easy to understand how this could have health consequences. Read this article here for a full description of why I never eat microwaved foods anymore and have not for at least the last 10 years. We also show you how easy it is to live without a microwave and heat up your foods in healthier ways.
Food Rule #13. Add herbs and spices to everything (your body will thank you)
One of the healthiest things to include in your daily diet are herbs and spices. In fact, herbs and spices typically contain LOADS more antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables. Spices are extremely powerful, and almost medicinal for your body. Turmeric has been shown to have protective effects against cancer. Cinnamon has powerful blood sugar controlling effects. Many spices boost your immune system. Read this article to see our top 10 votes for the most powerful spices that boost your metabolism and protect your body from degenerative disease.
Bottom line...spices rule! Use them generously in all of your cooking for the best health benefits.
Food Rule #14. Saturated fats have been falsely accused
Remember that despite all of the bad nutrition information you hear from the government and the media, saturated fats have been falsely villified in the past, and are much healthier for you than most people realize. In fact, in recent years, scientists have become a lot more clear that saturated fats are actually important for health and hormone balance, your cell membranes, and many other vital functions in your body. You can read my article here about why saturated fats aren't so bad after all, and can even be healthy sometimes depending on source.
If you're interested in more of the actual science about why saturated fat can be healthy for you, I have an article below written by a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry called The Truth about Saturated Fat - it's a must read if you want to understand the science about why saturated fats have been falsely villified and how to enjoy these foods that have always been part of the ancestral human diet.
Food Rule #15. Artificial sweeteners make you fatter (and damage your gut too?)
Always avoid artificial sweeteners! Just because they don't contain calories doesn't mean they don't harm your body. In fact, many studies link artificial sweetener use to weight gain. New research is also showing that artificial sweeteners can "trick" your body into releasing insulin due to cells in your mouth and stomach that sense the sweetness and are expecting sugar. Remember that high insulin levels can cause body fat deposition. Also, triggering insulin in this way can cause more cravings for carbohydrates and sugar in the hours after eating or drinking the artificially sweetened product.
You can read my article here with more details about why artificial sweeteners are terrible for your health, including possible long term health consequences such as cancer.
Also, did you know that Splenda can DAMAGE your gut health.
Food Rule #16. Vitamin D controls your immune system, hormone balance, and makes you younger
Pay attention to your Vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D is one of the most important substances in your body. It's one of the single most important things in your body that control your hormones as well as your immune system. If you get sick often or have hormone imbalances, it's quite likely that the cause is linked to low vitamin D levels.
Unfortunately, it's estimated that almost 90% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. Get your blood levels of vitamin D tested. Your goal should be blood levels between 50-70 ng/ml, where hormonal balance and immune function seems to be maximized. Sadly, most people typically clock in with levels in the 20's or 30's or lower, and these sub par levels can cause a lot of health problems.
Mid day sunshine is the most important source of vitamin D as your body produces vitamin D from a reaction with oils in your skin and UVB rays from the sun. Fatty fish, egg yolks, and organ meats are the best sources of dietary vitamin D, but it is hard to get enough vitamin D from diet alone, so small doses of daily mid-day sun is also important for your health (without burning).
For lots more great info on vitamin D, and it's powerful benefits to your body, you can also read a really interesting article here that shows why vitamin D can even make you the equivalent of 5 years YOUNGER!
Food Rule #17. Pay attention to your gut flora
Probiotics rock! And most people have a harmful imbalance between good and bad bacteria in their guts. This is made worse by things you consume that damange your gut flora such as chlorinated drinking water, artificial sweeteners, pesticides, and the worst of them all -- antibiotics. One round of antiobiotics can permanently disrupt the balance of your gut flora and leave you susceptible to other infections and diseases. Antibiotics have their place for life-threatening injuries and medical situations, but are overused in western medicine to the detriment of our health. Take this quiz to see if you have a dangerous imbalance of microbes in your gut.
Along with vitamin D levels, probiotics are one of the single most important things you can do for your health. Probiotics are equally important to your immune system as your vitamin D levels. Probiotics are your first line of defense in keeping pathogens at bay and preventing sickness. They're extremely important for your digestion too.
Your "microbiome" in your gut is made up of TRILLIONS of microbes in total and hundreds of types of these friendly probiotics. These serve so many more vitally important functions in your body than most people realize, and imbalance of good to bad bacteria in your gut can cause over 170 diseases and conditions.
Read this article to see how probiotics can improve your digestion and immunity as well as the best sources to build up your healthy colonies in your digestive system.
Food Rule #18. Counteract or minimize carcinogens
Beware of carcinogenic acrylamides in browned carb-based foods. This is yet another reason to minimize grains as much as possible as breads and cereals are some of the worst offenders with acrylamides. Read our full article here on acrylamides, everything you need to know, and how to counteract these chemicals to protect your health.
Another carcinogenic chemical you can minimize is HCA's formed on the browned portion of meats... here's how to minimize HCA's in grilled meat.
Food Rule #19. Why I avoid GM foods
Avoid the unknown health consequences of eating genetically modified foods. Again, going back to the principle that we are most adapted to eating what our ancesters ate for almost 2 million years, that list of foods obviously did NOT include genetically modified foods, since these "frankenfoods" weren't included in the human food supply until the 1990's.
There are still no long term health studies proving that GM foods are safe to eat. Read this article to see the possible dangers of eating GM foods and which 4 foods are the worst offenders to look out for.
Food Rule #20. Beware of "healthy whole wheat"
In a groundbreaking new best-selling book called Wheat Belly, Dr William Davis, a well respected cardiologist has intensely researched the effects of wheat-based foods (cereal, breads, pasta, baked goods, etc) and what this so-called "healthy whole wheat" actually does to your body from a biochemical standpoint internally.
His findings are not pleasant... some of the problems that whole wheat or any wheat foods can cause for your health are summarized in this article:
11 Ways that "whole wheat" can HARM your body (including abdominal fat, acne, joint problems and arthritis, IBS and acid reflux, cravings, addictive behaviors, increased overall calorie consumption, diabetes, heart disease, accelerated aging, and autoimmune diseases)
Food Rule #21. Enjoy your food, eat slowly, savor each bite
Lastly, enjoy your food! And enjoy good company with food. Don't just mindlessly eat food in front of the TV. Studies show that people unknowingly eat more calories and gain more weight when they mindlessly eat in front of the TV. Instead, focus on your meal instead of a distraction...savor each bite you have. Pay attention and enjoy the subtle flavors and aroma of each bite. This makes you enjoy your food more, while eating less calories.
One last thing... Make sure to read this page below if you don't already have my Fat-Burning Kitchen book:
Please share this "20 food rules" article with all of your friends and family! They will thank you for helping them to think about food differently now and enjoy better health.
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