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Healthy "Artful Living" Moment #26: A Common Sense Approach to Healthy Eating

Posted on September 09 2018

To be perfectly honest, I tend to be something of a perfectionist. I like to do things right. Exactly right. When I want to try a new recipe, for example, I look for exactly the ingredients called for by the recipe, and if I can’t find one, I typically do not substitute something else, I just abandon the dish until I can find the specified ingredient.

So, as I have become more conscious of healthy eating and adhering to a healthy diet, I tend to take research findings about what foods are healthiest quite seriously. Any of you who have read my blogs on Michael Greger’s book, How Not To Die, know that I cited his research findings in a fairly detailed and somewhat dogmatic fashion.

But, Sam Kass has just published a book entitled Eat a Little Better, that takes a very different, and much more practical approach to improving your health by eating a more healthy diet. He says,

"A lot of voices on better eating espouse utopic ideals of how we’re supposed to eat and frame it as: there’s a right way and a wrong way. But the “right way” just doesn’t fit with people’s daily lives. People try to reach these ideals, then they fail, then they get discouraged, then they stop trying. If we want people to actually make changes, it has to be done in a way that fits their reality. So the book tries to focus on and celebrate progress more than ideals."

Hmmm…that advice sounds like he had read some of my previous blogs! Who is this guy, anyway? Well, he is best known as being the personal chef to the Obamas when they were in the White House. And he is a graduate of one of my universities, The University of Chicago, so I thought I would see what he had to say. And it strikes me as very good common sense.

But, what about all the research findings that come out regularly, telling us that this food or that food is good (or bad) for us? What should we do with this information? Sam says,

"Don’t listen to it. Just try to focus on eating mostly plants, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and some nice lean protein. And on not eating too much. You can’t react to each latest study because you’re going to go back and forth like a ping-pong ball. Keep it simple. Part of the trick is not to get too obsessed with food either. Take a deep breath and relax a little bit. It’s going to be OK. Let’s just make some progress and build from there."

And that passage sounds like he has been watching what I actually eat and do, as contrasted to my blogs. Through my own studies about nutrition and healthy eating, I have become convinced that there are likely to be studies on both sides of most questions regarding nutrition and health. Should I eat more of X? Some studies will say yes, and others will say no, because the studies are slightly different, they are based on studying different populations of people (men, women, young, old, American, Chinese, etc.), they have different protocols and goals and techniques, and the human body is a very complex system that we do not yet fully understand. So, actually, I agree with Sam. Those basic recommendations are good ones, and we don’t have to adopt new dietary habits every time the National Enquirer declares a dramatic, new health finding (“This superfood could actually save your life!”) Does he have any other suggestions?

Yes, he does. He suggests you buy more of the stuff that you are trying to eat more of and less of the stuff that you want to eat less of. So, if you want to eat more fruits and vegetables, then buy more of them. And if you want to eat less processed foods, then buy less of them.  Shop more on the perimeter of the supermarket (where the produce is sold) and reduce your trips down the aisles (where the processed foods are sold).

He also suggests that it is a useful idea to cook one more meal at home each week than is your current habit, because home cooked meals are healthier than restaurant meals, especially fast food restaurant meals.

Finally, he says put the things you want to eat at eye level in the fridge so that they are the first thing you see when you open the door. Therefore, don’t put the produce in the produce bin, put it on the main shelf of the fridge because you will tend to eat more of it if you see it every time you open the fridge.

There you have it. The common sense approach to eating a healthier diet. Not bad advice, Sam. If you want a more in-depth treatment of this topic from Sam's common sense point of view, read his book!


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