Healthy food can prolong life. Junk food can taketh away.
Here are 12 simple rules for healthy, happy eating, taken from Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything, my own experience with food, and the good old Word of Wisdom (as validated by nearly 200 years of good health and a recent UCLA study).
- Always read the label. You are in charge of educating yourself on what you digest. When in doubt, pick food with the fewest included ingredients and artificial-sounding names (like xanthum gum)
- Avoid emotional eating. No food rewards, bribes for kids, or eating out of boredom or depression. Hard to do. Brushing your teeth can help. So can striking up a conversation with someone to take your mind of food.
- Avoid short-order or otherwise “fast” food. With exception to simple meals like bread and cheese, food that is fast (snacks, microwavable, drive-though etc) is usually filled with unnatural preservatives and additives that dilute the nutritional value of the food you consume.
- Eat meals together. No table distractions like TV, toys or cellphones at the table. You’ll eat more food this way, and it’ll keep you from wolfing down your meals while preoccupied with something else. Distractions also suck the fun out of eating.
- Eat your veggies. From a nutritional standpoint, veggies are packed with all kinds of natural, life-giving magic. Remember, there are thousands of available vegetables. No more saying “I don’t like veggies” until you tried at least 1000.
- Eat meat sparingly. The Word of Wisdom teaches that “flesh of the beasts and of the fowls of the air are to be used sparingly,” preferable in times of thanksgiving. In other words, limit meat consumption in favor of grains, fruits and vegetables. How you define sparingly is up to you, but more than one burger a week is probably pushing the envelop. Now, you don’t have to be a vegetarian so long as you prioritize meat accordingly. And keep in mind that Americans are big on red meat, so it’s smart to reach for fish to offset all the redness we eat. That or eat a mushroom and onion stuffed turkey burger instead. Delicious!
- “You don’t have to like it, you do have to taste it.” Scientists have found it can take seven attempts before forming a taste to new food. So say the above phrase whenever trying something new—an entre, a veggie, a combination of food you think you might not like, whatever. Get proof before forming an opinion. And remember, tastes can change as you grow older (e.g. I despised tomatoes until I was 19. Now I love ‘em—they’re like salty watermelons, man!)
- Avoid snacking. It’s okay to feel hungry between meals. But if you must, grab a banana, apple, a handful of nuts, or something natural / non-processed that doesn’t require cooking or preservatives to stay fresh. And you really shouldn’t snack more than once or twice a day, depending on your physical exertion and recommended diet.
- Slower is better. Eating slow is proven strategy for improved nutrition. It allows your digestive system to extract more goodies from the food you eat, rather than expediting it through the pipes in order to keep up with your pie-stuffing face.
- Eat mostly real food. The Word of Wisdom refers to this as “in the season thereof,” meaning reach for food that rots, preferably before it rots. Thankfully, we have modern refrigeration to extend the life of natural foods. But it’s better to eat food that’s in season than food that is imported from a different hemisphere (It’ll taste better in season too!) It’s okay to eat junk food on occasion. But the healthier you eat, the less you’ll reach for the unhealthy stuff. As a result, you’ll live longer, have more energy, and even perform better in whatever it is you do. At least that’s what science has shown.
- Moderate your diet. I like chocolate and french fries as much as the next guy. But we all need to avoid eating the same thing repeatedly. This ensures you’ll get a wider range of natural nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It will also ensure you’re not abnormally loading up on fats and sugars which can lead to life threatening illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. The lone exceptions to this rule are fruits and veggies, which are rarely if ever eaten in excess and aren’t dangerous when consumed at indulgent levels, other than cleaning out your large intestine in explosive form.
- Enjoy it. Eating food should be joyful. You have a lifetime to enjoy a million different combinations. Follow the above, talk about food to tempt the brain into trying new things, and be involved in food choices and dinner menus. If you’re not the cook, respectfully tell the cook some things you’d like to try.