The easy answer to “what should I eat?” (which I get asked a lot) is actually very, very simple and very, very strongly evidence based. It’s this:
Eat as much as you like of things that look basically the same on your plate as they did when they were alive. And eat as little as you like of anything with sugar.
The more steps something that has gone through between when it was alive and when it got to your plate, the more likely it is that good, nutritious stuff has been taken out of it and scary, unhealthful stuff has been put it.
Like, take a chicken breast. A baked chicken breast looks essentially the same as it did the day it was carved from the chicken carcass.
And compare that to a chicken nugget. From which part of a chicken comes the “nugget”? You see what I’m saying?
Or how about wheat? Shredded wheat. That looks pretty much like it did when it was a growing plant, right? It’s been through some processing, but still. Compare that with a slice of bread. Flour has been through LIKE WOAH processing. Anything with flour counts as highly processed, and you’ll be healthier if you eat less of that and more of the stuff that looks like it did when it was growing.
Brown rice is less processed than white rice, but white rice is less processed than rice pudding. See how it works?
All fruits and vegetables. Eggs. Unprocessed meat. Beans. Water. It’s hard to overdo it on these things – technically it’s possible, but you really have to be trying.
Sugar is the exception. Even “unrefined” cane sugar causes a giant insulin spike, which in turn causes a cascade of biochemical things to happen that, well, you don’t want to happen. Less sugar is better.
It happens that there’s often an overlap between things with sugar and things that are highly processed – baked goods, candy, breakfast cereal, etc. Those are DEFINITELY things to eat less of.
Beyond these rules, it’s all feelings and politics, which are very complicated and seriously impact how easy or difficult it is to follow these two easy rules. Food is social and emotional and political and it’s not just about nourishing your BODY, it’s about nourishing your SPIRIT. The basic rules don’t address food culture or the food system or the environment or body image or any of the rest of it.
And the rules don’t address all the next questions, like, “Why is it so hard to eat that way?” and “What if I LOVE sugar?” or “What if I don’t have access to food that grew that way?” or “What if I don’t eat animal products?”
But that’s all another post.
If you just want to know what to eat, that’s what to eat. Food that looks the way it grew, and less sugar. Done.