Why is it so hard for people to figure out what to eat?
Here’s some simple advice people can use to figure out what to eat for optimal body composition and health. Ask these five questions every time you put something in your mouth.
#1: Can I digest this food easily?
The first question you should ask yourself before you put a food in your mouth is, “can my body digest this food without trouble?”
Individual tolerance of different foods varies based on genetics. What one person might be able to digest without a negative immune response may not work for someone else.
For example, some people don’t have sufficient copies of the amylase gene to be able to digest gluten and wheat safely and they experience gut problems and inflammation if they eat these foods. Or others don’t have sufficient copies of the LCT gene that allows them to produce the lactase enzyme so that they can digest lactose in milk products.
Intolerances don’t stop there. Due to the prevalence of food additives that can cause inflammation and poorly functioning guts, people are finding they have more and more foods that bother them.
Use It: Simple things you can do to promote digestion include the following:
- Always CHEW your food completely (egg “intolerances” are often a result of not chewing thoroughly and allowing intact egg to reach the intestine).
- Soak legumes, nuts, and seeds in water and salt before eating them to eliminate irritating compounds found in these foods (rinse them before eating).
- Pay attention to how you feel after you eat and adjust accordingly. Sometimes an immune response to a food takes a while to fully develop and it’s not until the next day that you feel fatigued or ill.
#2: Is this food high in nutrients?
The second question you need to ask yourself when choosing which foods to eat is, “is this food nutrient rich?”
Eating refined, nutritionally poor foods causes major metabolic damage and fat gain, but it also appears to cause depression and fatigue for two reasons: First, these foods tend to contain a lot of sugar that spike insulin, which leaves you feeling tired and sluggish.
Second, they activate a network in the brain that reduces motivation and slows energy production. There’s even preliminary evidence that eating more refined foods leads to depression, which increases risk of obesity.
On the other hand, eating nutritionally dense foods will provide your body with the necessary building blocks to produce the numerous enzymes, chemical transmitters, hormones, and tissue necessary for health and leanness.
This enables your metabolism to work optimally. You’ll be more insulin sensitive so that you can build muscle and recover from exercise quickly, but your body will also be able to handle carbohydrates when you eat them.
Finally, you’ll consume more antioxidants to flight inflammation and improve your body’s ability to metabolize and eliminate damaging compounds like BPA that are impossible to avoid completely.
The first step to choosing foods that are high in nutrients is to eat whole foods: meat, fish, eggs, whole-fat dairy, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and beans.
If it comes in a package with ingredients other than those that are supposed to be there (milk and yogurt cultures in the case of Greek yogurt for example), then don’t eat it.
Check out our super list of 40 nutrient-packed foods for more delicious foods to add to your diet.
#3: Is this food a high-quality protein?
There are other fat-reducing methods, but higher protein, lower carb whole food diets consistently work well for the majority of people who try them. Protein deserves special attention for the following reasons:
- It raises your metabolism because it costs the body more calories to process protein than carbs or fat.
- It is filling because eating it causes the release of gut hormones that keep you satisfied.
- It helps manage blood sugar and insulin, decreasing cravings for sugar.
- It triggers protein synthesis, preserving (or building) lean muscle mass so your body burns more calories at rest.
All protein sources are not created equally. High-quality protein is defined as a protein source that provides at least 10 grams of essential amino acids (EAAs).
Research shows that people who eat the 10-gram-threshold dose of EAAs per meal have less visceral belly fat and a lower body fat percentage than those who eat poorer quality protein.
Get 10 grams of EAAs per meal by planning your diet around a high-quality protein source from eggs, fish, meat, or dairy.
#4: Am I eating the same categories of food every day, day after day?
Your body composition is a result of what you do over the longer term. One meal or even one day of eating poorly won’t significantly alter your body. Same goes for fat loss—one or two days of the right diet and exercise can easily leave you with no measureable results.
Consistency is the key. It doesn’t mean you should eat the same salmon and broccoli, or steak and Brussels sprouts every meal. But plan almost every meal to contain protein, vegetables or fruit, and a beneficial fat.
Within those categories, variety is very important so you get more nutrients, avoid intolerances, and don’t get bored. Mix and match the actual foods, utilizing the array of spices and flavors at your disposal (vanilla, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, cloves, curry, cumin, vinegars, and so on).
The five best proteins for body composition are eggs, fish, red meat, poultry, and whole-fat dairy, which leaves you with a whole list of protein foods to choose from: beef, pork, chicken, duck, wild game, whey protein, yogurt, cheese, kefir, salmon, cod, shrimp, mackerel, and so on.
For fat, most of the protein sources listed contain adequate beneficial fats, but more good choices are nuts, avocado, olives or olive oil, coconut oil, and butter.
For a plant food, opt for dark leafy green veggies, berries, kiwis, colored peppers, and anything with indigestible fiber. Be cautious about intake of starchy plants like potatoes and other root vegetables.
#5: Is this food good for my gut?
Your gut controls you. Really.
First, if your metabolism works right, your gut releases hormones that tell your brain you’ve eaten and should stop. These hormones help you stay full and avoid constant cravings for food.
Second, the bacteria in your gut live off what you eat. People who eat more animal protein tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables and consume less fiber. Low-fiber, higher animal protein diets have been found to increase inflammatory gut bacteria.
Inflammatory gut bacteria do many bad things including sending messages to the brain that increase hunger and reduce cognition. Further inflammation has been linked with adverse health conditions, including gastric cancer, obesity, and type II diabetes.
Gut health requires a multi-faceted approach:
- Avoid antibiotics whenever possible because they kill good bacteria along with bad.
- Eat probiotic foods once a day. These are foods that contain beneficial bacteria. Try high-quality plain yogurt, sauerkraut, picked foods like ginger, seaweed, or kim chi (a Korean cabbage-based condiment), miso soup, or kombucha tea (a fermented tea).
- Eat veggies and fruit for indigestible fiber that gut bacteria live on and get some resistant starch in your diet daily. It’s found in raw unmodified potato starch, green bananas, oats, peas, maize, and raw potatoes, and cooked and cooled potatoes, among other foods.