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I've always been at a healthy weight and now I'm in my 30's I want to make sure that I'm taking care of myself and consuming the right foods.

Considering there is so much information out there, bias, and misinformation, how do I learn where to start, who to trust, and just live healthy without being obsessed?

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closed as off topic by Ivo Flipse Feb 22 '12 at 18:18

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Nutrition unrelated to exercise is not considered on-topic as outlined in the faq. –  Matt Chan Feb 22 '12 at 18:29
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2 Answers 2

Precisely what foods you need to focus on is going to depend entirely on your past diet, your current health situation, and your goals. There are, however, a few basics that anyone can implement for a better life pretty much right away.

  • Rid yourself of artificial anythings: This includes artificial sweeteners, overprocessed TV dinners, chemicalized 'by-products' like canned cheese and Spam, etc. An easy rule of thumb is to pick up an item, and try to figure out all the plants and animals that went into its making. If you can't identify it as from one of those things (soda), or can't whip out the answers in 10 seconds (TV dinners and mystery meat), you probably shouldn't be eating it.

  • Get used to the idea of exercising for the rest of your life: Sitting around is one of the best ways to lower your life expectancy. Make peace with and get excited about the idea that you are going to be doing something physical and fun until you are 90 years old. This might be lifting small weights. This might be jogging. It really doesn't matter as long as you find it fun and it gets you active and moving.

  • Prize your sleep: It's all too common in the Western world to adhere to the proverb, 'you can sleep when you're dead'. The hard truth is that if you do not sleep, you will be dead quite soon. Always provide yourself adequate time to sleep, and don't try to convince yourself that 6 or 7 hours will be enough if you are naturally waking up at 9 hours on the weekends. Establish a sleep pattern that has you waking up naturally within an hour of your alarm usually going off.

As far as who to trust, honestly any answer someone gives to that question is going to instantly be met with harsh criticism if the environment is right. If you say the government, people can (rightly) point to the often dubious links between the FDA and the companies it regulates. If you say someone like the Weston A Price foundation (a leading advocate for nutrition therapy), people will (rightly) point out that W.A.P is an advocacy group and is biased by its basic charter. And I scarcely need to mention the problems with trusting corporations or their spin-offs.

The only place I have found that almost all reasonable people agree is reliable is the Cochrane Collaboration. They are an international, non-profit group that has a charter dedicated to providing the best in evidence-based medical research. They are a public charity formed under the laws of the United Kingdom, their funding is open for everyone to see, and it passes muster in the opinions of almost everyone I've met.

As far as who to trust in your life, I would strongly recommend you build a working relationship with people who deal in nutrition and fitness every day - personal trainers, nutritionists, etc. I personally went to 6 different gyms and rather blatantly interviewed the trainers and nutritionists to probe their current and continued learning before settling on a gym I like. None of the people I 'interviewed' ever got angry at me, because I was paying club dues at the time - it's your right as a member/customer to know who you are working with! The payoff to this is that as the years go on, your body changes, and our knowledge of the human body changes, you will have resources you know you can rely on to tell you the truth in their professional opinions.

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+1, great answer. –  Matthew Read May 18 '11 at 19:33
    
+1 great link to Cochrane Collaboration. I particularly like the Top Reviews in the Past 7 Days portion of the site. –  Christopher Ickes May 19 '11 at 22:09
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Your body needs certain nutrients, and any balanced diet will have those nutrients in the right proportions. However, within that general framework is a lot of latitude. Take for instance the "maintenance diet" that I was given when I finished my diet:

  • Breakfast: 1 serving carb, 1 serving fat, 1 serving protein, 1 serving fruit
  • Lunch: 1 serving protein, 1 serving fat, 2 servings vegetables
  • Dinner: 1 serving protein, 1 serving carb, 2 servings vegetables
  • Snack: 1 serving protein
  • One day a week you have a "free day" followed by a no-carb day
  • At least 2L of water a day

A Protein is considered: 2 whole eggs, 5oz land meat, 7oz seafood, etc. A Fat is considered: yogurt, cheese, butter, seeds/nuts A carb is considered: whole grains, starchy vegetables like potato or corn, etc.

This is just one of many maintenance plans that will work. Essentially you'll be eating plenty of protein, plenty of veggies which are probably two of the most important parts of your diet. You'll also get your carbs and fats. The free day is meant to throw your body's metabolism off so it doesn't get used to your diet and start storing more. The no-carb day is there to correct for the extra calories you took in on the free day.

Contrast that with the StrongLifts Diet, which is designed for weight lifters. A diet for weight lifters is going to have a lot more protein and fat. Also to deal with the increase of protein is a lot more water (minimum 1 US Gallon a day). On that diet you have 10% junk meals (4 junk meals a week). You'll be eating more, but only gaining weight if you eat a lot more.

So as long as you are getting the protein and vitamins & minerals you need, the rest is up to you. While I have no data to back it up, I think it's a reasonable and good idea to allow for fun meals. If you monitor your weight weekly you should be able to get an idea if your weight is going up or down and adjust accordingly. My personal experience says that if I cut back on carbs for a day I can usually correct a 2-3lb increase (hint, it's not all fat if it came after just one free day/meal). I also find that if I slack on my water intake, my body holds on to weight a bit more. If I did gain a couple pounds of fat after a week on a cruise, I can still correct it easily by cutting carbs (so that my pancreas is secreting glucogon to help burn the fat for longer periods of time).

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