Updated: Sep 27, 2021
Nutrition is complicated, there's no denying that. Thanks to Google, accessibility to information is considerably easier than it was just a few decades ago. And this is good, right? Kinda. Chances are, you've gone online to quickly look something up, and found fifteen different answers to your question, which just led to more questions. If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. With so many people putting out content (some more qualified than others), it's easy to get lost in the search results, not know what to believe, and to generally feel more confused than when you started. My advice? Keep it simple.
The Golden Rule?
To be honest, I'm not a big rule setter (I'm also not the best at following the rules, but that's for another day). In fact, when it comes to nutrition, the only time I believe rules or restrictions are beneficial is if an individual has identified a sensitivity or an allergy.
My "golden non-rule" is: Do what works best for you.
Not hungry first thing in the morning? No problem! Plan to eat when you're hungry! Not a fan of meat? Don't eat it! There are a variety of plant based items that can support your health. Don't like broccoli? Honestly, same. Choose a different veggie.
While there might not be a definitive golden rule, there are still a few things you can do to support health through nutrition. Here are my top 3 suggestions that support almost any health-based goal:
Get More Bang for Your Buck
Depending on your health goal, you may choose to look for foods that offer you more nutritional bang for your buck. This concept is often referred to as 'nutrition density'. Usually, you can use the nutrition labels found on the back of your food items to determine it's nutrition density. Nutritionally dense foods may have more micro- or macronutrients (such as vitamins or minerals, higher water content, higher protein content, or include essential fatty acids). They may also have other health-supporting properties, such as higher antioxidant levels, or higher fibre. This information can help you make a more informed decision about what you're going to eat next. For example, after a quick internet search, I found the nutrient density of two styles of sandwich bread. For roughly the same serving size, one slice of bread contained 6g of protein, while the other one had 3g. If increasing protein is part of your health goal, this would be helpful information as you decide what type of bread to use.
Evaluating nutrient density can help you make a more informed decision about your food choices.
Make it Stick
Does this mean you *always* have to research the nutritional information for everything you eat, and *always* have to pick the so-called better choice? Absolutely not. For starters, food is more than just fuel. It can be a source of pleasure, a social experience, or a display of love and gratitude, among many other things. I like to ask myself "what is this food providing me with?" While nutritional density is one factor, consider the physical or emotional benefits of the item as well. Most importantly, you'll also want to factor in whether you like the taste of the food. Using the same bread example, if you try the loaf that has 6g of protein in it, and it's dry, or has a flavour profile you don't enjoy, that's not the bread for you!
Experience tells us that regardless of the goal, you are more successful when you've set yourself up to succeed. You can choose to follow one of the so-called “healthiest” nutrition guidelines out there, but if those guidelines have you preparing complicated or time-consuming meals, requires food items that are not regularly accessible for you, or requires you to regularly eat food items you don't enjoy (or, worse, requires you to restrict the food items you *do* enjoy!), the chances of you "sticking with it" will be significantly lower.
Set yourself up for success by making nutrition decisions that are realistic for you.
Scoring an 8/10 is Really a 10/10
Our success can be attributed to the collective actions we took to achieve it. That's actions, plural; not action, singular. Be flexible and realistic with your food decisions. No one is asking for perfection. In fact, if you're only accepting perfection, you'll likely never find long term success! Consistent instances of a not-so-perfect attempt at a nutrition goal will actually fill your goal bucket quicker, and are more likely to be sustainable.
Aim for consistent progress, not consistent perfection.
The Take Away
There are so many ways to progress towards your goals. As a coach, I believe that my job is to provide information that directly pertains to your health goals, and then support you while you make the choices that best suit you and your goals in that moment. At the risk of sounding cheesy, there is no such thing as failure when you are working towards a goal.
You've either taken a step in the right direction, or you've identified a strategy that isn't working for you at the moment. Either way, both outcomes are helping you move forward.
Cheering You On,