Who the hell knows what to eat anymore. Everyone from dietitians, to doctors, to personal trainers, to your mom, to your Starbucks Barista has an opinion on what you should be eating. Goddamn EVERYONE! All of these people seem to have their own “Pillars” of nutrition, or their “Elements” of a healthy diet, or their “Building blocks” or their “Pyramids”. Some say there are 5 elements, others say there are 4 intertwining circles, or 7 pillars, or 2, or 15. Numbers, I believe, they are pulling out their respective asses.
To be fair, many of these people have good intentions of trying to be helpful. Some actually have solid, if not genius advise on this important topic. But far too many are simply trying to sell you a diet plan, or consulting, or a book or all of the above. With all of this “Advise” floating around out there, I really don’t want to add to the noise. What I would like to do is maybe simplify the idea of what healthy eating should be all about. Having said that, I submit to you that there are three types of foods in this world: There is Dysfunctional food, Functional food and what I call Foundational food. Indulge me for a moment while I expand on these three types.
Dysfunctional food is the kind that provides a continual self-indulgent reward system. Think of high fat-high sugar lattes, or doughnuts or just about anything you can get at McDonalds or Taco Bell. Dysfunctional foods are purposely laden with trans-fats and processed sugars. They are formulated with manufactured ingredients intended to pour gasoline on an already roaring fire of craving. You eat a piece of candy and you feel satisfied, which leads you to the next piece, and the next piece, and so on. It's like an endless Pavlovian cycle, churning your body into a sate of unhealthy pillowy softness. Dysfunctional foods are the source of what has become in the US, an epidemic of obesity and all of its attendant disease states. I doubt there are many who would debate or attempt to refute this assertion, other than the companies who make this junk.
Functional food is a bit of a tricky grey area. This is the kind of food that claims to combine indulgence with just enough healthy attributes to have the best of both worlds, but never doing either very well. Think of energy bars, that through clever marketing, position themselves to be a healthy snack option, yet deliver as much as 20 plus grams of sugar and 12 or more grams of fat. How about the protein bars that look healthy for their high amounts of protein and low sugar content, but also include ingredients like Sucralose, Acesulfame potassium, sugar alcohols, palm oil, glycerin and soy. Some products make a real effort to include only ultra healthy raw ingredients that, to understate, come up short on taste. You know the type. You eat it or drink it and tastes like a mouthful of dirt and grass. In summary, Functional food doesn’t work for the reason of simply trying to be too many things at one time.
That brings me to Foundational food. Think of what goes into building a house. The most important component in the building of any structure is the foundation. Materials like lumber, wiring, windows, drywall, etc, have no function whatsoever without a foundation to place them on. Without a solid foundation the structure will collapse on itself. In this regard, the human body is no different. We humans need to consume the types of food that fuel our ability to work and play at the things we love to do. Think of broccoli, or apples, or brown rice, or chicken breast or oatmeal. These are not particularly exciting foods. In fact they are, in and of themselves, pretty bland and boring. BUT they provide the precise amount of nutritional density needed to build a solid foundation of health and wellness. When you build upon that foundation, you get a structure, a body, a life that will stand for a very long time.
I recognize that food is not just fuel. It is an important connection to the full human experience. It not only nourishes our bodies, but also our souls. Nothing rounds out the rough edges of a bad day like a some comfort food. Nothing puts the wonderful finishing touches on a celebration like a great meal. You should and need to participate in these types of occasions. Just like a house, once the foundation is in place, you can customize what you build on it in any way you like. Although Foundational foods don’t pretend to be as tasty as a piece of fudge or lasagna, they are the kinds of foods that create a foundation that can be built upon in whatever way you need to suit your lifestyle. That means it’s ok to participate in occasional Friday night beer and pizza, or have a piece of cake at your nieces birthday party, or a plate of nachos during the game. That oatmeal, broccoli and chicken breast you ate earlier that day gives you the flexibility to diverge every now and then.
Committing to eating these Foundational Foods at least one or two times per day is how you achieve meaningful longevity, how you keep your structure, your body, strong and vital for many years. You can and should enjoy foods of all kinds. It’s your house. You can build it however you like, as long as you have the solid foundation to support it.
Keep it real.