Nutrition science is an ever evolving, complex subject that takes into account so many factors. Nothing is set in stone, there will always be exceptions to the rule. Good nutrition however is pretty simple to achieve. Not easy, but simple.
Regardless of your nutrition philosophies or beliefs, these principles will hold true.
Eat minimally processed foods most of the time
Focus on food quality, whole foods help us to:
- Regulate energy balance evenly
- Balance our hormones
- Feel satisfied with our meals
- Maintain normal blood sugar levels
Be in tune with your bodies hunger and fullness cues
Being mindful around our food helps us to:
- Control cravings
- Avoid emotional eating
- Know when to stop eating
- Eat slowly for better digestion
- Appreciate your food
Focuses on the long term
Good nutrition is not about short term goals. Its something you can carry on for the rest of your life.
- its integrated into your lifestyle.
- Its easy to prep and plan for.
- it fits into your budget and schedule
Good nutrition and exercise go together like lock and key. Good nutrition helps to:
- Fuel workouts and sport
- Enhance performance
- Supports recovery
- Builds muscle
Makes you happy
Good nutrition should not make you feel deprived or miserable. It should become a natural part of your life that you enjoy.
Good nutrition should:
- Make you feel happy about your lifestyle, body and food.
- Enable you to enjoy indulgence here and there without guilt.
- Be easy to maintain long term
It's in the name, the Carnivore diet focus on eating meat and animal organs. It's basically the polar opposite of being a vegan.
The food you would mostly be eating on this diet include:
beef, chicken, pork, lamb, turkey, organ meats, salmon, sardines, white fish, and small amounts of heavy cream and hard cheese.
Many fitness influencers swear by this methodology, claiming that it leads to less inflammation, fat loss, muscle gain and more.
But what does the data say? Are there long term studies on this diet? Is it sustainable ?
Lets dive in a bit.
Why all the meat?
In the carnivore diet you will hear terms like “evolutionarily consistent” and “toxic plant compounds” as proof that the diet works.
Evolutionary consistency means eating the way our ancestors did.
There is research that shows a lot of hunter-gatherer tribes (yes, many still exist around the world) have much lower rates of the health problems that plague people who eat a standard Western diet.
However in truth most hunter-gatherer tribes eat more than just meat, they eat what is available to them in that season. Most research shows that plants make up most of what these societies eat or ate.
Toxic plant compounds refer to the idea that some plants contain substances that make humans sick. Advocates of the carnivore diet also believe plants aren’t as good for you as everyone says due to the chemical compounds they contain. One example is lectins, which are found in plant foods like grains and legumes, and essentially serve as built-in defense mechanisms against microorganisms, insects, and other pests. Some people are sensitive to them, and if certain foods aren’t prepared properly (like kidney beans), they can make you sick. However s long as you prepare lectins and legumes properly , they generally aren’t harmful.
The benefits of carnivore
the drawbacks of carnivore
what does the science say?
Bottom line: There’s no scientific evidence linking the carnivore diet with good health.
It turns out we don’t have data on what happens to people long-term. That includes no long-term data on weight and body composition, the digestive system, metabolic health, or anything else.
But Brand! We’ve seen so much success stories of people on social media who are shouting from the rooftops about how much healthier they are, or how much weight they lost. In truth the carnivore diet is a lot like other popular diets that trend over the year like keto or vegan or intermittent fasting.
It is what all these diets have in common that is producing these results. It’s not so much the focus on meat (or veggies) that is leading to the results they are getting , it is the elimination of processed foods and excess calories.
The carnivore diet is basically an elimination diet.
Like all these diets, carnivore puts emphasis on only eating meat and meat products, so most likely you are not eating very many carbs, you’re cutting out many food groups and are probably eating less processed foods.
This eating style is super restrictive. Because of that, people end up drastically reducing the types of foods they eat. They are eating less processed carbohydrates, less sugar, less processed and calorie dense foods in general .
And that’s where the diet’s benefits really come from. Anytime you’re eating less processed foods , you are going to see benefits.
All the stuff they’re not eating makes a big difference too.
People who feel so much better on the carnivore diet are probably addressing an intolerance. Food intolerances can cause a whole range of symptoms: digestive troubles, chronic inflammation, and feeling sluggish.
So it’s not that the carnivore diet is magic. It’s that by omitting dairy, gluten, FODMAPs, and so many other foods, they stop eating what’s causing their problems.
End result: they feel better.
But is that sustainable ?
In principle, the carnivore diet isn’t so different from other popular diets. Again, It’s the stuff these diets all have in common that produces results: eating enough protein, and focusing more on minimally-processed foods and less on highly-processed foods.
While it may work for some people , it is not for everyone and can be very hard to sustain long term.
If you want to try the carnivore diet out, go for it! But use it as an experiment, not a long term solution. Try to include some fruits and other high fibre foods in there.
We need glucose to live. Our brain needs about 130 g of glucose a day. We can get this from our diet, or when carb intake is low (for example if you were fasting) we can get it from gluconeogenesis or ketosis, as long as we have enough protein and fat to process.
This is important to understand that while our body needs a certain amount of glucose, that glucose can come from several sources.
Just like there is no single “best diet”. There is no “correct” amount of carbohydrates that is the same for everyone all the time.
Carb intake will depend on factors like:
The carbohydrate needs of a young muscular male athlete who trains twice a day will need a lot more carbohydrates than a sedentary 68 year old woman who does tai chi 3 times a week.
When it comes to carb intake, there is a distribution of how intake will vary. Most people will be somewhere in the middle, doing best with a moderate portion of carbs, especially from higher fibre, nutrient rich slow digesting sources such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Simple and complex carbs
Keep carbs simple but complex
When it comes to carbs we suggest as often as possible stick to less processed, whole foods with slow digesting carbohydrates. keep it complex,but when thinking about nutrition as a whole, try to keep it simple.
Make sure you are eating the right foods, in the right amounts, for the right reasons.
1. how much food are you eating each day? are you eating the right amount for your goals?
2. how are you eating each day? are you slowing down to savor and digest?
3. why are you eating each day? are you truly hungry when-you eat?
4. what are you eating each day? are you sticking to mostly whole foods?
5. are you going #1 to #4 consistently? are you doing this 75-90% of the time?
Many of you may be familiar with this term, its used to market certain carbohydrate and grain products as being “better for you”
But what does it mean?
The glycemic index (GI) is the measure of the rate of which an ingested food causes the level of glucose in the blood to rise. This tells us how much blood sugar goes up when we consume 50 g of usable carbohydrates from a particular food.
It is a relative measure determined against a specific reference food.
In general the less processed and higher fibre a food is, the more complex its carbohydrate molecules usually are. Due to this , these foods typically take longer to digest and have a lower GI.
High glycemic foods include sugar, candy, breakfast cereal and bagels. Lower GI foods include legumes, whole grains and vegetables.
When blood sugar goes up quickly, insulin is usually quick to respond. The amount of insulin released usually matches the amount of glucose present.
This had led to some people to suggest that a low GI diet is a healthy one.
The problem with gi as a measure
While GI is an interesting measure of the physiological response to carbs in the diet, it does not tell the entire story.
Researchers often use glycemic load as a more realistic measure. The glycemic load of a food is based on the GI X by the serving size of the food.
While this gives a better picture of how fast blood sugar may go up after a meal, GL still has some of the same problems as GI. And it does not take into account other elements like fibre, micronutrients, phytonutrients etc.
Choosing carbs wisely
The GI and GL does not give us the whole story. Most people should not be using these (or any numbers) to dictate what and how they should eat and enjoy.
Nutrition is not black and white, carbohydrates and most foods are more complicated than this.
Barardi et all 2018 The Essentials of Sport and Exercise nutrition Third Edition.
“Eat your veggies”
We are used to hearing this from our parents growing up but the importance of why and how never really stuck. As a nutrition coach, one of the most common habits I am assigning to my clients is for them to eat more vegetables.
Easier said than done.
Why? Because eating your vegetables can be boring. And the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this, is how bland and flavourless vegetables taste.
But I am going to teach you how to make this habit easier, and how to prep vegetables in a way that is actually palatable to you.
Lets make eating vegetables for every meal a regular thing you for you :)
What to eat.
There is no point forcing yourself to eat vegetables that you dislike (at least at first). Start with the vegetables that you know that you can tolerate and like. When I started to improve my nutrition I literally ate only carrots as my vegetable source.
Because that was the only vegetable that I kind of liked and could tolerate.
Once I became consistent in prepping and cooking said carrots, I started to experiment and try other vegetables.
I started to realise that veggies don’t have to be boring and bland, they can taste pretty good!
Fast forward to now, I regularly include:
Tomatoes (this is a big one because I HATED tomatoes)
And continue to experiment with veggies I can find on the island. Now don’t get me wrong there are still veggies I dislike and will not eat, like onions for example. But my range of whole foods has otherwise improved a bunch.
Make it easier for you to eat your vegetables by starting with your tastebuds.
HOW to cook:
Steam, boil , oven bake , fry, Grill
It is really up to you:
Personally I like to steam my vegetables with a bit of seasoning, because its really easy and it takes like 10 minutes. But its really up to you, give any of these methods a go and see which method you like.
How much vegetables should I eat? (Portions)
1 portion of vegetables equates to 1 fist size. Generally you want to aim for 2-3 fist per meal for males and 1-2 fists for females.
Ideally most if your plate should be made up of vegetables.
Some general benefits that you may experience when including more plant foods in your diet are:
Having a complete array of micronutrients (like calcium, magnesium and other electrolytes) is necessary for fully functioning body processes, like transporting oxygen and sending electrical signals to muscles. Vegetables are pretty important.
With the right amount and variety of vegetables, you'll feel effects in muscle coordination, appetite regulation, and mental clarity.
Including more vegetables (and other minimally processed nutrient dense foods) is going to improve so many things in your life. How you feel throughout the day, mental clarity, your mood etc. It’s not something that you’ll experience right away, usually people start feeling the benefits of eating more vegetables after a few weeks, which can be really motivating to continue on with it.
Because you have experienced what it feels like to operate at an optimal level, you’re less likely to want to go back to the way you were eating before. That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy the foods you used to, go for it!
As long as you have eaten your vegetables for the day ;)
Fad diets, juice cleanses, detoxes come in and out of fashion in our industry from time to time.
The truth is they can work to some degree, if weight loss is your goal. We all have that friend who lost a ton of weight on keto, or carnivore or plant based.
How does this work? How is it possible that even though all these diets are different, they seem to be effective in helping a person lose weight?
Instead of looking at their differences, look at what these diets have in common.
By cutting out food groups, eating mostly minimally processed foods , these diets effectively put you in a calorie deficit. i.e. you are eating less than you are expending resulting in weight loss.
The Plant based Diet
Emphasises eating only plant based foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, tubers, seeds and more. The majority of these types of foods tends to be low in caloric load , yet nutrient and fibre dense. Meaning you feel fuller and more satisfied from your meals but are actually eating LESS calorically.
Putting you into a calorie deficit.
The Keto Diet
Focuses on eating foods high in fats, and very low carb. As carbs are a pretty dense macro nutrient and quite easy to overeat. This diet effectively puts you into a calorie deficit by cutting your carbs right down.
Juice detoxes or Cleanses
These “cleanses” and detoxes focus on just ingesting liquid, so of course you’re going to lose weight. You’re not eating anything essentially.
Bear in mind that no juice or tea or smoothie will “detox” or “cleanse” your body. Your liver and kidneys do this job perfectly fine.
So while fad diets and nutrition philosophies differ in what they emphasise, they all are pretty effective in putting you into a caloric deficit (i.e. making you eat less).
It is not the absence of that particular macro nutrient or food group, it is more the decreased amount of calories you are eating that is leading to the weight loss.
This is a good example of how adaptive humans can be with their nutrition, and that we can survive on various nutrition methods or diets. There is no one size fit all diet.
Whether or not this is sustainable in the long term is another matter.
Because while it is relatively easy to cut something out for 4 to 6 to 12 weeks, keeping that going is extremely challenging for many people.
A great example of this can be seen with the participants of the reality TV show. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a study that followed 14 former Biggest Loser contestants over the course of six years. The participants had gained back most of the weight they lost on the show, and in some cases, they put on even more. On average, participants regained 70 percent of the weight they'd lost (Godman, 2018).
Fixing your lifestyle through nutrition and exercise is more than just cutting certain foods out, and working out twice a day.
It takes time and learning and habit forming, and a willingness to grow. It’s about accepting that perfection is not a sustainable nor possible goal, and that perfection is not needed to make progress. In fact being consistent most of the time will yield great results.
Its about being patient and knowing that it doesn’t need to feel like you’re working hard for it to be working.
The best way we have found to do this is to change one little thing at a time, and build upon those changes. And learn about your food and habits and experiences. And to learn more about yourself
No fad diet is going to do that for you, it all you. It always has been
Godman, H. G. (2018, January 24). Lessons from “The Biggest Loser.” Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/lessons-from-the-biggest-loser