Rules For Healthy Eating: Start With A Balanced Diet


Dress it up with your favorite toppings.

This delicious burger is made with a portabella mushroom instead of beef. That means it’s all veggie plus the bun is whole grain — a healthy, balanced alternative.

We’ve spent a lot of time in this series talking about metabolism. We’ve learned certain activities like sleep or exercise can help make our metabolism more efficient as it goes to converting food and food supplements into energy. Now, it’s time to shift the focus to food for the type, quantity and variety of foods we eat also play a key role in diet and dieting. Some foods speed up our metabolism, which is exactly what we want to happen in order to lose weight. Others slow it down. Knowing what rules to play by as we go to select foods is therefore a critical key when the goal is shedding pounds. Starting today, we’ll begin exploring the “general diet rules” playbook, and then as we put all the information we’re bringing you together we’ll end our series with a list of specific foods we believe should be a part of a successful weight loss program. Today’s rule to play by: Eat a balanced diet.


Man Can’t Live On Bread Alone


There are lots of crazy one-food or one-beverage diets.

An all beer diet? Seriously?

No doubt your mother told you  to, “Always eat a balanced diet.” The thing is even Mom got it wrong some of the time. It’s not really her fault, either. Deciding what to eat is confusing. Conflicting information abounds and every year it seems like something that was previously okay to eat or that we shouldn’t eat is now off limits or back on the platter. Is it any wonder there are so many issues surrounding dieting and food?


We’d like to say we have all the answers. We don’t. If you really look into it, the research on food and dieting is spotty and inconsistent with far too little control. Scientists design experiments for 5 menopausal women, 4 college age men, 20 pregnant women, a lab full of rats, or they interview people and ask them what they ate after the fact. Come on, who remembers what they ate yesterday much less last week. Yet no matter the control (or lack thereof), results are measured, calculated and published and then someone in the media jumps on the story to write something catchy like, “Eating radishes: A new cure for cancer?” In a way, it’s surprising we know anything about food. And when you think about it, aren’t we all different anyway? We eat different foods, have different genes, grow up in different homes, have different emotions and so on. It’s a good thing our bodies are so adaptable. It’s almost as if we’re these walking chemical factories—each with an amazing ability to process everything we take into our bodies, whether good or bad.


Trying to decide on the “right” diet is therefore a tricky business. For example, there are many diets that promote eating a single food or beverage or a small group of foods for a certain length of time to lose weight. Believe it or not, single foods from grapefruit to Twinkies, bacon to beer, eggs to potatoes and more have all been espoused at one time or another as ways to lose weight. (For more information on some of the more “peculiar” single-item diets see The all-Twinkie diet and 9 more single-item weight-loss plans.) Do these diets actually work? It appears some can claim a certain degree of success—at least if you believe those promoting them. Should you try them? Not so fast.


Better eating graphic.

This “My Plate” food graphic replaces the government’s previous food pyramid.

Weight loss does us little good if it creates a rebound effect and we end up gorging and regain the weight in short order. The point isn’t just to lose weight it’s to manage it effectively over the course of time. Yes, we can survive on a single food or two for awhile—potentially months or even a few years. Yet eating almost any kind of limited diet ultimately poses the risk we’ll starve our bodies of needed nutrition. There’s a reason the government publishes the “MyPlate” nutrition guide and it’s simple: Humans need a variety of foods, nutrients, vitamins and minerals to thrive. Notice we said “thrive”. You see, dieting shouldn’t be a question of losing a little weight in the short run. Instead, it should be about creating better health and all the things that go with it to create a better lifestyle lasting a lifetime.


How can eating one food throw your body out of whack? Let’s take an extreme example: Now, it depends a lot on the specific food you’re eating, but say you decide to gorge on nothing but Twinkies. Other than the 150 calories per serving which your body converts to energy or stores as fat, Twinkies are one of those foods that fall off the scale when it comes to nutritious value. They’re mostly white flour, bad fat (i.e. saturated fat) and sugar—this is why they taste so good. They contain no dietary fiber, little to no vitamins and only a single gram of protein, and they do virtually nothing to support vital body function.



Over time, inadequate fiber could wreck havoc on the digestive track and lead to constipation, intestinal problems or may even contribute to prostate cancer. Inadequate fiber also prevents or slows the elimination of the fats in food. That could lead to higher cholesterol and the build up of plaque in arteries. High sugar content can spike blood sugar and lead to diabetes which poses a number of additional risks. Insufficient protein might harm muscle, heart or brain tissue. The lack of sufficient calcium could lead to bone loss. In other words, by going the one-food diet route we might easily end up with one or more life-threatening health issues. Is this guaranteed to happen? Of course not. Some might fare better because they start out at a better place, are younger, do more exercise, or they have better genes. Still, whether a single-food diet consists of Twinkies or protein shakes it’s worth understanding what the diet  lacks to support basic nutrition and the risk it poses to our basic health.


There are a couple other issues worth consideration: (1) We get bored when we eat meals that are always the same. Thus, if our diet depends on eating only a few basic foods, it’s really a set up for failure from the beginning since we won’t be able to stick with it over time—not that we should in any case! (2) With so many conflicting claims about food and dieting isn’t it better to error on the side of moderation and variety? That way we insure a more balanced approach, which at least from the standpoint of common sense ought to mitigate potential health risks.


The Duck Graphic Food Pyramid

JB pays a price for his all chocolate cake diet.


Key to any long-term weight loss strategy is to eat foods that are good for us in sufficient variety and quantity to sustain all the life-building processes that are part of our day to day existence. Anything less should be considered a fad.


What foods are best?


Delicious heirloom tomatoes.

Look for bright colorful fruits and vegetables.

More and more we’re  told to eat a variety of foods including more whole-grains, fruits, vegetables and fish. Considered less healthy are added sugars or foods containing certain saturated and trans-fats such as certain cooking oils, meat and high-fat diary products. Also, certain protein-rich foods previously thought to contain too much fat like seeds and nuts turn out to be more important than we thought. In fact, foods like these containing “unsaturated fats” promote good health. We’ll say more about these things in future posts, but for now check out the American Diabetes Association’s guidelines for a healthy diet.


Grilled salmon is best.

You can lose weight and eat great food. The key is balance.

Before you “buy in” to a particular diet plan, make sure it’s one that contains a variety of foods and promotes all the elements essential for long term success. Mom’s still right: Always eat a well-balanced diet.


In our next post in this series we’ll talk about another important rule: The importance of avoiding added sugars. Stay tuned.


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