Paleo or eat plant-based? Dairy and gluten in moderation, or entirely verboten? It seems that everywhere you turn are different opinions on what constitutes healthy eating, and frankly, it's enough to make even the most assiduous of healthy eating information junkies dizzy with possibilities.
Well, you can stop spinning. Here are the last five healthy eating rules you'll ever need for a truly healthy – and ethical – approach to food.
1. Think Long and Hard About Your Meat Consumption
Folks are divided on whether eating meat can ever be a truly ethical choice.
Proponents of a plant-based diet point to research indicating that the only way to sustain the ever-growing global population is to transition away from meat and animal products entirely. Animal agriculture accounts for 44 percent of all man-made methane emissions and 75 to 80 percent of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, so a vegan diet is more economically ethical, not to mention more humane from the point of view of the animal.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have proponents of ethical meat consumption. They believe that championing ethically raised meat, eggs, and dairy is the only way to make lasting change within the industry. They that while in an ideal world, a 100 percent vegan diet might be superior, seeing as many will never stop eating meat altogether, it's more important to force a market shift so that more ethical options become the norm. One example of this sort of shift in action is the consumer demand that led the egg industry to essentially eradicate battery cages in 2015.
Whether you choose to eschew meat entirely or only purchase ethical meat, however, the important thing is that you be conscious of your meat consumption. Proponents of a plant-based diet should opt for healthful, sustainable replacements, and consumers of ethical meat should watch their portion sizes, consuming small quantities of grass-fed meat or wild-caught fish a few times a week as part of a mostly whole foods, plant-based diet.
2. Include Fermented Foods in Your Diet
Superfoods come and go, but fermented foods are forever.
Fermented foods can be found in nearly every cuisine on earth, from Korean kimchi to German sauerkraut to Japanese miso, and studies have shown that by eating these probiotic-rich foods (and therefore feeding some 100 trillion bacteria in your gut), you're promoting far healthier digestion, immune function, and more.
Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are only some of the experts pointing to the link between a healthy gut biome and reduced risk of a variety of conditions from obesity to neurological diseases, and while the jury's still out on the benefits of probiotic supplements and yogurt, not to mention how well our guts are able to integrate foreign bacteria, fermented veggies, at the very least, add fiber to your diet.
3. Avoid Overly Processed Foods
Anti-inflammatory protocols are all the rage, but there's no one-size-fits-all system. Some foods, like nightshades, dairy, eggs, or nuts, may be inflammatory to some and perfectly fine for others. But we can all agree that overly processed foods should be banned once and for all.
Foods like packaged cookies and chips or even milled flour and granulated sugar, bring little nutritional value to the table, and they are inflammatory for most people.
Instead, challenge yourself to consume only whole foods – ones that you can easily find at the farmer's market or on the outer rim of your grocery store – whenever possible. Making fresh produce, meat and dairy (if consuming), and sprouted legumes, nuts, and seeds the basis of your diet is a great way to ensure you're eating healthfully without having to follow a precise, prescriptive list of "what to eat" and "what not to eat."
4. Sit Down When You Eat
Every few years, the concept of when one should eat seems to evolve. From three meals a day, we went to six, and now, many are proponents of intermittent fasting, which can sometimes boil down to just two or even one meal a day.
Different protocols will work better with each individual's body and schedule, and there's no need to shame yourself for not being able to plan out your meals according to the newest trend. Instead, worry less about when you eat, and more about how you eat.
Sitting down and eating mindfully is essential to ensure that you're eating to satiety and properly digesting your food. One 2015 study from the University of Surrey found that eating on the go was bad for weight loss, and a 2010 study found that sitting down to eat helps our brains register that we're eating a meal, which in turn contributes to better digestion.
For some folks, sitting down and eating mindfully is something that they can happily do three (or more!) times a day. For others, only one or two meals can be eaten in this way. Make mindful eating the priority, and the rest will fall into line on its own.
5. Enjoy Your Food
Food shouldn't be a chore. After all, food is what brings us together – it forges community, gives us time to talk with our loved ones, and allows us to connect with the earth every single day.
Take the time to enjoy your food: chat with local vendors as you shop; prepare your favorite recipes with care; consume your meals alongside your loved ones. Taking this approach to healthy eating will, above all, reduce the stress that sometimes surrounds preparing and eating meals, allowing you to enjoy the restorative, sustaining nature of food.