I cannot remember how many times my parents told me the stories of how I as a child loved to eat. I was the one still at the table when all the other kids went to play…
I still love food, and look forward to preparing dinner for my family every day. In later years the types of food that I put into my body and how those affect me has become a great interest. I am a total nutrition nerd and spend lots of time reading and learning about it. Not only is it influencing my daily energy, but also my athletic performance.
There’s nutrition for performance, and there’s nutrition for health. Although there’s significant overlap, they are sometimes not the same. My nutrition principles mostly focus on optimal health, and sometimes on performance. At this point in my life, I think the most important thing is to stay strong, healthy and happy all the time and for as long as possible – and to enjoy good food.
In this post, I share my general nutrition principles – let’s see if you agree with me!
1. Avoid vegetable oils as much as possible
Vegetable oils may sound like something healthy, but they are usually heavily processed and treated with deodorizers and chemicals to taste edible. Processed vegetable oils include canola, sunflower, safflower, palm, soybean oil and probably some more that I can’t remember. If you are curious to see how these oils are made, check out this video. It does make sense, if you think about how dry these seeds are. It is very difficult to get that tiny bit of fat out of them, hence the need for several processes to make them into oil. When processed in plants, these oils become rancid and the fatty acids that they are made of change their organic shape to something that our body does not recognize. The body turns on its defenses and you can go around with constant inflammation if you eat these regularly.
Healthy oils are avocado, coconut and olive oil. If you think about it, these foods are more fatty in nature and can be cold-pressed to extract the oil, which preserves the fatty acid’s natural shape and our body recognizes them. We just have to be careful when we heat them up, as this can change their natural shape. I believe avocado oil and coconut oil stay fairly intact when cooking in high heat, but olive oil doesn’t. I usually cook with organic butter (or butter from grass-fed cows) just to be safe, and it tastes really good too 🙂
2. Don’t eat fake food: artificial colors and flavors, sweeteners or chemical additives
This is quite hard to avoid additives, especially living in the United States where regulations are less strict than in Europe. Companies put all kinds of chemicals and non-food additives in food. Many of them are proven to be carcinogenic (cause cancer) and to bring about other illnesses in the body. The easiest way is to look at the labels and try to buy food that lists ingredients that you recognize the name of. The less ingredients, the better. Some big and bad ones I really try to never eat are artificial colors, artificial flavors,Monosodium Glutamate (MSG, which is an artificial flavor enhancer that makes food addictive), high-fructose corn syrup, carrageenan (a thickener) and artificial sweeteners (like aspartame and sucralose found in Splenda for example).
3. Eat enough (complete) protein
I have tried various diets and eating philosophies, and a common denominator that seems to work well is to make sure I eat enough protein. There are various guidelines out there, but I just try to get in over 100 g per day of complete protein. A complete protein contains all the essential amino acids that the body needs. The best source of complete proteins come from animal products (meat, eggs, dairy). You can also mix and match non-complete proteins to get in all the amino acids by combining plant-based proteins such as peanuts, chia, rice etc. I have found that the days when I don’t get enough protein in, I feel more hungry at the end of the day and eat a bunch of stuff I shouldn’t.
4. Buy and eat organic products as much as possible
Although it can be expensive sometimes, I really try to buy organic food as much as I can. I rather spend my money on that than on expensive clothes for example. Organic-labeled produce (fruits and vegetables) is not sprayed with pesticides and organic meat and dairy products are fed organic food and treated & processed according to organic standards.
You can read more about organic food regulations here if interested.
Sometimes, organic might not be the best option. If you can grow vegetables and fruits in your own garden, that would be absolutely optimal. Sometimes you might also be able to buy fresh produce from a local farmer. It can be expensive and complicated for small farmers to obtain an organic certification – so sometimes you might be better off from knowing who grows your vegetables and trusting them to grow them in a sane manner.
5. Choose grass-fed meat and wild-caught seafood
Aside from organic meat, I try to buy meat from cows that have been fed their natural diet: grass. They walk around on fields and eat grass all day like they are made to do. E.g. they are not enclosed in a small space being fed a soy- or grain based diet that is not natural to them. With an unnatural diet, their bodies are sick and inflamed – which ends up in the meat you eat. By choosing organic and grass-fed meat, you also contribute to proper animal treatment and are doing a little something to take a stance against the awful conditions animals have to endure in the traditional meat industry.
The same goes for seafood. It is sometimes hard, but when possible I try to buy seafood and fish that is wild-caught. Unless it says wild-caught on the package, it is usually farm raised – they keep fish in small spaces and feed them strange things. For an in-depth review of the seafood industry you can watch the documentary Seaspiracy on Netflix. Beware though, you might not want to eat fish again after watching that…
6. Keep it colorful – eat lots of different vegetables & fruits
I love vegetables and salads so much. I try to keep it interesting and vary the ones I eat weekly. It’s delicious to roast vegetables in the oven or stick them in my air fryer. For lunch I usually throw together a salad with whatever I find in the fridge, topped with some tuna, eggs or other protein. I try to buy fruits and vegetables that are grown close to me as much as possible and of course, organic.
7. Stay away from added sugar
I like sweets now and then, but on the regular I try not to eat too much added sugar. I get plenty of sugar from natural fruits and vegetables every day, and I think it is quite easy to make homemade semi-healthy treats sweetened with dates, a little honey or banana. On occasion, my weaknesses are carrot cake and Lindt chocolate 😉
8. Eat as little refined grains as possible (wheat, corn)
This would probably be higher up on my list if I wasn’t working out so much or was trying to lose weight. Refined grains don’t really have any nutrition in them, so I try to get my carbs from other whole-food sources such as potato, sweet potatoes, fruits and whole grains. I love bread and don’t want to limit it from my life, and I have no problem digesting gluten – so I eat it now and then but try to keep it to whole-grain and sprouted wheat.
9. Eat 80-20 = less stress
Sometimes it’s just too much of a hassle to eat well, and on occasion, I have those days when I feel like eating everything. I just let it be like that not to stress too much. Eating 80% great and 20% totally free is a reasonable guideline to follow. For example, when eating out I am not going to be a pain, and I order what is available (usually trying to go for a healthier choice according to my principles but if that’s not possible, that’s fine). Above all, stressing over things too much is not worth it. I think stressing less outweighs eating 100% perfectly all the time.
Disclaimer: note that I am not a nutritionist. The above guidelines are just knowledge that I have acquired from various sources throughout my life and chosen to trust. If anything is wrong or you have something to add, please get in touch with me as I am always curious to learn more about nutrition and food.
Many of these ideas come from nutritionists, authors and health advocates that I follow. A few examples are Vani Hari (Food Babe), Joseph Everett, Anna Sparre, Anne Fernholm, and Natacha Oceane. Check them out to be inspired!