“Details, Shmetails. Just Tell Me What Works!”
I follow a long list of experts in the field of nutrition and body metabolism. One of those is Dr. Chris Masterjohn, a guy who has an amazing understanding of how things work. He focuses on creating and publishing educational material for the public at large, frequently in great depth. Most people I know are not prepared for or interested in that depth.
How often do I see a person’s eyes just glaze over when I try to explain why! I have been told, “Don’t explain all that to me, just tell me what to do.”
Dr. Masterjohn also publishes an ongoing series of very short, cut to the chase videos he calls “Chris Masterjohn LITE.” The opening tagline of his videos is “Details, Shmetails, Just Tell Me What Works.” I’m stealing that tagline for this article on ensuring a healthy diet.
A healthy diet will make sure that you get all of the 30-40 essential nutrients your body needs on an ongoing basis. Beyond any illness that might be prophetically guaranteed by your genes (a minute percentage), the majority of chronic illness occurs due to nutrient deficiency.
Hold this thought. Every food (meat or plant) has a different composition of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat. The amount of any one nutrient in any one food varies. Further, there can be a risk if any one food is consumed in excess. I won’t explain that now (you’re welcome) but the basic premise is diversify, diversify, diversify.
#1 Protein – how much?
A good basic rule for the rank and file of us is to eat about a ½ gram of protein per pound of target body weight. Target is not what you do weight, but what you would like to weigh. The most obvious protein source is meat. About 1 ounces of cooked meat is equal to 6 or 7 grams of protein. So 4 ounces cooked chicken breast is 28 grams of protein.
My target body weight is the same as my current weight, 124 lbs. Based on this formula; I should eat 62 grams of protein which would be 9 ounces of meat. Do your own calculation.
People who do a lot of physical exercise due to their job or focus on physical fitness and muscle growth may need more protein. If this is you, you need to do some research to set your own protein target.
Note that all of your protein does NOT have to come from meat.
#2 Protein – what kind?
Diversify, diversify, and diversify. There are lots of protein options including meat (beef, pork, lamb, elk, deer, etc.), fish, shellfish, dairy and eggs. Whenever possible consistently vary your protein on a daily basis. Legumes (beans) are also good sources of protein and can be an alternative.
In a perfect world, you would eat your meat “nose-to-tail”. The skin, muscles, and organs of an animal vary in nutrient content. Adding a weekly serving of liver is a particularly nutritious way to start the path to nose-to-tail.
From food, the simplest way to get enough calcium is through three servings of dairy in some form. That might be cheese, yogurt, and/or milk. In the event that you encounter risk with dairy products, there is calcium in smaller amounts in vegetables and edible bones (like in sardines, canned salmon, or gnawing on the chicken wing ends). Dairy is also a source of protein.
#4 Starchy Carbohydrates (not counting vegetables)
Diversify with whole grains, legumes (beans), and root vegetables (tubers). Whole grains do not include refined wheat grains (no matter what the label says). Legumes are also particularly good sources of protein.
There is a significant risk in the grain category because the average American consumes as much as 60% of their diet in processed refined grain. This amounts to an excess of one food category that is almost entirely missing the natural vitamins, minerals, etc. and is the primary food contributor to autoimmune diseases. (Oops! I wasn’t supposed to explain.) Better grain choices are brown rice, quinoa, and steel cut oats, as examples.
#5 Vegetables (not counting starches) and fruit
Eat several cups of vegetables a day, diversified across the color spectrum but always including at least one leafy green vegetable. This would also include cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. There are infinite possibilities here.
Small portions of a variety of fruit are good. But fruit is not a substitute for vegetables.
Diversify, diversify, and diversify. Again, every vegetable has a different composition of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat. The amount of any one nutrient in any one vegetable varies. Further, there are anti-nutrients in all vegetables that are generally not problems if eaten in balance with other vegetables but risky if eaten in excess. So if you just eat tomatoes or just eat broccoli or just eat spinach, all good foods, you will miss your overall nutrient marker and also have digestive consequences.
Final point: If you are allergic to or have digestive reactions to any of the foods listed, don’t eat them. There are more than enough options here to cover your nutritional needs.
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. She is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry), and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.