Setting My Own Guidelines

April 21, 2009

Lately my leisure reading time has been focused on the book Food Politics by Marion Nestle. The book is incredibly informative and revealing which is why I tend to cringe a bit each time I pick it up and progress through yet another chapter.

I have to admit that learning more and more about how food companies influence our government and the research which guides our nutritional guidelines as a country is discouraging. I would argue that it is even more discouraging to someone like me.

Why? Well, because I spent seven years of my life studying this very information; learning it backward and forward so that I could guide others in eating well and improving their personal wellness.

I wasn’t oblivious to the influences of corporations and food producers while in school. To be familiar with the USDA or work for them (indirectly) like I did, you know that food is an incredibly political topic which is influenced by many different powerful forces and talking dollars.

Marion Nestle’s book just takes things a step further for me and page after page I am continuously amazed by the fact that what we are told to eat is largely controlled, in one way or another, by food companies.

Don’t worry. I haven’t given up complete hope. I’ve known enough researchers at the university level to trust that there are people in this world who are focused on nutrition for the good of people despite the funding influences of companies.

I still think general dietary guidelines are a good place to start. I speak specifically of eating more fruits and veggies, whole grains and healthy fats. Those are all good things. What does bother me is the fact that some of the servings and suggestions of nutrients we need have ever so slightly been increased a bit to please the companies who produce such foods with those nutrients.

I’ve often felt that standards are bit high when it comes to nutrients. We seem to have reached a point where people feel they cannot get the nutrients they need without taking a fiber supplement or a vitamin of some sort. I get so disgusted with a certain fiber supplement commercial which suggests that the actor can’t possible get enough fiber from food alone or they would be forced to eat all day.

Aren’t we eating all day anyway? I think it is more the fact that we are eating the wrong foods.

I refuse to believe that we cannot get the nutrients we need from food alone. I don’t feel our bodies were designed to rely on artificial sources. It is about eating real food in the form and from the development that nature intended.

So I started thinking, since I’m having all these concerns about what other people are telling me to eat, perhaps I should come up with a set of guidelines for myself; things that I should strive to do when it comes to eating.

So here you have my personal dietary guidelines.

Reduce (preferably eliminate) all artificial and chemical sweeteners.

Use natural sweeteners most often such as honey and maple syrup.

Choose meats and dairy from humanely treated animals who consume the foods that nature intended them to eat. Don’t be afraid of the fats that come from these animals.

Choose local and in-season, naturally grown produce. Garden if you can.

Savor each bite. No excuses.

Celebrate food. It is meant to be enjoyed with others and represent family. There is nothing wrong with sharing in this practice together.

Make time to make your own food. Your health depends on it. Simplify your life to create more time for your health.

Eat from a variety of cultures and be adventurous with your food. Some countries have had it right for decades. Learn about their foods and see what you have been missing.

Avoid obsessing about guidelines. If you eat a variety of real foods from natural sources your body will get all of the nutrients it needs.

What are your personal guidelines? Have any to add?

This post has been submitted to Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade.

Photo credit goes to my nature-loving niece, Abigail

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  • Erica April 21, 2009 at 10:33 am

    GREAT post- I couldn’t agree more. My mom is a nurse and has pushed us to eat well our whole lives. She is also convinced that if you eat RIGHT you do not need to take vitamins/etc. The only thing she suggests we take is calcium (because neither my sister nor I take in enough….I am trying!). My goal is really to avoid processed foods- stick to fruits, veggies, proteins (lentils, nuts, meats). Again, great post

  • Mindy April 21, 2009 at 10:35 am

    I like this a lot! After living in France for almost a year, I can really see the corn industry’s stranglehold on America’s food chain, especially in sweeteners. It was weird to me at first that so little was made with corn syrup, and now I think I can see a difference in how we eat. It’s something I’m definitely going to pay attention to when we get back to the States.

  • Amy April 21, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Hi Lori, I have to agree, this is a fabulous post. I just did a project for my nutrition class and was struck by how complicated and unintuitive it’s all become. Your guidelines are right on with my views and those of my cooking school. I find myself eating more organic fruits and veggies than ever and feeling great. And definitely NOT being afraid of healthy fats.

    BTW, have you seen this article? kinda scary from a nutritionist: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/13/AR2009041301840.html

  • Jennifer April 21, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Good for you and me as you just set some gret guidleines for my family. I am always trying to stick to most of these anyways but I think I need to post them on the fridge…next to the new list of chores for the 3 and 4 yr old.

  • Mrs H April 21, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    What a great post! I think that slowly, people are seeking information about food and health from more, I will say “obscure” for lack of a better word, sources. I think your blog is a great example. You obviously have a point of view on this subject and are knowledgable. People may not follow your example but at least they have more knowledge.

    I really related to your list of guidelines. My personal addition would be to research and use more whole grains in my cooking and to substitute salt for more daring spices, especially by cooking foods from different cultures. Lastly, to help my husband find alternatives to the foods he likes that contain HFCS.

  • laura April 21, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I think hearing this from you, a nutritionist, helps the rest of us feel OK about relaxing a bit and eating more intuitively. Thank you.

  • Maria April 21, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Great tips! I try to eat local whenever possible. I also don’t buy a lot of prepackaged foods. I stick to fruits, veggies, whole grains, skim dairy and I don’ t eat meat. I also believe exercise is a MUST! I don’t believe in diets, enjoy foods in moderation. Enjoy and savor your food. Use fresh and quality ingredients.

  • Ricki April 21, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Fabulous guidelines–and almost exactly how I eat already. I totally agree that natural, whole foods are what our bodies want and need. In my own case, I’m still striving for moderation–but that’s on its way, too. Thanks for outlining this for everyone!

  • Emily April 21, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    I love this post – and agree with you 100%! I am sometimes frustrated with the “nutrition” that I was taught in school and I think that there are so many “nutrition professionals” out there that have very backward guidelines for themselves and their clients…now i’m on a rant 🙂 I guess everyone has their own opinion.
    Definitely agree with your guidelines as well.

  • Sweta April 21, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Very interesting post.Since you mentioned about guidelines,thought I’d let you know that BMI values have been revised for South Asians.The cut off for normal BMI is 23,and overweight is a BMI of 25!

    (http://bonnenutrition.blogspot.com/2009/02/new-bmi-guidelines-for-indianssouth.html)

  • 5 Star Foodie April 21, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    These are very smart guidelines. We have a few we stick with – basically having to do with limiting cholesterol intake such as substituting bison for beef for example and egg-white omelets. Trying for balanced meals and avoiding processed foods too.

  • gastroanthropologist April 22, 2009 at 3:43 am

    Lori – these are wonderful guidelines. I don’t take supplements on a regular basis and have cut artificial sweeteners out of my diet (with the exception of diet coke, I can’t seem to kick that habit!). I try to avoid all processed foods. I’ve also returned to butter as my spread, but use it sparingly.

    I’ve been reading Food Politics on a off as well – its a bit scary how members in government are connected with companies like Monsanto.

    Thanks for sharing your guidelines – great post!

  • Alison April 22, 2009 at 5:03 am

    I should definitely check that book out. It sounds so interesting. I love Michael Pollan’s books. They really changed my perspective on food.

  • kat April 22, 2009 at 7:08 am

    I’ve always believed if you eat a healthy well-balanced diet & an active lifestyle there is no reason for suppliments

  • Caitlin April 22, 2009 at 8:57 am

    I absolutely love this post, as well as Marion Nestle’s book. I think she might be my hero:) I agree that it is hard sometimes to read those books and not get discouraged, especially if you are in a position to be educating others and you yourself feel at a loss. But all of your personal guidelines are right-on, and look just like mine! I think the take home message for me after reading books like Nestle’s is just to simplify. Eat fresh, unprocessed, and local as possible, and as you said, enjoy the food!

  • Lori April 22, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Erica – Thanks! My mom is a nurse too! 🙂 I agree, calcium is probably the only one I waiver on.

    Mindy – I know what you mean. We’ve had the same experiences here. It has been so easy to cut HFCS out of our diets during this experience.

    Amy – Thanks! And thanks for the link as well. I haven’t seen the article, but i’m headed there right now. 🙂

    Jennifer – So glad I could inspire you. Feel pretty good about making the fridge. 😉

    Mrs H – Oh yes, grains! I left that one out. I’m really having fun experimenting with all the healthy grains. It goes under the culture topic for me a bit. You’ve got some great goals!

    laura – Glad I can help. I really feel that obsession with food can go both ways – eating too much and too many unhealthy foods or making yourself crazy about the health value of your food. Just eat natural, healthy and live your life is how I feel about it. 🙂

    Maria – Sounds like you have some great habits. I’m with you on eating less (or no) processed foods. 🙂

    Ricki – Thanks! I really think with the state of our society and all the influences we experience striving for moderation can be a really long (if not never-ending) phase. I’m still in it for sure.

    Emily – Thanks! Oh, I know what you mean. I worked with so many nutrition professionals who pushed chemical sweeteners for a healthy diet. I’m guilty of it too at one point in my career, but have evolved from that place. I hope it will change over time.

    Sweta – How interesting that those types of changes are being made and for a specific group of the population. Hmm…

    5 Star – Thanks. I am with you on losing those processed foods. Oh and I love bison as well. I actually prefer it over beef.

    gastroanthropologist – The book is really overwhelming at times. I feel like I have to read it in small doses. I’m back to butter as well.
    Diet cokes were the absolute hardest thing for me to kick, but it became much easier when we moved to Brazil. They are more expensive here and not sold in big 12-pack cases. I just started drinking sparkling water and eventually my body grew tired of the artificial sweeteners. They make me feel bad now. They aren’t completely gone b/c I do have a cocktail now and then with one, but at one point about 3 years ago I was drinking 3 cans a day so a big change for sure. I’m not sure how I would have done it if it had remained readily available to me, though. 🙁

    Alison – You will like it for sure. However, I will say that I think Michael Pollan’s books are an easier read for me. This one seems more technical to me.

    kat – In school most of us are taught that they are good for “insurance”. It took a while to get away from that thinking, but now I totally agree with you especially after reading study after study about how the pill form is metabolized differently in most cases.

    Caitlin – That is a great point to take from it. I agree that simplifying is probably the most important step of all.

  • Sapuche April 22, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    This is a great post, and I’ve bookmarked it for future reference (and for motivation when I feel my own personal guidelines start to slip). I have to say, starting my own food blog has made me exponentially more conscious of my eating habits, and far healthier in those habits, too. Another guideline I try to follow is to vary the types of food I eat as much as possible, from one meal to the next and from day to day. For example, rather than just having steamed fish and rice, we always include a fresh salad, steamed/boiled veggies, or miso soup, or we add dried seaweed, kelp, salted plums, or dried fish to our rice. We also look for ways to add various herbs to our meals, even when they’re not called for, and cook with soy sauce, mirin, fish sauce (the brand I use comes from anchovies), etc. As a rule, the Japanese side of my family tries to incorporate over 30 types of healthy food into their diet every day (or is it every meal?), and they only eat until they feel “80% full,” which is a guideline that every Japanese person I’ve ever met is familiar with.

  • Tangled Noodle April 22, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    You’ve pretty much covered all the bases! The one I’m finally re-learning is celebrating food rather than fearing the calories. And like Sapuche, blogging has been a boon to my improving my home-cooking! Knowing that I may blog about it has really inspired and motivated me to pay better attention to my cooking.

    The bottom line is that there is enough information out there if we are inclined to learn about them and to create food and eating guidelines that work best for ourselves!

  • Sarah April 22, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    I would love to see changes in the food programs in the schools.The things they are feeding children are extremely unhealthy! This is why I send my kids to school with lunches!

  • Heather April 22, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    great guidelines! i am going to take them to heart! i always enjoy reading your blog because it reminds me that food needs to be fuel and needs to be healthy for me. this post did it again 😉

  • Michelle @ Find Your Balance April 23, 2009 at 6:43 am

    Haha I’m reading Marion’s What to Eat and feel the same. This whole topic actually became crystal clear to me when I first read John Robbins’ Food Revolution. I recommend that one!

    My guidelines are like yours But when I go out with friends I try to employ the 80/20 rule and let myself enjoy the nourishment of their company and just do the best I can ordering from a menu that may not meet my guidelines whatsover 🙂

  • Daily Spud April 23, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Hear, hear! I have just started reading Nina Planck’s Real Food book and I think the kind of approach it advocates would be right up your alley. I also went and read that Washington Post article that Amy referenced and it’s frankly scary. We get so hung up on nutrient levels and supplements and the notion of the correct daily intake that it can take the joy out of food. There is no one “right” diet (and the Real Food book discusses that) – guidelines like yours are much more realistic.

    As for me, I’ve been eating a vegetarian diet for years (though starting to have a little bit of fish again now), butter is my fat of choice, I embrace eggs and don’t worry about the cholesterol, but I do try to avoid highly processed foodstuffs. I do cook a lot of my own food and even grow some of it if I can. By and large, I don’t take supplements and don’t calorie count and I’m glad to say that I keep in very good health and rarely get sick. I guess I would add that exercise is an important part of it too – I’ve gotten out of the running habit but I do try to at least incorporate regular walking into my routine.

  • Lori April 23, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Sapuche – I’ve read so much about the 80% rule among the Japanese. I think it is a wonderful rule and one I try to incorporate. 30 kinds of foods! Wow! I really think variety is the key to getting all the nutrients we need.

    Tangled Noodle – I know what you mean! Food blogging is the best way to really up your cooking and the fresh ingredients used. I’ve always loved to cook, but take much more pride in the final product when I know I may be telling others about it.

    Sarah – I agree. I do love seeing the various health programs being implemented, but a wider impact is needed for sure.

    Heather – Great! Glad I can offer a littl help. 🙂

    Michelle – That book is on my list as well and now I need to add the one by Robbins. Thanks for the recommendation. I’m such a huge fan of the 80/20. I think it is a wonderful approach for people especially when you are working with those who feel eating healthfully is unattainable. It is important to know you don’t have to give up everything you truly enjoy!

    Daily Spud – That book is on my list and I think it just moved up a bit. I completely agree with her philosophy about no “right” diet. That article was eye-opening for sure. You said it well for sure – the worrying can take the enjoyment out of food.

    Yes, I had an exercise one and then decided to keep it regarding food, but it does belong in there. It is a very important part for sure. Exercise is really where my passion started and then nutrition became more and more interesting to me b/c of that.

  • FoodRenegade April 24, 2009 at 9:09 am

    These are really good guidelines. For me, it all boils down to one question: Is this food REAL?

    That can be expanded with these: Is it old & traditional? Is it something my great grandmother would have recognized as food?

    Thanks for submitting this to fight back Fridays today!

    Cheers,
    KristenM
    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  • Raine Saunders April 24, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Yes, I love this post! So many important points are made. One thing I would like to add to guidelines about eating is that people are calorie-obsessed, and believe that if they are eating something which is “low calorie” or low-fat, they are eating something healthy. This is a false belief that has been hammered into our heads by the health system at large and couldn’t be further from the truth! If you are eating healthy, organic foods with real fats in them, counting calories is unnecessary.

    Thanks again!

    -Raine Saunders
    http://www.agriculturesociety.com

  • Carrie Oliver April 25, 2009 at 5:05 am

    I agree that reading books like Food Politics is best done in small doses and while in a very good mood. And this is a great, simple, philosophically based list, love it!

    The one thing I might add (unless I’m too tired and missed it there) is to avoid most foods in the middle aisles, or more specifically, most things that come in boxes (overrefined, enriched, super salty or sugary stuff) and many things that come in cans.

    We’ve had fun experimenting with different kinds of beans, too, if we can’t find good quality pork or chicken (which is pretty much all the time – no market anywhere near my home sells anything but low end commodity pork or chicken).

  • Lori April 30, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    FoodRenegade – I totally agree. I use the “real food” question all the time. It is so amazing how many of the foods common in the typical diet are not real food.

    Hi Raine – You are so right! It is amazing how hard it is to change those ideals that have been hammered in our heads. I often find myself flashing back to my old way of thinking like that. It is going to be a big thing to change within society, but I think we have a great start! 🙂

    Hi Carrie – Thanks! Oh yes, I agree about the aisles. I’ve noticed that as I’ve changed my eating habits there are aisles I don’t even go down anymore. I need less and less from the interior of the store these days. Thanks for mentioning that. Great point!

  • DelightfullyHealthy May 14, 2009 at 9:16 am

    What an excellent post!

    Marion Nestle came to speak at my school, and her book was one of our texts. I’m glad it’s still finding its way around.