My Simple Guide To Eating Well
Of the series of guides that I’ve written so far, this one’s been the most difficult to write. There are so many conflicting views on how to eat well. My perspective on eating has developed after reading dozens of books on diet and health over the last 40 years (I got my first book on nutrition from the library at 10 years old). During that time I’ve seen the advice change considerably, I’ve embraced different ways of eating including raw food, vegetarian and paleo diets but there’s been a common core that underlies all of the trends, that core is the basis for this post.
I’ve also realised that most advice is too complex and restrictive, most people shouldn’t need a book to understand how to eat well, there are lots of different routes to health through diet, this is just the one that I follow, mainly because it’s very simple.
Before I get started though there are a few points are worthy of note:
- I’m going to describe a daily eating plan, but it’s really intended to be a weekly average. On a day to day basis you can change it around as much as you like. I personally don’t do that though because I like simplicity – I try to eat a meal dominated by salad, a meal dominated by cooked veg and one dominated by berries each and every day
- My bias in presenting this guide is that I like simple, easy food, so it might need a little interpretation if you are a gourmet, I will leave that to you
- I think meat is an important and natural part of the diet, but substitute vegetarian alternatives if you must, just avoid processed ones.
- I only eat meat from animals that are humanely raised, I like to see the lambs jumping around the fields, the cows crazing, the pigs nosing around in the mud, the chickens in the woods and the sheep on my hikes. I don’t want our beautiful countryside to just be fields of grain, I want these animals to have a chance of life. From my perspective if I didn’t eat them they would never have existed, which would be very sad.
- I’m assuming that you aren’t intolerant to foods. For example I include a small amount of grain, dairy and eggs which some people might need to skip. If you can avoid wheat then please do, if not make it a small part of your 20%, for myself I like the odd slice of hot buttered toast.
Summary of the diet:
Eat 80% whole foods, mainly vegetables and berries, accompanied by a wide variety of meat and fish with some healthy fats, a few beans, nuts, seeds, eggs and a little full fat diary. If you exercise the remaining 20% is up to you, if you don’t exercise skip the remaining 20% altogether.
The rest of this guide, just dissects this summary:
- Eat 80%. I think we need to eat primarily to get the nutrition that we need, pleasure is a side effect. This guide focuses on the foods we need for nutrition each and every day, the 80%. There’s lots of great nutritious whole foods, but then for most of us there are a few foods that we love that aren’t on the top 30 nutrition list, these can optionally make up the remaining 20%. You can skip the 20% completely if you want, but I don’t.
- whole foods. Most of the food we eat should be whole, foods that have had no (or minimal) processing. They are complete foods, packaged as nature intended. Foods your grandparents ate, foods resembling those our paleo ancestors ate.
- mainly vegetables. Eat a salad meal each day with lots of dark green and red leaves, and a mix of colourful salad vegetables, onion, radish, tomato, carrot, pepper … enough to make a pile covering a large plate. Eat a cooked meal with a mix of leafy vegetables and a few root vegetables each day, cover 2/3 of the plate with for example spinach, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, runner beans, a few carrots and potato.
- and berries. Eat a berry meal (supper for me) each day with a bowl of colourful berries, for example raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and some crunchy grapes. As part of my 20% I will add half a small banana.
- a wide variety of meat and fish. To accompany your salad and cooked veg meals add meat or fish, egg or cheese. Ideally eat a mix of unprocessed meats including organ meats a few times a week, I mainly eat Chicken and Beef. Eat oily cold water fish like salmon once or twice a week. Personally I’m not so good at this, I don’t like sea food or organ meats, so I supplement with cod liver oil which is far from perfect, but better than nothing. Restrict processed meats, although as part of my 20% I like bacon once or twice a week.
- with some health fats. Make sure you regularly get omega 3 (oily fish), mono-saturated (meat, eggs, olive oil, avocado oil), saturated (nuts, meat, coconut, dairy) with a little unprocessed Omega 6 fat (some meats, seeds, nuts), restrict omega 6 from processed seed oils.
- beans. A few large handfuls of soaked and cooked beans a week
- a few nuts. A small handful every few days
- a few seeds. A small handful a week
- eggs. One or two full eggs a day, preferably not fried in seed oils
- a little full fat diary. Yoghurt, a little milk, a couple of small sticks of cheese or a few table spoons of cream (I love spray cream on my berry salad at parties)
- If you exercise the remaining 20% is up to you. That doesn’t mean 20% sugar or seed oils though. For me it means a few foods from this list — a little dark chocolate, a glass of pure juice, an apple, pear or banana, cooked or preferably cooled potatoes, a single slice of toast with butter, a stick of liquorice made with molasses, some dried fruit, a bowl of granola, the occasional slice of home made (healthy) cheese cake. Ideally the 20% comprises calories you have burnt through exercise, i.e. if you don’t exercise you stick to “whole foods, mainly vegetables and berries, accompanied by a wide variety of meat and fish with plenty of health fats, a few nuts, seeds and eggs and a little full fat diary”
This guide will offend everyone, it’s not low carb, it’s not low fat, it’s not paleo, it’s not vegetarian, but it is a way of eating that’s easy to describe, easy to sustain, balanced and in my view healthy.
Even though I think this is a pretty great list of foods, thinking carefully about where these foods come from and how they are prepared is important:
- Wherever possible I will grow the food myself in my organic back garden. This provides most of the leafy vegetables, lots of apples and some tubers and berries for about 6 months
- When cost effective I buy organic, discount supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl have quite good ranges now and they are very good value. For example I will buy organic oats, milk, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms and bananas
- When I can’t find or afford organic I buy animal products from British farms that have been pasture raised or free range
- Everything else I try to buy as fresh and minimally processed as possible
- Most meals are prepared from scratch at home, veg is steamed or stir fried, meats are roasted, fruit is eaten fresh
- I drink a large smoothie most days, made from six plus leafy vegetables from the garden, with a little olive oil, raw potato starch, blueberries and a banana to take the edge off the bitterness
Treats are important in my life though and as part of my 20% I’m prepared to compromise, for example:
- I’m happy to eat a protein bar for breakfast, because I rarely have time to prepare a whole food breakfast before I head out to a cafe for my reading time. If I don’t eat a protein bar I’m too tempted to buy a cake
- If I do lots of exercise I will eat a cake without any guilt to replenish my carbohydrate stores and my willpower reserves, but I prefer a bowl of nutty granola with seeds and dried pear, coconut flakes and banana chips.
- When I’m feeling really ill I will treat myself to a bar of milk chocolate, but not at the expense of the 80% wholefoods I need for nutrition
The guide above is focussed on feeding ‘you’, but I have a few additional tips for feeding your gut bacteria which I consider to be equally important:
- I’ve found supplementing with a pre-biotic like raw unmodified potato starch, is great, dissolve a couple of tablespoons in water. You can also eat cooked, fridge cooled potato’s as an alternative (the fridge cooling is key).
- If you don’t like the idea of potato starch you can try an alternative like ground Chia seeds, which I add to a smoothie
- I think it’s best to complement the prebiotics with some probiotic supplements for the first couple of months, this is the one I take Prescript Assist it’s expensive, but worth it for at least a month
- You can also eat probiotic foods like yoghurt and sauerkraut
Finally consider eating fewer calories than you need (you don’t really need them). There’s some evidence now that calorie restriction increases lifespan, which isn’t the main driver for me. I find that by eating 250 calories less than the calorie tables say I need, I just feel much better. Ironically I have more energy, fewer headaches, more clarity. I’m guessing that when you eat a little less than you ‘need’ your body becomes more efficient. Don’t confuse this with dieting to loose weight though, I’ve become convinced that crash dieting is a VERY BAD IDEA and should be avoided if at all possible. Instead eat well, move well and reduce your calories a little bit FOR LIFE. The only form of significant calorie reduction I now have any time for is periodic fasting for 18 hours (e.g. 6pm to Lunch time) perhaps once a week and 24 hours perhaps once a month (6pm to 6pm). If you do reduce calories by 250 a day, this reduction should come from your 20% NOT your salad, berry and cooked veg meals.
Personally I try to eat at least 10 types of berries and vegetables each day. 3 types of berry for supper, 4 salad veg and 3 cooked veg. In addition I will eat 2 non berry fruits, totalling 12 a day.
The photo today is my lunch, the House Salad from M&S to which I added a punnet of raspberries and a small stick of Red Leister cheese. I accompanied it with fresh, cold pressed, pineapple juice. I munched this down in the sunshine, sitting on Blackpool pier, listening to 60’s music, looking at the view of the beach