To sum it up in one sentence: An optimal diet consists of a wide variety of mostly plant foods that end up on your plate looking pretty similar to how they are found in nature. Let’s elaborate, because that sentence was kind of clunky.
Wide variety: Different foods provide different nutrients. Eating a variety of foods ensures that you get the nutrients you need to thrive. Try filling your plate with lots of different colors; it’s both pretty and nutritious!
Mostly plant foods: The most nurturing diet is supported by a foundation of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes. Plant foods should be the loud rockstars of your diet, with meat and dairy as the quieter backup musicians.
Similar to how they are found in nature: Our bodies evolved to eat food the way that it comes naturally. Foods that are refined and processed until they have no life left in them do not do very much for us nutritionally. A whole foods based diet, sometimes referred to as “clean eating,” consists of minimally processed foods.
How processed is “minimally processed?” There’s no exact definition on this, but there are two clues you can consider while looking for clean foods. First, how many steps did this food go through to get to where it is now? I can get from milk to plain yogurt with minimal work. It takes a lot more steps to end up with nonfat, artificially sweetened, Boston cream pie flavored yogurt (and I don’t even know what some of those steps would be).
The other clue to look for is the packaging. Firstly, try to buy packaged foods as seldom as possible. Fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, bulk grains, nuts, and beans all can be bought as naked as the day they were born. If you are buying a packaged food, check out the ingredients. Is it a long list or a short list? Do you recognize each of the ingredients, or are there some weird long words on there? If you don’t know what it is do you want to eat it?
I hope these guidelines give you some food for thought on your next trip to the grocery store!
Tosca Reno is an author who has a number of great books on “eating clean.” She is not a nutritionist, but her guidelines are well informed.