Yet Another Diet: A People and Planetary Perspective
The January diets came out in droves, and well-intentioned people wanting to hit the reset button on their own choices were eager to see what the latest versions of food suggestions are for the new year. All of this is seemingly well intended. All of this is literally like Groundhog Day, year after year, repeating with a new set of rules, a shiny new title or two, and a few new famous people to help lead the charge.
Let’s pause for a moment. We’re all probably smiling and nodding as we think about this, either with ourselves or someone we know marching along to this tune. Whoa, whoa, whoa.
I became a dietitian to learn the science of food and nutrition to better learn for myself how to make informed decisions, and built a career inspiring people to do the same for themselves. It’s not my job, even though I am a trained nutrition professional, to tell people what to eat. My job is to listen, understand the health needs and goals for each individual who asks for my help, and work with the doctor and other medical and agricultural professionals to construct a realistic plan. One that honors cultural, religious, regional, familial, and taste bud related reasons why that person eats what they do. One that accommodates birthday cake, special family recipes, budget, and food safety.
Regardless of who is inventing or discussing the latest rendition of what you “should” be eating, there are a few things I think most people would agree on:
- We need to take better care of our planet.
- Many individuals worldwide are aging, sick, overweight and/or starving.
- Many people overeat foods that don’t provide much nutrition.
- Many people are undereating nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Cooking skills can impact health.
- Technology is shifting many things in our daily life.
- Many individuals are healthy, strong, and enjoying a wonderful quality of life. (It can be done!)
We waste up to 40% of the food we grow. Beyond considering the impact of food in our bodies, we should consider easy and impactful ways to be more mindful of our planet. Have you changed your light bulbs to be more energy efficient? Do you shut off the water when you brush your teeth? Do you plan your trips out of the house to be the most efficient use of your car/gas? Are there disposable items you are using that could be swapped out for reusable? It’s not so hard to bring your fork along with your lunch.
Whew. Here’s the thing. It’s all related and kind of like a game of Jenga. You pick the wrong thing to focus on, and the whole thing can come tumbling down. The good news, is if you choose carefully, you can respect the structure and keep moving forward.
What if we thought about that when it comes to food?
Instead of making all kinds of rules and things to do that make it extremely difficult to actually follow, what if we hit that refresh button in a different way? What if we stopped going down one path that hasn’t really been working and we tried something new? And what if it was easier and delicious?
That’s what I want you to think about. I get that having boundaries and filters to streamline meal time and grocery shopping is helpful. But here’s the bottom line: carbohydrates, protein and fat are the three macronutrients we need to manage. Our choices within them can honor our personal beliefs. With a few intentional tweaks, we can still eat what we love, honor the planet, and care for our health. Simple can be effective when the right things are simplified.
If you still want rules and filters, here are three that are super easy to remember, super helpful while grocery shopping and putting together meals and snacks, and guess what – no matter how you like to eat? Yep. They work.
- Eat multiple food groups. If you follow MyPlate, you have five food groups with loads of tasty options in each. Try for two at snack time and three for a meal. This could mean a stick of string cheese and some popcorn. Or an apple and some peanut butter. It means a sandwich with ham, beef, tofu, or other protein option on a bun or bread with at least two grams of fiber per serving, and a layer of your favorite veggies. I love leftover salad as a sandwich topper for a fiber-rich, nutritious option instead of other condiments that helps reduce wasting food, too. Partnering food groups that contain fiber and protein is a great combination, too, because both can help you feel fuller longer while they also provide benefits to the body along with other nutrients, too.
- Read Nutrition Facts Labels and ingredient lists. If you have time to play games on your phone or watch your favorite show, you have time to sneak a peek at some labels while shopping. I’m not talking about hours and tackling the whole store every week. Pick an aisle. Find three things that are on sale and/or sound interesting. Read them. Find a recipe that uses them so you avoid wasting food and money. Make it a game. Expect to walk in and be pleasantly surprised by what you find. And guess what? You will be.
- Invest in tools that work and consider how time is spent. For not a whole lot of money, you can set your kitchen up for future success. I like glass bowls with tight fitting lids in 2-4 cup portion sizes because they go from freezer to microwave and can easily be transported for lunch, too. Not only does this eliminate some plastic waste, it helps preserve and build in planning at meal time. I have a few tried and true recipes for casseroles, soups and chili that freeze exceptionally well. Cooking ahead when we have time is fun. Having a full freezer of things we like to eat is even more fun. You could even try “doubling up” when you cook. I have two casserole pans that sit side by side in the oven. My mom taught me that using the whole oven when you turn it on is an efficient use of energy, plus you have meals for days.
We are in a unique point in our lives, regardless of where we live, where many things are changing. Things we knew turned into things we thought we knew but were a bit off. Things that we may be a wee bit confused about get more complex as people who have mastered social media and other vehicles of communication share their passionate perceptions minus a level of expertise required to make them an actual expert.
The bottom line? Keep fad diets and the latest headlines in perspective. We don’t have to stop wanting to connect through food. Let’s just stop making it hard or judgmental.