Everyone thinks that living healthy is easy.
All you’ve got to do is stop eating, drinking and doing things you might regret later on, right?
But you and I both know that’s a gross oversimplification.
But then again, there’s a grain of truth in what I just said. More specifically, thinking about what you’re putting in your body.
Yep, that’s right. Food intake and diet are where it all begins. The takeaway here is the word ‘nutrition’, which has its own set of rules.
What are these rules, you ask? Now we’re talking. Becoming aware is the first step to healthy living.
So take the red pill, and follow along with our 5 nutritional rules for healthy living.
Rule # 1 Avoid All Processed Foods, Including Sugar, Oils and Grains
First of all, one of the reasons why healthy living remains as elusive as the Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth or winning a zillion dollars in the lottery is because of the kind of food we have today.
I mean, think about it. What’s the first thing you see when you go out, enter the mall or drive on the highway? Big, glowing advertisements of fast food burgers, pizza and juicy golden fried chicken, to name a few.
In other words, you’ll have to fight off temptation every day so you can achieve your health goals, and not everyone can do that sort of thing. But there’s a ‘cheat guide’, if you will, on how you can at least start walking down the path to better health.
Pain from working out is temporary, but ultimately it’s good for you. Adopt the same mindset with junk and fast foods, and you’ll feel better about skipping that triple cheeseburger delight.
Also, your body will thank you for it. Pretty soon, you’ll have energy reserves you never knew you had, and mental clarity that comes with abstaining from processed selections.
As a side effect (or not?), you’ll shed all those unwanted pounds that are made up of cholesterol, belly fat and undesirable compounds. That flattering dress or shirt you’ve been eyeing to wear will finally become a reality.
In regards to specifics or when you need a checklist, here’s what you should eliminate from your diet.
Burger King. McDonald’s. Taco Bell. All dining establishments categorized under ‘fast food’ must be avoided.
But sometimes you’ll find yourself in an inescapable position where you have to choose from a fast-food menu. So here’s what you can do- go for grilled proteins like chicken (always better than beef and the fried varieties) and a side of green salad with vinegar and oil.
I have three words for you – Just Say No. Keep away from potato chips, cheese bits and calorie-laden crackers. There are better alternatives out there.
Trans Fat and Vegetable Oil
For the uninitiated, the ‘trans-fat’ category belongs to margarine, safflower or sunflower, canola, soybean and corn oil, basically anything that has the words ‘partially hydrogenated’ in the list of ingredients.
Might as well rip out your tongue if you’re not allowed sugar, am I right?
As always, there’s an alternative in the form of sugar cane and others. Refrain from sugary drinks such as soda, candy bars, cookies, pastries, milkshake, etc. If it’s sweet, think twice- do you really want that substance circulating around your system?
Goodies such as bagels, biscuit, muffin, pasta, bread, grains and whole grains, as well as pancakes, cereal and the like should be crossed off.
Yes, I know they can be hard to replace but believe it or not, there’s always a way. The key thing to remember is to choose whole foods that are organically sourced and stay away from flour.
On the flip side, there’s a silver lining in all of this. There’s really no perfect diet where you can eliminate all the foods mentioned above. After all, we’re only human and this means we’ll need a juicy steak, a pizza or an occasional donut every now and then.
Keep in mind that the keyword here is ‘occasionally’, and it’s perfectly okay to indulge, or have a ‘cheat day’ every now and then. Just don’t forget about your health goals and not to be swept up in the promise of empty calories.
Rule # 2 Water Should Be Your Drink Of Choice
When faced with this rule, people will often give me a blank look as if they’re saying ‘are you crazy?’
Succinctly, it’s as if I’m asking you to watch your favorite shows or movie in black and white, with 4:3 aspect and with the subtitles and audio turned off. You’ll say, why the heck will I want to drink water all day when there’s literally a million beverage options around me?
But what if I say that almost all liquids that aren’t water are not good for you?
You can argue that fruit-infused water, vegetable shakes and similar juices do nothing but good for your body, but hear me out. How many times in a day can you prepare, choose or find these drinks when you’re out and about?
Keep things simple and go for water every time. It dumbs down your diet program so you won’t have to worry about which drink is good for you and which one isn’t.
What would a rule be without a list and an explanation? Below, I’ll explain two things- caloric drinks and acceptable beverages.
Sub-Rule # 1 Has Calories? No Thanks
Take a quick look at the nutrition facts of the drink you intend to buy. Does it have a list that involves artificial sweeteners, calories and weird-sounding ingredients? If so, then it’s probably a good idea to put it back on the shelf and pick something else (how about that water instead?)
Energy drinks, sports drinks and diet sodas should be avoided. Diet soda will most likely have aspartame or some other version of an artificial sweetener, all of which are bad news. Bottom line- avoid it like the plague!
Sub-Rule # 2 Acceptable Drinks
Coffee, But Only 3 Cups Daily. Coffee is actually great because it’s rich in antioxidants and can perk you up in the morning. When possible, choose organic as you might be ingesting unwanted compounds such as pesticides. Be sensible and avoid those that have high sugar or milk content- get stevia and all-natural milk instead.
Wine Over Beer. Like coffee, wine in both red and white variety have an abundance of good antioxidants. If you must have an alcoholic beverage, choose wine over beer and other liquor as it has fewer calories as well.
Juice, But Dilute It. Buy concentrated juice bottles or jars, e.g., raw apple juice, pomegranate, tart cherry and the like and add water to reduce both sugar and caloric content. A good rule of thumb is 12 ounces of water for every ounce of juice.
Tea. Is tea your favorite beverage? Then you’re in luck. The only thing is, you have to make sure to brew your own since most ready-made teas are iffy at best. You’ll need all the catechins and antioxidants you can get, so go for home-brewed white, black, green or yogi tea and change things up every now and then.
Mineral Water. Mineral water contains higher alkaline compared to regular water, but that’s about it.
Doctors and health experts say a good rule of thumb for water intake is about 8 glasses of water a day, but there are times when you’ll need more or less.
So you won’t be confused, don’t mix water with the other beverage you drink. This means that you shouldn’t count a cup of tea or coffee as 1 glass of water for your daily requirement.
It’s natural to assume that you’ll be needing more water when you’re active, e.g., working out at the gym, running in the morning or after a particularly vigorous cardio regimen, so go ahead and take them as needed.
Do the pee color test to see if your body needs water or if it has too much of it. If it’s yellow then it’s a sign that you’re dehydrated. Colorless is a good indication that you’re well-hydrated, and so on.
Got all that? Let’s proceed to the next rule.
Rule # 3 What Would Mother Earth Do?
Or simply, ‘what are the foods you can get from nature?’
Okay, so if the number 1 nutritional rule says that we shouldn’t eat processed foods, what should we eat then?
Before I answer this, imagine yourself living on planet Earth several thousand years ago. There wasn’t any of the convenience we have now, such as soda, a 7-11 store or a 24-hour pizza joint or Chinese takeout spot we could go to whenever our stomach rumbles.
And that’s a good thing because man didn’t rely on foods such as donuts, french fries and ice cream. If we did, you and I probably won’t even be here. Man relied on what they could eat in the environment in order to survive.
Now, this is the crux of the matter. The food that you get directly from nature (and not man-made) are called whole foods, and they come in all shapes, sizes and taste. These are the things that you can gather, fish and hunt for with stones, spears and sticks. These come from Mother Nature’s bosom and not from a guy named Ronald McDonald or a colonel who can make tasty fried chicken.
I know what you’re thinking- do you have a list I can copy-paste and print so I can start eating healthy? You bet we do. Here they are, categorized into food groups you can easily understand.
Poultry, pork, bison, lamb and beef are fair game. It’s important to choose quality instead of quantity- get organic, grass-fed meat as much as possible, because not only do they taste better, they have more nutritional value as well.
You’ll be getting most of your protein needs, as well as minerals and vitamins on earth animals.
Opt for clams, mussels, oysters, shrimp, crab, mackerel, trout, sardines and salmon, among others. If the label says wild-caught, then all the more better. You can alternate between earth and sea animals for your protein needs, but keep in mind that you’ll need a regular dose of omega 3 fatty acids, which primarily come from the sea.
Here, you’ll have a wide variety of options to choose from. Potatoes, roots, cruciferous veggies and leafy greens are great and don’t have dietary limitations, which means you can eat them until you’re quite full. In the fruits department, you have your berries, apples and whatnot.
Seeds and Nuts
You also have free rein over nuts and seeds, but some are better than others in terms of nutrients. Eat nut butters, sunflower seeds, squash, pumpkin, hazelnut, Brazil nuts, pecans, almonds, cashew, walnuts and macadamias.
Need Some Flavor?
Herbs and spices will be your best friend in this department. You’ll be amazed at just how delicious a dish can be with the right dash of spice!
Remember, choose only ones you can find in nature, which means cayenne, turmeric, mint, chili powder, sage, rosemary, thyme, coriander and cumin.
As a side project, you can find out which spice works great against what dish so you can impress your friends or family the next time you cook up a meal. Refrain from MSG or soy sauce and rely on good old-fashioned herbs to keep your taste buds satisfied.
You may be right to assume that in order to satisfy rule number 3, then all you have to do is follow the paleo diet.
The ideology is the same- take what mother nature gives you and your body will thank you for it. Meat and eggs for protein, vegetables that grow above ground and nuts and seeds align with the paleo program.
In fact, the only difference I came up with was that I think that the early caveman didn’t have the time to ‘spice’ up their meat with thyme or coriander, which doesn’t mean a thing in the overall picture.
So, bottom line is to get real foods and not man-made ones. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference.
Related: The Paleo Diet: It’s Just Not For Me
Rule # 4 Whole Foods Should Constitute 90% of Your Diet
Finding and preparing whole foods isn’t an easy task.
The reason why fast food and take-outs are so popular in today’s fast-paced society is simple. They’re convenient and can fill you up in no time. You can hold a burger with one hand while hammering out an email with the other.
But we know that it’s not a healthy lifestyle and that it’s not sustainable in the long run.
Is there a way to find a balance between convenience and sticking to the ‘whole foods’ rule? You bet there is.
It’s all about making the right choices. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that you can change things up with your favorite foods and still hit that 90% whole ingredients rule.
Yes, you can still enjoy the occasional treat on ‘cheat day’ (remember, no one’s perfect) and keep that once-a-week bottle of beer habit (which isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things), but in everyday choices you’ll have control over what you eat, especially if you’re making them at home.
We know that pizza is generally unhealthy, but who says you can’t ‘healthify’ it up? Pick non-gluten flour and make it a thin crust. Instead of pepperoni and processed meats, you can put 90 percent of the fresh vegetables sourced from your local market.
Turn your attention to the ice cream. Does it have anything other than eggs, milk and natural sweetener? Then throw it out and look for something that does. If you see an ingredient you’re not familiar with, don’t touch it even with a 10-foot pole.
Jump-start your whole foods routine by doing a fridge inspection and dumping all those non-whole, artificial and junk items into the trash.
Opting for 90% whole foods eating can be made easier if you prepare your food at home. It doesn’t have to be restrictive- simply replace the ingredients with their tasty, whole counterparts and you’ll be all set!
Rule # 5 Don’t Forget About Healthy Fats
And last but certainly not least, you should consider healthy fats as a regular source for your diet.
Before we proceed further, let’s destroy the commonly perceived notion that all fats are bad for your health.
If you’ve been living under a rock all this time, here’s a news flash- there are fats that are actually good for you. Good fats are those that do not clog your arteries, raise your cholesterol levels or add pounds on your stomach.
More than that, these fats actually do good things for your body, like reduce harmful cholesterol levels and provide you with the necessary nutrients you need to function as well.
Truth be told, it isn’t always fat that’s the culprit to weight gain and obesity- it’s the number of calories you consume per day and the kind of food you eat. Too many sugary foods, carb-laden binges and alcohol can do a lot of damage, including stubborn fat hanging around your waistline.
But when it comes to the good fat, you actually gain a few health benefits, such as increased energy, fuel for your brain and others. Specifically, fat can keep your blood sugar levels at normal and can act as a healing source when combined with the right diet.
All that good omega 3 fatty acid decrease bodily inflammation and lubricates your joints and bones for better mobility and function.
Still not convinced? Well, how about the fact that it tastes really amazing and can come from organic butter, peanut butter, avocados and grass-fed beef? Think of all the tasty treats and recipes you can come up with, and soon you’ll forget all about eating processed foods and sugar.
Don’t take fat for granted. In a keto diet, fat is a resource that replaces carbs in order to induce a state of ketosis, where the body turns to burning fat for fuel.
Spend enough time in ketosis and you’ll start to see remarkable effects on your health, including rapid weight loss, detoxification and others. A rough estimate on consuming good fat should be roughly at 1 tablespoon per 100 calories so you won’t go overboard.
Get your healthy fat nutrient from reliable sources, such as peanut butter, avocados and organic, grass-fed beef. Over time, the good fat will overtake the bad and flush it out of your system, and you’ll be healthier for it.
Pick One and Start Today!
All these things about avoiding processed foods, choosing whole foods, drinking water and whatnot are enough to confuse anybody.
I would definitely understand if it’s too much to take in. After all, a complete 360-degree turnaround on health and changing your diet isn’t as simple as it sounds.
But here’s where I can help. Why not take things one at a time?
Not committed to following all the rules I mentioned above? That’s okay- the first step is often the hardest. Let’s make things easier by introducing them into your life slowly.
For example, here’s a program I’d recommend.
Pick a number, any number between one to five (or whatever’s the easiest rule you can follow), and do your best to incorporate that into your daily routine.
Let’s say you pick the ‘drink mostly water’ rule. Once you begin, become mindful that you’re going to substitute all your drinks to water, whether it’s diet soda, a latte or an energy drink. Develop the habit and keep at it for 2 to 4 weeks. Sure, it will be hard, especially in the first few days but you’ll acclimate to the change and soon, drinking only water will become second nature.
Afterward, it’s time to pick another rule from the five and putting them into practice. Give it several weeks so you can adapt to the dietary shift from unhealthy to healthy eating. You’ll build what’s known as ‘the snowball effect’, which can propel you forward and give you a nice boost!
Ryan is a former college wrestler and lifelong fitness fanatic. He has run half marathons, done mud runs, placed in body transformation contests, coached wrestling and now coaches girls soccer. Not to mention he has also tried literally hundreds of supplements over the years and has a vast and thorough supplement knowledge. He has written for Muscle & Strength, Testosterone Junkie, The Sport Review and other publications. He is also the editor in chief of this website. Feel free connect with him on his LinkedIn page below.