The Magical Formula for Eating Like a Wellness Rockstar

A recent survey conducted by the National Cancer Institute asked Americans about their diet from the previous day. Only 9% had consumed three or more servings of vegetables or two or more servings of fruit. One in nine had no fruits or vegetables at all. In the United States, 46% of every food dollar is spent on meals and snacks away from home. The typical American consumes about 140 pounds of sugar a year. Clearly, our focus is not on healthy eating!

The decision to get rid of chronic health problems, prevent disease, and improve the quality of your life begins with changing your food choices. Real food provides your body with the fuel it needs to optimally function, as well as the raw materials to begin to detoxify and heal.

A balanced, properly prepared whole foods diet can be a powerful form of resetting the body. Too often, we don’t make the connection between what we eat and some of the symptoms we suffer. Of course, there’s much more to living a healthy balanced life than simply the food we eat. However, it’s a great start! Here are some very basic principles to help you make your food work for and not against you.

The Magical Guideline for Eating Like a Nutrition Rockstar:

Aim for 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. All day, every day.

About half the food on your plate should be carbohydrates—vegetables, healthy grains. Add a good portion of protein at every meal. Then, add some fat. It’s that simple!

Some more details…

CARBOHYDRATES (aka anything that comes from plants):

  • Vegetables: Eat huge amounts—you cannot overdo it here—especially lots of leafy greens. Go for rich color and variety. Eat something raw at every meal and all the colors of the rainbow.
  • Fruit: Eat moderate amounts of fresh fruit.
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates: The average American gets 50% of their calories from refined carbohydrates. Refined carbs (i.e. white bread, white rice, pasta, instant oatmeal) are grains that have had the fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins, bran and germ removed—all the nutrients, which stresses your digestive and endocrine system. Eating refined carbs also uses up precious vitamins and minerals to process them. Instead, try brown rice, whole grain oats, quinoa, amaranth, and millet.
  • Sweeteners: Minimal, very occasional. Less is best. If you must, opt for real sugar or maple syrup over anything artificial (NutraSweet, Sweet and Low…)
  • Avoid refined sugar. Refined sugar increases insulin and adrenal hormone production, depletes vitamins and minerals, feeds yeast and other “bad” organisms in the gut, leads to mood and energy swings, increases cravings, disrupts sleep, and increases pain and inflammation.

PROTEIN:

  • Pastured, organic, grass-fed meats, poultry, and eggs are excellent, healthy sources of protein.
  • Dairy products should be unsweetened organic whole milk-based only (no low fat, no sugar/fruit added).
  • Consider healthy sources of vegan protein as well: hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds, nuts, beans and legumes, and spirulina.

FATS:

  • For the past 60 years, Americans have been on low-fat and/or poor quality fat diets. We are a society extremely deficient in healthy fatty acids. On top of that, the fats and oils many of us have been using are refined, unstable and dangerous to consume, as the processing methods these fats are exposed to make them toxic to our bodies.
  • The research from decades ago that suggested that fat consumption was responsible for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity has now been debunked as flawed and false. Problems arise when we eat unhealthy fats, such as hydrogenated oils.
  • Fats benefit our health and wellbeing in so many ways: they satisfy our appetite, they are the building blocks of healthy hormones, they enhance mineral absorption, they provide a long-burning source of energy, they are the building blocks of healthy cell membranes, and they aid in the formation of anti-inflammatory substances in the body.
  • Good fats are vital for every aspect of health: nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, avocado. Avoid “vegetable oil” or “canola oil”—no oils in clear bottles on the grocery shelves.

LIQUIDS: Drink good quality water throughout the day. As a general guideline, drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day.  You can add fresh citrus or mint for flavor. No sodas, juice, vitamin water, or sweetened drinks. You need water to keep your cells hydrated and protected, to eliminate waste and ensure the health of your mucus membranes. Adequate hydration will improve a number of health problems including sinusitis, constipation, inflammation, allergies, fatigue, joint pain, headaches, and many others.

Remember: Always choose the best quality products possible. When possible, choose Certified Organic.

Avoid processed foods, fast foods, chemically treated foods, and industrially prepared foods. Pay attention to the quality of the ingredients that go in your mouth. Eat foods as close to Nature as possible.  Shop, plan, and cook for yourself. Avoid packages. Just eat real food. (There is no pasta tree!)

Pay attention to how the food you eat makes you feel. If you’re getting bloated, headaches, energy crashes in the afternoon, think back to what you’ve eaten all day. Did you have enough protein and fat at breakfast? Look for patterns. Focus on the foods that make you feel good. This is a balanced way to eat that shouldn’t make you feel deprived, but rather should make you feel physically and emotionally healthy and vibrant–like a wellness rockstar! Occasional parties and splurges are a part of life, so enjoy. But you may find that you feel so healthy eating like this, the splurges just aren’t worth the physical after-effects!

But How Do You Get Your Protein?!

“But how do you get your protein?!”

Vegetarians and vegans hear this question ALL too often. The fact is, there are lots of great sources of dietary protein that don’t require the consumption of animals or dairy products.

Now, having said that, I just want to go on record that I generally don’t recommend a vegan diet. It’s extremely hard as a pure vegan to eat a fully balanced diet, especially as most people are far too busy to put in the effort required to make sure they are checking all the nutritional boxes along the way. (Note: I didn’t say impossible, just extremely hard. Save the hate mail, please!) We see a lot of nutritional deficiencies, fatty acid deficiencies, and blood sugar handling problems develop over time in people following vegan diets. Vegetarians–those who do eat eggs and dairy–are generally more successful at balancing their macro- and micro-nutrients.

Having said THAT, I *DO* believe that vegan sources of protein are something everyone should incorporate into a healthy balanced diet. Following are some of my favorites.

Peas: One cup of green peas has as much protein as a glass of milk. Add peas to pesto—peas, basil or cilantro, oil, pine nuts, cheese or nutritional yeast.

Quinoa: Technically a seed, not a grain, quinoa has 8g of protein per cup cooked. Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 of the amino acids considered essential for life (and which must be eaten, as the body cannot manufacture them). Therefore, it is considered a “perfect food.” Sadly, some sustainability issues are arising, as countries that grow quinoa are becoming monocultures in order to feed our demands for it.  Serve as a hot cereal, use as a base for pasta-salad type of recipes, or make as a side dish with added herbs and spices.

Buckwheat: with 6 g of protein per cooked cup, this food comes from a plant similar to rhubarb and is not a grain at all. Buckwheat soba noodles, buckwheat flour for baking and pancakes, and buckwheat kasha groats as a side dish are just some of the ways to incorporate this.

Nuts and nut butters: Nuts contain lots of protein as well as healthy fat. Buy raw organic for best health benefits (not roasted), and butters that are just nuts and salt, with no added oils or sugars. Nuts are high in calories, but are a great part of a balanced diet.

Beans: two cups of kidney beans have 25 g of protein. And you don’t have to buy dried and soak overnight—canned organic beans are perfectly fine. And if you’re not worried about sodium (which most healthy people don’t need to be), you don’t even have to rinse them! Beans combined with brown rice are a perfect protein, together providing all 9 essential amino acids. Don’t forget about chickpeas, lentils, and all the other wonderful legumes out there.

Tofu and tempeh: Recommended with a bunch of caveats. First, organic ONLY—conventional soy is full of horrible toxins and is entirely GMO. I’m not flexible on this one. Second, soy contains compounds that make its proteins very hard on your body to digest, which leads to gastric upset in lots of people, as well as hidden stressors on your liver and pancreas. Fermenting soy, such as in tempeh or miso, removes much but not all of these compounds. There are also concerns about the estrogenic properties of soy and what it does to the body’s hormone balance. Organic soy should be treated as an occasional treat—if you can digest it—and not be an everyday staple of your diet.

Leafy greens: Greens don’t contain as much protein as nuts or beans, but a good amount is present, plus all the healthy antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Greens should be a large part of a balanced diet, whether you’re a carnivore or not.

Hemp: Hemp seeds or hearts have 10 g of protein in 2 tablespoons. They’re also packed full of minerals, and a rare vegan source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Great to add to yogurt, oatmeal, salads, smoothies, baked goods, or in the form of milk as a dairy-free milk substitute.

Chia seeds: Almost 5 g of protein in 2 tablespoons.  Full of fiber, minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Again, great in yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, baked goods.But also, when added to liquid they release a gelatinous coating that is great for creating vegan puddings. My favorite is to add ¼ cup of chia seeds to 1 cup of full fat coconut milk (from a can) and ¼ cup of unsweetened shredded coconut, plus a teaspoon of vanilla. Stir well and refrigerate, and in a couple of hours you have a delicious coconut pudding that is full of protein.

Seeds: sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, and poppy are all full of healthy protein and fats. I never eat a salad without at least three of these guys on top!

Spirulina algae: 4 g of protein per tablespoon. Sprinkle it on popcorn, add it to smoothies, bake it into energy bars. This dark green powerhouse is full of amino acids and minerals, and is very easy to digest.

One vegan protein I do not recommend: seitan. Made from wheat gluten, seitan is a concentrated hit of the inflammatory proteins that cause so many people problems. Even if you don’t think you have a wheat sensitivity, wheat creates inflammation throughout our bodies, from our joints to our bellies to our brains. While a little bit of organic wheat is ok sometimes, seitan is an enormous quantity of wheat gluten, which I don’t think is a good idea for anyone to ingest.