A friend sent a message out to a group we belong to with a request for advice on how to eat a healthy diet: what books to read, and other tips. Here are the thoughts I sent her:
Congratulations on your decision to take control of your diet and eat in a more healthful manner. Here are a few responses to your request for ideas on books and other tips:
1. Michael Pollan's Food Rules: An Eater's Manifesto
Pollan's advice is simple, and you won't find much about what food to eat after what other food. This short book expounds upon his seven-word formulation for healthy eating:
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
2. Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
One of the best ways to eliminate unhealthy foods from your diet, I've found, is to cultivate a sense of disgust. That can be a more powerful emotion that the more intellectual desire to switch with type of omega fats you are eating.
After reading Pollan's description of how animals are raised in the modern industrial agricultural system, you might find it easier to cut them out of your diet (if you're a vegetarian, then the discussions of corn and soybean will be interesting.)
The impact on me: I now eat only meat that I've raised myself. That may not be an option for everyone, but if you switch to buying only grass-fed, organic beef directly from the farmer, you'll spend more, but you'll probably eat a lot less meat of much higher quality.
3. Marion Nestle's What to Eat
I didn't find this book as compelling, but if you want a lot more details on nutrient contents, what type of fish has less impact on the environment, and so forth, this is the bible.
4. Tyler Cowen: An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies
Cowen writes one of the leading economics blogs in the world, MarginalRevolution.com, and has been a dedicated foodie for three decades. He recommends making every meal count, and uses the insights of economics to help you find the best meals at the best deals. A portion of his book was excerpted in The Atlantic this month and you can read it free here:
If you are mindful about making every meal an adventure, you'll be less likely to eat junk.
5. Read my wife's blog. My wife has been planning to start her blog for a year, and she finally got it launched last week. Every day she is posting about a food adventure with kids. Subscribe by email, join her Facebook group, or share the blog with friends who have kids:
(She figures she will serve each of our kids 18,000 meals before they leave home, and wants to make 10% of them an adventure, thus the 1,800)
6. Check out this fantastic infographic on how, why, and where we eat from an amazing data set (the info comes from The Eatery, an iPhone app where you can snap a photo of everything you eat, rate how healthy it is, and have other users also rate how healthy they think it is)
Users who ate breakfast ate 12.3% healthier all day;
Users who don't eat breakfast end up eating 6.8% more food in total all day
You might even try using the app yourself if you've got a smartphone (I downloaded it yesterday)
7. Give up sugar. This is perhaps the simplest diet rule possible. If you follow this one rule, you are almost certainly to eat a more healthy diet. From the same set of infographics as #6 above:
"Pick a diet, any diet: it will make you healthier. Users with a specific diet type ate 15.2% healthier that users without one." (Vegetarians ate 22.4% healthier, in case you were wondering.)
You may have cravings for a couple of days, but it is surprisingly easy to do. I gave up sugar in late January this year and have no cravings at all for dessert. If you give up sugar, you'll most likely start eating more fruit. And you'll start being able to taste real food again.
And as a side benefit, the vast majority of junk food will be off limits.
8. Don't try to change everything at once. This is most likely to fail: we are literally creatures of habit, and trying to change everything at once doesn't work, for most people at least. Pick just one habit that you will commit to changing, and work on it for 2-3 months. Then work on the next one. Breakfast is the greatest leverage point, so I'd start there. Plan a healthy breakfast that you enjoy, and just change that. For more advice on how to change habits, read:
(Great post up right now on how to fail at changing habits)
Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit