Of the Seven Go Well Fundamentals for Good Health, number two—Eat Well—is at once the easiest and the toughest to quantify. We can trace the confusion to many wonderfully bizarre, historic, evolutionary forks in the road—too far-reaching for this particular blog. (For a deeper look, check out Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond or my favorite: The Story of the Human Body by Daniel Lieberman). However, this I know: The concept of eating well is inextricably connected to and affected by the development and evolution of food production.
What is eating well?
From a purely physiological/biochemical point of view, we eat to provide our magnificent bodies with the nutrients and energy we need to survive. That being the case, you can tell when you are eating well by the way you feel.
I would guess that for our hunter-gatherer ancestors roaming around and surviving for several millions of years prior to the development of agriculture—roughly 11,000 years ago—eating well was synonymous with, well, simply finding enough to eat. You can thank your ancestors that they did a good job of eating well… you are here, after all. It’s a little hard to imagine that they had many opportunities to turn down a meal because they were yak intolerant, or didn’t care much for wooly mammoth fat mixed with ground chokecherries, thank you very much. To eat at all was to eat well.
Gradually, farming and the domestication of animals brought a whole host of unintended, and even unthinkable, consequences that have conspired to confuse what it now means to modern humans to eat well. In the headlong evolutionary race to develop bigger, better, sweeter, longer shelf-life “foods,” we have lost as a species, or are rapidly losing, the ability to discern what and how much to eat to satisfy our fundamental nutritional needs. This is not to dismiss or diminish the advances in food science and production. Centuries from now, they may well determine that frozen pizza was the food salvation of humankind—still, probably won’t be Space Food Sticks.
What does it mean to eat well in the Information Age? First, my particular bias: There is no single diet or one way for all humans to eat well in so far as food choice is concerned. Some of us thrive on meat. Some of us thrive on grains. Some of us “do dairy” to no ill effects; others not. Some of us stick with gluten. Some are intolerant. Some raw, some cooked. To suggest that to eat well humans must eat only one way, or that one particular diet somehow makes a better person than another, overturns the smorgasbord of differences across our species. To each his/her own.
Back to Basics
That said, this we do know. In order to survive and thrive, humans require a healthy balance of:
- Protein: Eggs, legumes, meats, fish, poultry, cheese, nuts and seeds, tofu
- Carbohydrates: Grains, fruits, vegetables, starches—potatoes, yams, tubers, rice
- Fats: Butter, olive oil, coconut oil/butter, ghee, nuts and seeds
- Trace vitamins and minerals—most often we get these from eating the foods above, with some notable exceptions like vitamin D
From here it gets messy. What is a healthy balance? In what ratios and in what proportions do we need these foods? And what about “bad foods” versus “good foods”? To answer the first two questions I turn to the good people at Precision Nutrition. Check out their brilliantly simplified way to make sense of food ratios and amounts—puts a whole new spin on Rule of Thumb. If your food intake can adhere to these simple rules, you will be taking a giant step toward eating well and you will feel better—the ultimate goal of eating well.
I’ll save the “good food versus bad food” debate for another post. Short version: Our bodies seem to perform better when we eat so-called “clean foods”—see for yourself. If you choose foods from this list often and in the amounts recommended by Precision Nutrition, you will be on the path to eating well.
Bottom line: As always, listen to your magnificent body. You will know when you are eating well by how you feel. Sluggish and bloated? Alert and energized? Hungry or satisfied? Serve your unique body the foods it needs and deserves for good health, and you will feel better.
Eat Well. And Go Well!