The Only Healthy Eating Guide You’ll Ever Need

iStock 000007185653XSmallMy friend Brian came to me recently with a problem:

“Matt,” he said, “the other day I decided I was going to start eating healthy and get myself in shape. But then when I got to the grocery store, I realized I had no idea where to even start!”

This post is for Brian and anyone else in that same boat.  If you don’t know where to start, start here.

The most important (incredibly simple) rule of healthy eating

A lot of seemingly “extreme” diets work.  But just when you’re tempted to buy into one, you hear about a diet that’s extreme on the other side of the spectrum that also works.

The Paleo diet (and its close relative, Primal) focuses on high-protein, high fat, and lower carbohydrates.  And it’s become huge among athletes, most notably the CrossFit crowd.

But then there’s fruitarianism (also known as “30 bananas a day“), which is 80 percent carbohydrates. And Michael Arnstein, the most visible leader of the movement, just won the Vermont 100-miler.

And of course, there’s “plain old” veganism, which today I’ll call “plant-based,” to remove any moral or ethical connotation. Ultramarathon great Scott Jurek eats what appears to be a pretty traditionally-balanced vegan diet. Then there’s Brendan Brazier, Thrive author and former pro Ironman triathlete, who also eats plant-based, but focuses more on raw and alkaline-forming foods.

How can such wildly differing diets all produce healthy people, elite athletes even?

The only logical conclusion is that the mix of nutrients you eat simply doesn’t matter all that much. (Which is why its ridiculous to obsess over nutrition numbers.)

What these diets have in common is that every one of them focuses on whole foods and avoids processed food.  That’s what you have to do to make your diet healthy.

How to start eating whole foods

A little bit of bad news for anyone who subsists on the Subway/Chipotle/you-name-it-restaurant diet:

The only economical way to base your diet on whole foods is to cook your food at home.

Assuming you’re not a trained chef who can throw together ingredients and produce something delicious, this means you’ll need recipes.  There are a bunch of vegetarian recipes for athletes here, but recipes are everywhere.  And the good news is that with the availability of wholesome ingredients being what it now is, you can make just about any recipe healthy (barring, perhaps, those that depend on deep-frying).

So here’s what I suggest you do if you’re like my friend, and you want to start eating right but don’t know where to start.

Choose recipes first, then go to the grocery store to get the ingredients you need.

This might sound simplistic or obvious, but plenty of people do it the other way around — first stocking up on ingredients that seem healthy, then trying to find recipes or come up with meals that match what they have in the fridge.  This generally results in a lot of waste and meals that aren’t very tasty.

What recipes to choose

As I said, you can make almost any recipe healthy simply by starting with mostly unprocessed ingredients.  In case you’ve never done this before and the idea of even choosing recipes (much less changing them) is overwhelming, here’s a framework to give your upcoming grocery trip some structure:

1. A smoothie recipe. I recommend starting every day with a smoothie, and a benefit of the one I’ve linked to here is that the parts are interchangeable, so you can mix it up.  Start, perhaps, by just swapping out the frozen fruit each day with a different kind than the day before.

2. A salad recipe. Salad is another one you’ll want to have daily. It’s pretty easy to throw together a salad without a recipe, but I suspect the reason a lot of people “hate” salads is because they’ve never made an inspired one.  Search for one that excites you. (Perhaps one of these summer salads that Veganomicon co-author Terry Hope Romero posted on NMA?)

As long as you’re making the dressing yourself, it’s hard to go wrong. I’m a big fan of dressing salads with simple lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt.

3. A soup recipe. Soup is generally easy to make, requiring you to throw some ingredients in a pot and let it simmer.  It’s also easy to make a big batch at once, so you can avoid cooking for a day or two.  Recently, chickpea-pasta soup is one of my favorites, and by subbing in whole-wheat or an alternative grain pasta for white, and perhaps throwing in some greens during the last few minutes of cooking, you can make it healthier. (And sub vegetable stock or water for chicken stock, if you’re vegetarian.)

4. A veggie burger recipe. Homemade veggie burgers are a thousand times better than frozen store-bought ones.  They’re also great for freezing, so that you’ve got something in a pinch when you don’t feel like cooking. I love this black bean burger recipe and this lentil burger recipe, and if you want to get a little fancier, these millet and black bean patties from Terry Walters’ CLEAN FOOD are another favorite.

As for the bun, it’s optional.  These burgers work on their own, topped with lettuce, salsa, or whatever you like. If you want to have a bun, choose a whole wheat one, or better yet, a sprouted grain one, though these can be expensive and (cardboard-y).

5. A grain, a green and a bean. This is such a versatile formula for producing a quick, cheap, healthy, and delicious meal. Make it from a recipe like this one first, then experiment with others on your own.

6. Tacos of some kind. I’ve included this one because I know tacos are a favorite of the college- or twenty-something chef, for their simplicity and deliciousness. But I like them because they’re a great vehicle for raw foods — you can cook the main filling, but then top it with fresh tomatoes, jalapenos, lettuce, cilantro, lime juice, and anything else.

Lentil tacos are my favorite vegetarian option (warning: I usually need more much water that this recipe calls for to avoid scorching the lentils). Serve them in soft corn tortillas for some authenticity, or if you want bonus points, wrap them in large collard green or kale leaves.

A healthy eater’s guide to the grocery store

The recipes I’ve linked to above are mostly based on whole, fresh ingredients, so you probably won’t need to do much substituting there. But I hope you’ll choose some other recipes as well, and in some cases, you will need to change out ingredients for healthier alternatives.  Here are some basics to keep in mind when you go to the store.

Produce

You know you’re doing well if you spend about two thirds of your shopping time and money in the fresh produce section. You almost can’t go wrong here, as long as most of what you’re getting isn’t in packages.

  • Should you go organic? If you’ve got the budget for it, sure, but you can stretch your dollar by just getting organic varieties of the “dirty dozen.”
  • Greens are good. While I think the currently-fashionable slamming of iceberg lettuce is a little unfair, it’s good to mix it up with some darker, more vitamin-rich leafy greens like arugula, spinach, kale, collards, or even simply romaine.
  • When you can, get produce that’s local. (A farmers market is a better bet for this than the store.) This way you’ll be less likely to get mass-produced, pale, vitamin- and nutrient-devoid stand-ins for the real thing.  Fruits and vegetables lose a lot of their nutritional goodness within a few days of being picked, so the closer to the source and the less time your food spends in the back of a truck, the better.
  • Get a mix of fruits that you’ll enjoy snacking on, or even eating after a meal for dessert.

Grains

Recently there’s been a strong anti-grain (and especially anti-wheat) vibe in the health community, due probably to the popularity of the Paleo diet. I’m still on board the grain train; but I agree with my friend and vegan dietitian Matt Ruscigno that while they’re good, we eat too many of them.

If you’re not careful, it’s easy to eat some form of wheat in every single one of your meals — bagels, cereal, pasta, bread, snacks, desserts.  Don’t do that.  As long as you don’t have a wheat allergy or Celiac’s, it’s fine to eat wheat (or ideally a good mix of grains), just not all the time.

  • Get whole-, brown, or sprouted-grain versions of any grain-based foods you buy, rather than refined whites which have been stripped of their nutrients and the fiber that serves to tell you that you’re full.
  • Most any grain can stand in for any other in a basic recipe.  Don’t be afraid to try alternatives like quinoa (technically a seed), bulgur, spelt, barley, millet, and many others.  Same goes for flours made from these.

Oils

There’s a lot of argument over what the best oil to use in your cooking is.  One thing I’ve noticed with this blog is that no matter what oil I include in a recipe, someone will ask why I used that particular one, since it’s unhealthy.  (Some people, like Dr. John McDougall, advocate eating no oil, since after all, it’s not a whole food.)

Personally, I use olive oil for salads and low-temperature cooking, and coconut or grapeseed oil for higher temperatures.  Watch out for highly processed and heated oils, like most nondescript “vegetable oil.”

Whichever oil you choose, go easy on it.  It’s not a whole food, it packs a lot of calories into a very small space, and it loses a lot of its nutritional value when heated.

Condiments and snacks

As long as you’re consuming condiments in relatively small quantities, I see no problem with continuing to eat most of the ones you enjoy.

The big thing here is to check out the ingredients list, and make sure you recognize them all and that as many as possible are whole foods.  Look out for high-fructose corn syrup, which is anything but whole, and appears in countless condiments. And since many will contain oils, look for those like what I’ve mentioned above.

Check the sodium content too, since prepared foods can be the source of a huge amount of salt.  Preparing condiments yourself will help tremendously, so find recipes for salsa, hummus, baba ganoush, barbecue sauce, and others, and make them yourself.

And while we’re on the topic of salt, opt for sea salt over processed table salt, since it delivers many nutritious minerals other than sodium, and less sodium as a result. Vegan ultraman Rich Roll, in his excellent cookbook Jai Seed, helped me feel much better about loving salt and using so much in my food.

For snacks, the same principles apply: Look at the ingredients and make sure they’re whole foods, and watch out for salt and processed oils.  Whole, raw or roasted nuts are the best thing you’ll find in the snack aisle.

Meat and dairy?

Since I don’t eat meat and dairy, I’m not the one to tell you much about how to choose them.  I believe you can be healthy and consume small amounts of them, but not the amounts and factory-farmed types that most Americans eat every day. (The idea of meat, especially fish, as a side dish at a few meals a week is one that would appeal to me if not for the ethical considerations.)

For dairy, keep in mind that skim or low-fat products are not whole foods.  As Michael Pollan points out in his In Defense of Food, when the fat is removed from dairy products, your body’s ability to absorb the vitamins and nutrients in them decreases. In addition, when you take away the fat, you increase the relative portion of the food that contains casein, the protein that’s primarily blamed for dairy’s link to cancer in The China Study.

So if you’re going to eat dairy and you’re on a major calorie restriction, I’d recommend whole-fat versions over those that have the fat removed.

Drinks

There’s almost nothing good in the drink aisle of the grocery store.  (Coconut water and some natural sports drinks have their place, perhaps.)

Drink water. If that’s boring, add some lemon or lime juice. You’ll eventually get used to it.

A few more guiding principles…

For the newcomer or born-again healthy eater, I know of no better source of guidance than the aforementioned Michael Pollan. Pollan is not a vegetarian, and his whole-food-based, local, sustainable approach to eating is adaptable to a variety of ethical and health viewpoints.

What I find most appealing about Michael Pollan is the simplicity of his approach, and the resulting ease of applying his rules.  Start with Food Rules for a quick understanding of all that he teaches, then move on to In Defense of Food for the “why’s.”  A few of his most useful rules-of-thumb:

  • Buy foods that are made with five ingredients or fewer.
  • Don’t eat anything your grandmother or great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Go-gurt?)
  • Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
  • Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you cook it yourself.

It’s not hard

I hope this doesn’t seem complicated.  It’s anything but that, which is why my friend’s problem caught me by surprise, and I why I’ve written such a long post about it.

What it comes down to, at the most basic level, is cooking your own food with real, whole ingredients.  It takes more planning, more time, and probably more money than the alternative.  But with practice it’ll become easier, and soon a habit will form and this way of eating will be second nature.

And in all likelihood, that means more time and money down the road, in the form of a longer, healthier life with fewer medical bills.

There’s no better time than now to start.  Once you do, I promise you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.

P.S.

Not unlike the rest of the wired world, I just got on Google+.  I’d love it if you’d add me to your circles.

 

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Comments

  1. Matt – this is awesome. Such a great way to break it on down for everyone. I take just about the same approach. Plant based…holler!! ;)

  2. Matt, great article. I agree cutting out the processed convenience foods by crowding them out with whole foods is the key. Healthy food can still be fast food, especially fruits and vegetables.

    • Ben, Matt I agree! Let’s crowd out the processed “convenience” foods, overrun them with crisp, healthy natural foods and bring the prices down so everyone can enjoy a healthy lifestyle :)

  3. One thing to be careful about when you exchange sea salt for regular salt is your iodine intake… sea salt doesn’t have the iodine that table salt does, and an iodine deficiency can cause problems. Clearly, this shouldn’t be a problem if you’re eating a balanced diet, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. :)

    • Melissa, that’s a good point, and honestly, something I don’t know about fully. I was just talking to a friend about it the other day. Certainly fortified salt isn’t the only way to get iodine/iodide, since fortifying anything is a recent development in our history… so I figured it was present in other foods?

      I just looked this up and it sounds like animal foods are a big source, and vegetable sources only from certain parts of the world where iodine is plentiful in the ground. I’ll have to research this more. Thanks!

  4. This is a great guide! When I first started living on my own I also had quite a few trips to the store where I didn’t know where to start.

    I also love that you included tacos on the list of recipes to choose! They are a non-intimidating way to start ‘cooking’ healthy food for yourself.*

  5. running farmer says:

    Good basic foundation, I will gladly share a link to this post.
    Cheers!

  6. Matt this is great! I’ll definitely pass it on to my friend that’s learning how to start eating health whole foods.

  7. Great post!!! This summarizes, in a nutshell (well, a big nutshell) my beliefs about food and how I like to eat best. I’m not always perfect and sometimes life and other people get in the way, but this is what I strive for. I am always happy when we get back from a trip and I can get back to eating plant-strong and healthy – it makes me feel vibrant and alive. Thanks for the recipes!

  8. Wow! Great post Matt! I have friends ask me all the time about getting started in a healthy lifestyle. I’ll recommend this link! Do you have any advice on buying proportions? When i buy for a recipe i end up with lots of scraps of food. For example, I’ll have half a can of beans and half a head of lettuce, etc. Do you plan that into your recipes to use up the remaining ingredients left behind by recipes? Or do you invent something with the leftovers? Or compost them?

    • I throw the fruit/vegetable leftovers into the blender and make a smoothie. My 4-year old likes to eat the skin and just some of the fruit of the apple which is fine with me cause i just chop up whatever’s left and put it in my morning smoothie.

  9. Great advice. I think you hit it right on the nose in saying that the key to being healthy is not eating processed foods.

    Thanks for making big decisions seem easy

  10. Hi Matt! First let me say I’ve been reading your blog for quite a few months and I always love what you have to say. I’m an aspiring ultra runner and also a wannabe vegan so your posts have been extremely helpful on both fronts!

    As to this post: Wow! It certainly is a lot of information to process. Though I follow these healthy eating guidelines now (and have for a few years) when I first decided I wanted to eat healthier the amount of information out there about how to do that did seem overwhelming to me. My best advice to anyone looking for a healthier diet is baby steps! Maybe one week you cut out soda and fruit juices and stick to water. The next week you add more whole grains and cut out the whites. The next week you vow to add more veggies to your dinner plate. Etc. Etc. You don’t need to amke all the changes at once, which might backfire if you become overly stressed. This strategy really worked for me and after awhile I just started naturally gravitating towards healthier choices as a larger and larger percentage of my diet became based in healthy foods.

    Good luck to anyone out there looking to change their diet! It’s absolutely challenging, but its also absolutely worth it!

    • Maureen says:

      Great suggestions! This is what I have been doing. Even though I was vegan for about 10 years, I’ve been away from it for 12 years, and am easing my way back into it, a few changes at a time. Much less intimidating! Baby steps!

  11. I love this post, you really summarized whole foods eating in a way that would be easy to read and understand for those who are looking into it. We are on board with everything mentioned here, although we are gluten-free since our older 2 children are sensitive to it. The nice thing about switching to gluten-free diet, is that you stop relying on baked goods as much (no more daily sandwiches) and only have them on occasion as a treat or special meal. It also encourages you to incorporate other grains that are a lot more nutrient dense than wheat.

    I was wondering about one thing though. I completely agree about avoiding store-bought low-fat or non-fat dairy. But since we buy raw milk, we often skim most of the cream off the top and use it for making sour cream of cultured butter. Would the skimmed milk that we use for drinking have the same effect on our bodies as low-fat ‘processed’ milk?

    • Ninja Nick says:

      Although I dont drink milk or use any form of dairy at all because of its effects on my body, I would think that the way you are doing it seems to be more natural and the less harmful way of any other. I only say this because you are at least using the raw form which contains its own enzymes which will help it to break down in your body. Just a heads up, if you ever have any mucus this is the first sign that your body is trying to purge itself of the acidic effects of the dairy. Try cutting it out for a week and notice the mucus go away.

      • thanks, good point about the enzymes, I completely forgot about those. I personally don’t drink milk, but do eat cultured sour cream or butter made out of it, and also use buttermilk (again, cultured) for cooking certain gluten-free stuff. Kids love their milk on oatmeal though, there’s no way around it :) I’ve never heard about the mucous thing though, guess I’ll have to do more reading on that subject, thanks!

  12. I totally agree that no matter what kind of diet you are following–vegan, vegetarian, animal foods included or not, eating whole, unprocessed foods is the most important factor! Great post.

  13. The advice to buy food, keeping in mind what you might do with it, is incredibly valuable, and not as obvious as it sounds. Many healthy eating guides start with a list of must-have items, then do little to persuade you that any of them can be incorporated in interesting and tasty ways. I’d also add, in regards to drinks, that both coffee and tea are quite healthful antioxidant vehicles, provided you don’t nuke them with cream (dairy or non) and sugar.

  14. This was awesome and incredibly useful Matt!
    Thanks :)

  15. Great post – good to strip this back to basics, a whole foods focus just seems to be the best way to go!

  16. Great post, and so helpful!

    I wanted to ask, in regards to the drink section of the grocery store… what about tea? Green tea, peppermint tea, chamomile; those are all excellent for you and tasty! Ginger tea is great too, by just chopping up some fresh peeled ginger root and adding hot water.

  17. Thank you for this! I often go to the grocery store with very little list and no recipes in mind. Then when I try to make my meals for work during the week, I can’t figure out what to make. This should help me get myself prepared!

  18. GREAT article! Very well written. I use your recommended smoothie a day, a big salad a day, and usually a cooked plant based meal either for lunch or dinner. It works great, and making salad is FUN! They are different every time, with so many healthy, raw options. THANKS for the encouragement to eat healthy.

    On another note, I have a question for Matt or anyone else:
    What advice would you have for supporting or protecting your immune system after running? I have recently caught two colds back to back (the first time getting sick in over two years, (I went plant based over a year ago) I think that running may be having a weakening effect on my immune system. I trained for my first half and full marathons pretty hard over the past year and never got sick, however I have noticed that both illnesses the past two months were preceded by either an intense run or bike ride ( ~13 miles running or ~50 miles on the bike.) I haven’t “raced hard” since a sprint triathlon back in April and a marathon back in February. Now some critical information is the fact that I just started a new job flying for an airline out of an international airport where I interact with germs from all over the globe in a small tube for hours at a time. Im not sure how much the exercise contributed to my getting sick, because it could be just the sudden intense exposure to so many germs at work. (I thought vegans weren’t supposed to get sick!) So, I have become a little cautious of not running too much unless I know that I will have a couple of days off to rebuild my immunity before heading back to the airport. I am wondering if you have any thoughts or recommendations on this topic as I would really like to put in a lot more miles and start marathon training again next month. Should I lay off on the miles to keep my immune defense up? Or is there even that big of a connection at all. Thanks for any responses! Cheers!

    • Maureen says:

      Any kind of stress is going to weaken your immune system. When you start adding several stressors together,(overtraining, new job, increased exposure, diet changes, etc.) you are more likely to get sick.

      I would suggest easing off on the hard training, until your body adjusts to the new job. And wash your hands diligently, frequently and thoroughly! Best way to avoid germs!

      I think it’s ok to start marathon training, but ease into it, building up slowly.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks a lot Maureen! I appreciate your response. Hopefully my body will adjust over the next few months and I can reduce the overall stress. Does anybody have an specific nutritional advice for immune support during exercise?

        • Ryan, I don’t have a good answer for you here, but you’ve given me an idea for some research and a new post. :) I almost never get sick, yet after both of my 50-milers I’ve started feeling sick later that day and it sticks around for close to a week. I don’t want to speculate on ways to temporarily boost your immune system in preparation for races or other intense exercise, but I’ll be looking into this more and reporting on what I find.

        • Maureen says:

          Take the advice Matt posted here – avoid processed foods and sugar, which stress the system. Try to take in more antioxidant-rich foods, such as a variety of colorful fruit and veggies.

          I don’t put much stock in supplements, but I have noticed that I get sick much less often, since I started taking a multivitamin. I’m skeptical on whether it actually helps, or not. I don’t think it hurts, though, so I’m sticking with it, for now, until I get my diet where I want it to be.

          My biggest challenge is getting enough rest, which is another major stressor, so be sure you are getting adequate rest, too.

          Looking forward to reading about what you find, Matt!

          • Thanks Maureen! Good advice:) I have been using a lot of Vega products in my smoothies and have been very happy with the results and recovery. I think the most likely cause of my most recent colds have been related more to job stress, exposure and lack of my normal sleep patterns rather than a diet deficiency. I am definitely gonna keep running, but am looking forward to understanding better how to stay healthy as a no meat runner AND a pilot. I know it can be done:) Thanks guys!

        • Ninja Nick says:

          remember that running, even more than most other forms of exercise puts a lot of stress on the adrenal glands. The body is such an exceptional machine with so many processes that a deficiency in one thing can lead to many other issues. The body runs on a sodium matrix. Minerals are key to our survival. Pushing your body so hard will quickly deplete your minerals (electrolytes) leaving your body playing catch-up. I believe that replenishing these lost minerals is key to your problem. I found a supplier of mineral rich highly alkaline salts. Its called 9 times roasted Bamboo salt. Since I have been taking these my body does not get fatigued and my recovery time is not an issue. I can lift weights and push myself so hard where I would normally be sore the next day and I don’t even get sore. People are scared of salts but these are so pure that you dont even need water to take them. They are almost sweet. If you don’t want to invest in something like that then I suggest juicing green, orange and red veggies. The juice contains alot of electrolytes that your body can assimilate immediately since it goes straight to you blood stream. Good luck! And to you as well Matt, and any other plant based eaters who are having immune deficiency problems. Oh, and you can get really good and cheap juicers at jacklalanne.com and the bamboo salts at mybamboosalt.com you can ask me which one to get if you’re curious =)

          • Wow, thanks Nick! Very interesting about the Bamboo salt. I will definitely have to try it out. Since I have started drinking coconut water for electrolytes (during exercise) and sometimes Vega Sport, I feel that I have solved at least part of the electrolyte/salt problem, however I have never taken any salts during exercise, mainly because of all the bad things I hear about salt in general. (The Bragg material I have read is very against any added salt) Of course, I don’t think Paul Bragg ran marathons, as far as I know. I have noticed that my body does seem to loose a lot of “salt” when I run because my body and clothes are covered in a thick layer of salt afterwards. Does this mean I am loosing too much of my salts and need to consume more during my runs? Maybe the Bamboo salt will help…?

            Also, does anyone know anything about Pedialyte??
            I know that Dean Karnazes uses it and talks about it frequently in his books. Has anyone tried running with this stuff and know if it is a healthy form of hydration?

            Many Thanks!

          • Ninja Nick says:

            @Ryan- The salts that I am referring too are not normal salts. the pH on them ranges between 9 and 12. while all other salt including sea and himalyan are under pH of 8. This is the true sodium that your body runs on with many other minerals included. you can taste the minerals in it, almost like sulfur flavor. In my opinion it is way more pure than anything on the market. Emergen-C and other sports drinks give you a ton of sugar. Even Coconut water is too fatty. Have you noticed sores in your mouth when you drink too much? (more than half a bottle). This is becuase your liver has to release the heat caused by trying to break that fat down. I have never had pedialyte so I dont know how it is. I’d say that if it contains sugar then dont do it. Again, your second best bet is vegetable juicing. If you cant do that then drink organic carrot juice or essential greens juice made by Evolution. they sell it at every market. If you want a cheap version of it then buy it at Trader Joes. Evolution makes it but Trader Joes private labels it and sells it for a couple bucks cheaper. Bueno Suerte Amigo!

  19. Great post, Matt! I really like your ‘back to basics’ approach. Healthy eating is not as complicated as most people think. It’s so good to read that I don’t need to go Paleo and force tons of meat down my throat, to get great results (like those of my meat-loving friends).
    I want to disagree with one point, though: “Don’t eat anything your grandmother or great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” – These days, I eat tofu, chickpeas, sesame seeds, sea weed, quinoa, etc. My grandma would NOT consider those things as food! ;)

    • YOUR grandmother wouldn’t consider them food, but many, many others in other parts of the world would. I suppose we could change the rule to “the average grandmother.” :)

  20. can you define the difference (or provide examples) between high and low temperature cooking? I don’t know how to determine when to use olive oil and when I’m cooking at too high a temperature to use it. Thanks!

    • Dave, good question. I actually don’t use a strict dividing line, though I suppose one could look up the smoke points of the different oils and use that. I usually use olive oil on salads or things that are cooked on “low” or “medium-low” for a long time. For things that are quickly fried in very hot oil, like “medium” or above, I use grapeseed or coconut.

  21. I have heard very good things about the raw food diets, but cant bring myself to try it. I mostly just try and avoid foods that are full of additives and preservatives.

    I make my meals with fresh foods not stuff out of cans, jars or boxes.

  22. Love the article I am a huge fan of food real food not low fat low carb super processed stuff. Also try putting a few slices of cucmumber in your water yummy!

  23. adrienne says:

    Hi! I love your site and your content, but I must point out a phrase in the above article that I find distressing.

    You write:
    “…there’s “plain old” veganism, which today I’ll call “plant-based,” to remove any moral or ethical connotation”

    My concern is, why would one want to remove the “moral or ethical connotation” of veganism? Veganism, but it’s very nature, is a lifestyle of clear boundaries and firm choices. While I know some readers might adopt a vegan or near-vegan diet for health reasons, and they may not care/know about animal suffering, there is always the danger of watering down “veganism” into a murky catch-all phrase.

    The problem with a term like “plant based” is that it is nebulous: is the diet comprised of ONLY plants, or is it merely “based” on mostly plants, with some meat/milk/eggs added?
    While I understand the goal of not “putting people off” by presenting what seem to be hard-line appeals for total veganism, it’s important to remember that, by trying to please everyone, we often end up pleasing no one.

    Any person who is disturbed by the term “veganism” is probably someone who will NEVER be open to the diet or lifestyle, no matter what you call it. And for vegans out there who are in it ONLY for health, and don’t care about the ethics, the fact that ethical vegans DO exist should not disturb you. I feel that, as vegans, we should embrace all other vegans, no matter their motivations. As in, “Hey, cool…more vegans!”

    • I personally like the term “Vegan.” It seems that it is becoming a more familiar term these days in the food industry as I am seeing the word used to market healthy foods. It also seems to me that eating a “vegan” diet is as much about heath as it is about compassion for God’s creatures. I became vegan for health reasons, however I now realize that there are good moral and ethical reasons to live this way too.

      I too have tried to begin using the term, “plant-based” to describe my diet and to encourage friends to clean up their diet, however it does seem a bit nebulous, and I do not feel that people interpret “plant-based” as “plant-only” so maybe we should stick with “Veganism, ” since most people generally agree on its meaning, unlike “vegetarian,” which can mean about anything you want these days…

      Just my opinion folks, great post though! I am recommending people read this for a great summary of how to eat.

    • Hey Adrienne, the reason I stayed away from the term “vegan” here was because the post was entirely about nutrition and not at all about ethics. I wrote this post for people who are brand new to even thinking about healthy eating, and wanted to be as focused as possible on that. Agreed that plant-based is ambiguous, and I hate it in most cases for that reason. But I honestly don’t think that there’s a significant difference, nutritionally, in one that’s almost entirely plants and one that’s entirely plants, so here the term worked well for me.

      I don’t agree that people who are disturbed by the term veganism will never adopt it. Before I was vegetarian, I thought vegans were extreme and pushy and I was definitely put off by the term. And I personally know of a few others who used to be very opposed to the notion of veganism who are now nearly vegetarian (though not yet close to vegan).

  24. I love iceberg! And appreciate your little defense of it. It may not do much for you but I’d say it’s neutral at worst, no need to bash it!

  25. Great post! I’ve always thought of myself as a relatively healthy eater, but incorporating these tips have really made me feel so much better. I discovered this blog about a month ago, and I am already feeling the benefits! One question– what do you do when you are not able to make all of your own meals? This month I am going on vacation with my family (definitely not no-meat-athletes), and I’m worried that my balanced diet will completely fall apart with all of the eating out and being surrounded by others’ unhealthy choices. Any suggestions on how to stay on track?

    • In those situations, Kelly, I usually try to prepare as much as I can in advance. I eat a lot more fruit and homemade energy bars during those times than I would normally, but often that’s a lot better than the alternative. Also if there’s a well-stocked grocery store near wherever you’re vacationing, you can usually find some decent frozen foods to heat up. Amy’s is a good brand with lots of good meals, wraps, and things with mostly good ingredients. Again, not ideal, but good in a pinch.

  26. Great article especially because that’s how I started eating healthier – working on incorporating more whole foods. I’ll be linking to this on my blog today!

  27. Excellent article. I follow this mantra daily, but it’s great to see someone else out there who also agrees that whole foods, and not processed foods, are the way to get healthy!

  28. Chris G. says:

    Really excellent, accurate, plain and simple advice. Wonderful post. One point on the starch front. John A. McDougall, M.D. is a strong starch advocate based on the following arguments:
    1. Humans are designed to thrive on starch-based foods, including whole grains, beans, and potatoes. All large populations of trim, healthy people throughout verifiable human history have obtained the bulk of their calories from starches.

    2. Since the brain burns glucose, a starch-based diet was the foundation for the evolution of the large human brain.

    3. Amylase, a major enzyme in saliva, is designed to start digesting the starch in your food as you chew it. Starch is clean fuel and plant diseases do not attack people.

    • Ninja Nick says:

      The fact that amylase is there for us to break down only starch brings me to believe that we were designed to do just that… And nothing else… Cleanly, that is.

    • Thanks Chris. I haven’t heard too much debate about starch; good to know McDougall has a viewpoint on it. Brendan Brazier is pretty anti-starch, at least the amount most people (especially vegetarians) consume.

      • Ninja Nick says:

        Ya, McDougal has a new book coming out about why we need starch. He called it that to get peoples attention. Its gotten a bad name because of some misconceptions. He shows how our body are made to run on starches like potato and such. Very interesting.

  29. Great summary. I’m sure everyone has their 2 cents. I feel taking wheat out has benefits even if you’re not celiac or allergic. There are GI, skin and energy benefits (even if the wheat wasn’t crappy wheat). Very big topic and as usual you make it manageable.

  30. Awesome post! Thank you!

  31. Very helpful, thanks! Just found your blog, I’m pretty new to blogging myself but I love everything about it….thanks for being such a great role model!

  32. This is a great post! I actually just wrote a post about choosing humane meat, which I think could fall under your empty meat & fish category. And I whole-heartedly agree about eating whole dairy, which is what my part two post will cover.

  33. great post! thanks for the motivation :)

  34. Wow. Love this. I just came across your blog and this is one of the first posts I read. I just wrote in “a grain, a green, a bean” on my shopping list. I’ve been feeling a little stuck lately as far as food goes–wanting to return to my best habits but not really feeling like it at the same time. Funny how simple advice and starting slow rather than committing to a giant goal is the best way to get back on track. Thank you.

  35. Its about that time for me to make several life changes (again..haha) I’ve drowned myself in documentaries for the past few days in order to educate myself while also allowing emotional reactions to fuel my newly re-discovered passion for running and healthy eating (the emotional argument appeals more than the logical for me). Ideally, I’d like to follow people like you around all day in hopes of adapting to the lifestyle but this blog is pretty much the next best thing. I am really truly inspired not only from my own findings in other mediums, but also this blog! Finally, some SIMPLE tips and a way for me to hold myself accountable. I have taken simple steps so far and can already feel a huge conscious shift happening……thank YOU!!!

  36. Hi Matt

    Wow – this is awesome! It is so hard to find anyone else who thinks along the same foundation as me when it comes to clean, wholesome, natural, plant food, but you nailed it! Right down to our views on oils and the respective choices! Very cool!

    Anyway it is great to see another person spreading and sharing quality advice when it comes to nutrition and health – thank you!!!

  37. I’ve recently gone sugar and mostly grain free. When I go to the grocery store, I don’t shop in the inner aisles anymore, as everything I need is along the outside. If it’s in a box I don’t buy it!!

  38. This is SO inspiring! My husband and I have just begun our fully plant-based journey, and I am beyond excited. Thank you for the great information. :)

  39. Thanks for making it all so easy to understand and straight-forward!

  40. Wow, that’s some good stuff! I wholeheartedly agree with this article. It’s all about eating real food, preferably organic and unpackaged such as vegetables, fruits and nuts. And for lacto-ovo vegetarians, eggs and dairy are also great, especially if you’re a bodybuilder!

  41. THIS INFORMATION IS SWEET! AWESOME FOR MY DIETING PROCESS!!!

  42. Thank you so much for these suggestions and for this blog. I know you are geared more to athletes, but I found this blog on a google search looking for ways to begin eating a whole foods diet. You make it sound so simple. I have quite a lot of weight to lose (around 100 pounds) and I have to do something now. I am so glad I found your blog.

  43. What macronutrient ratios are best for muscle gain? There is such a wide range of thought, from 811 to zone ratios. Any advice?

  44. I know I’m late to the party, Matt … but your advice about “starting with Michael Pollan” is spot-on, in my opinion. I started my “eat real food” journey after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma 5 years ago and I highly encourage anyone interested in living a healthy lifestyle to do the same. Food Rules is an easy-to-read book you can get through in a couple hours if you don’t have a lot of time.

  45. I’m preparing to go vegetarian within the next month, and starting to phase out meats & dairy. However I caught a glimpse of a tv show today and they said that going plant-based will cause you to gain weight because you don’t get “protein.” I’ve read some of your posts and I know you get protein from other places than just meat, but how do I keep my weight under control while eating plant-based? I’m not looking to lose weight, but I definitely don’t want to gain. Is there a limit I should stick around in terms of grains? I’m very nervous that I will stay hungry and it seems our usual meals include brown rice for dinner at least 4 times a week. I’m trying to get healthier in general and it’s a struggle!

    • Elle, I don’t claim to know much about weight loss (I struggle to keep weight on more than off), but I did Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live program with my wife. I’ve met a lot of people who have lost a lot of weight on that program, and even when I modified it to hopefully avoid losing weight, I still did. My wife lost a lot of weight on it, too. Here’s my post about our experiment: http://www.nomeatathlete.com/eat-to-live/

Trackbacks

  1. [...] My friend Brian came to me recently with a problem:  "Matt," he said, "the other day I decided I was going to start eating healthy and get myself in shape. But then when I got to the grocery store, I realized I had no idea where to even start!"This post is for Brian and anyone else in that same boat.  If you don't know where to start, start here.   A lot of seemingly "extreme" diets work.  But just when you're tempted to buy into one, you hear about a diet that's extreme on the other side of the spectrum that also works.   The Paleo diet (and its close relative, Primal) focuses on high-protein, high fat, and lower carbohydrates.  And it's become huge among athletes, most notably the CrossFit crowd.   But then there's fruitarianism (also known as "30 bananas a day"), which is 80 percent carbohydrates. And Michael Arnstein, the most visible leader of the movement, just won the Vermont 100-miler.   And of course, there's "plain old" veganism, which today I'll call "plant-based," to remove any moral or ethical connotation. Ultramarathon great Scott Jurek eats what appears to be a pretty traditionally-balanced vegan diet. Then there's Brendan Brazier, Thrive author and former pro Ironman triathlete, who also eats plant-based, but focuses more on raw and alkaline-forming foods.   How can such wildly differing diets all produce healthy people, elite athletes even?   The only logical conclusion is that the mix of nutrients you eat simply doesn't matter all that much. (Which is why its ridiculous to obsess over nutrition numbers.)   To read the full article, click here! [...]

  2. [...] The Only Healthy Eating Guide You’ll Ever Need from No Meat Athlete (@NoMeatAthlete) [...]

  3. [...] Some days aren’t as easy. It’s true, though—a better diet does help with your fitness goals. Here’s a breakdown of a few all-star athlete’s diets and where you can start in the grocery [...]

  4. [...] the trip a success. And I even tried (operative word: tried) to keep the guidelines from this awesome article from No Meat Athlete in mind. It’s an amazing guide to how to start eating healthy, clean [...]

  5. [...] My guest post on another website! 6 no-equipment-needed exercises [...]

  6. [...] The Only Healthy Eating Guide You'll Ever Need [...]

  7. [...] over at No Meat Athlete has an amazing post up called The Only Healthy Eating Guide You’ll Ever Need- a definite must-read!  I’m already reading 18 million books at the moment, but I’m [...]

  8. [...] “macho,”) that they wouldn’t even consider researching the benefits of a plant-based diet, let alone eliminating meat from theirs–heck, even eliminating it from a single meal! If [...]

  9. [...] so much…I came across this amazing post from Matt over at No Meat Athlete. With a title like, The Only Healthy Eating Guide You’ll Ever Need…it’s gotta be good! He quotes Michael Pollan’s (who, by the way, is not a [...]

  10. [...] http://www.nomeatathlete.com/healthy-eating/, where Matt Frazier addresses the problem directly. The No Meat Athlete gave me some great ideas about concocting my own smoothies for breakfast. [...]

  11. [...] commitment to eating more whole foods and trying more veggie options. I read an awesome post on No Meat Athlete about his one rule for nutrition success: eat whole foods. So I had a snack of carrots and almond butter this afternoon, an apple this morning, rice cakes [...]

  12. [...] (UPDATED: For an better laid out argument at ending the debate as to approaching dietary practice, check out Matt Frazier’s of No Meat Athlete article The Only Healthy Eating Guide You’ll Ever Need) [...]

  13. [...] really amazing though, is that I make better life choices when I’m on my natural sleep schedule than when I go to sleep late and wake up late (relatively [...]

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