Is maintaining a healthy diet really that complicated? It might seem like it sometimes.
Keeping up with the latest miracle foods and the newest diet trends, wading through contradictory information about everything from whether fats and carbs are “evil” to whether eating meat is harmful — there’s enough conflicting information out there to keep people busy online for weeks researching.
Eating right doesn’t have to be complicated!
We bet you already have a good grasp of what to eat and what not to eat so we’re not going to reinvent the wheel here.
The purpose of this guide will be to show you how to transform your diet into something that works for you instead of against you in as simply a way as possible. To do that you first have to understand the basics of nutrition. We’re also going to give you 4 action steps so you can start making changes that will have a lasting impact starting today. These will quickly get you on the right track for success but it’s important you actually do them otherwise nothing will happen.
How Eating Better Will Make You Look Better
Before we get into the nitty gritty stuff, here’s some motivation to help you make the changes you need to start looking your best.
Have you ever heard someone say abs are made in the kitchen? Roughly 80% of your results will come from the food you eat. What you eat is way more important to attaining your dream body than exercising is. This doesn’t mean you become a couch potato — just think of exercise as a tool to aid in your transformation.
Here are some ways how improving your diet will also improve the way you look (besides the obvious change in body composition):
- Better Skin
We already have an entire guide on how you can use the food you eat to improve your skin. Truth is, not even the best skincare products in the world would be able to do for you what a quality diet can. A poor diet is linked to acne and can also worsen cases of skin conditions like eczema and rosacea if your body doesn’t like what you’re eating.
Remember this: Diet is the foundation of every great skincare routine.
- Stronger Hair & Nails
Can you improve the quality of your hair and nails by eating better? Yes you definitely can. Both hair and nails are made out of a protein called keratin and can be strengthened by eating the right foods. Being deficient in certain nutrients can also contribute to brittle nails and even hair loss!
- Whiter & Healthier Teeth
Foods and drinks that tend to be bad for your health are also usually bad for your teeth. Think of all the sugary sweets and soda rotting them away. Meanwhile, foods like apples and celery can actually naturally clean your teeth out thanks to their abrasive skin (link). A healthy diet will do more to help keep your teeth looking great than a poor one.
At the end of the day, remember our golden rule: Health = Attractiveness. What is healthy for you will make you attractive and what is attractive makes you healthy (for the most part).
All About the Calories
Now let’s get to the real basics of a diet that works for you instead of against you. The basis of all healthy nutrition begins with understanding calories and how they affect your body.
To simplify things:
- If you consume more calories than you expend, you’ll gain weight.
- If you consume less calories than you expend you’ll lose weight.
- If you consume just as much calories as you expend you’ll maintain weight.
There’s no getting around those three facts above.
So depending on your goals, it’s simply playing a game of calories in, calories out. Exercise and food selection will determine whether you’re gaining or losing muscle or fat but both come from the foods you eat.
Here are some numbers you should know.
3500 calories = 1 pound
This means eating 500 calories a day above your maintenance level will result in gaining a pound of weight after a week. (500 calories x 7 days a week = 3500)
Eating 500 calories a day under your maintenance level means you will lose a pound of weight after a week.
Again, whether this weight is muscle or fat depends on your activity level and the type of food you’re eating!
“Wait, how do I know what my maintenance level is?”
Glad you asked!
To give you a rough estimate of the number of calories you need to simply stay at the weight you’re currently at, use this equation:
15 x (your current bodyweight in pounds) = the # of calories you need to stay the same weight.
So someone who is 150 pounds will want to eat roughly 2250 calories a day to stay their weight. (15 x 150 = 2250)
To add weight, change the 15 into 18 and to lose weight change it to 12.
This equation is not completely accurate but it’s “good enough”. The reason we say that is because depending on factors like age, gender (women need less calories), and how active you are, this number can go up or down. The more you sweat and move, the more calories you’ll need to maintain your current weight BUT…
Most people overestimate the number of calories they burn through exercise and underestimate the number of calories they eat. Paying attention to serving size and your portions will tell you how many calories you’re actually consuming.
At the end of the day, any equation you use to estimate your caloric needs is an estimate at best. We can’t pinpoint the exact number of calories you’ll need because there’s simply too many variables but this will give you a great starting point which you can adjust as you see fit.
Action Step #1: Use the equation above to figure out what your daily caloric needs are depending on your goal.
Get Familiar With The Macronutrients
These are the “big three” of nutrition. Understanding how they affect your body and the role they play in healthy nutrition is crucial.
Carbs: 4 calories per gram
Carbs have been unfairly demonized in recent times. It’s true that most people consume way too many and this leads to weight gain (mostly fat). The more energy you expend, the more carbs you can get away with eating. If you spend most of your time sitting or not exerting yourself much you’ll benefit from consuming < 50 g per day because this will keep you slim without much effort.
If you’re trying to lose weight, this is the macronutrient you need to cut down on. Starches like breads and pastas, along with simple sugars from soda or sweets are the biggest problems for most people.
Complex carbs (whole wheat grains) that take a while to digest are better than simple carbs (white breads). If you have to choose one go with complex carbs.
Fats: 9 calories per gram
Fats are probably the most misunderstood macronutrient. Consuming dietary fat does not mean you magically add body fat. The biggest thing to look out for is your trans and saturated fat intake because they’re responsible for the cholesterol troubles associated with fats.
You want your trans fat intake to be 0. Any amount of trans fat is bad. The research around saturated fat is actually less clear cut. Consider them neutral because there’s evidence going both ways that they can be helpful and also harmful. More recent research shows saturated fats aren’t as “evil” as once thought.
The good fats you want to eat are Omega 3 fatty acids (more on them further below) and monounsaturated fats. High concentrations of good fats can be found in olive oil, nuts, and fish.
Protein: 4 calories per gram
Protein is the most important macronutrient for repairing and building muscle. Those trying to gain weight should increase their protein intake but even if you aren’t trying to build muscle, high protein diets will help you lose fat, keep you full making you less likely to overeat, and also help recover from fatigue and soreness.
A general rule is 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. So if you’re 150 pounds, try to eat about 150 g of protein a day. Some people will argue for more or less but this is a good benchmark. It isn’t that big of a deal if you consume a little less.
Protein is often supplemented because most people find it difficult to meet their needs through diet alone. Supplementing with protein shakes and powders is an easy way to get more into your diet and is especially helpful for anyone trying to gain weight.
(Bonus) Alcohol: 7 calories per gram
Alcohol isn’t a macronutrient but it’s worth mentioning here. This isn’t a D.A.R.E class so we’ll spare you the details but understand that if you’re trying to put on muscle or lose fat, alcohol makes it harder to do so especially if you go overboard. Going easy on the alcohol will allow you to see results faster so it’s worth cutting back if you want to attain your dream body sooner rather than later.
Out of the “big three” macronutrients, protein is arguably the most important to make sure you’re getting enough of. Of course all three are important but if you’re just beginning to make serious changes to your diet focus on just getting enough protein and eating plenty of vegetables. Vegetables will provide the micronutrients and trace minerals needed to keep you healthy and your skin, hair, and nails looking great. Protein will keep you lean and ward off fat. That’s a winning combination.
And remember that the less physical activity, the less carbs you should be eating!
For now, don’t worry about things like meal timing, or the number of meals. There’s so many differing opinions on these topics because there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Unless you’re going to do some serious bodybuilding these things just over complicate healthy eating. For the average person, three meals a day with some protein and carbs before and after a workout will be fine.
Your New Grocery List
Now that you have a good understanding of calories and macronutrients, it’s time to talk about the specific foods you should and shouldn’t be eating.
First the obvious stuff….
Action Step #2: Get rid of all soda, junk food, and processed foods from your home. Anything high in sugar needs to be gone.
You know these are bad for you. Get rid of them as soon as you can so you don’t even tempt yourself. Don’t wait to finish them or use an excuse of not wanting to waste food. Give them away if you have to. These foods are practically poison to your body. Occasionally indulging once in a while? Sure go ahead. Eating them daily or even weekly? Bad idea.
Fast food should also be a thing of the past. Make things simple for yourself and just stay away from these things.
Besides, eating healthy doesn’t mean you’ll be doomed for a lifetime of bland tasting food.
Here are some foods to look out for on your next trip to the grocery market.
Lean protein sources include:
- Any type of seafood (salmon, sardines, and trout are especially good)
- ”Exotic” meats like deer, elk, moose, bison
- Whole eggs
Among the best are:
- Bell Peppers
…and any other dark leafy greens.
Some of our favorite fruits:
- Berries of any kind (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, and more)
Bananas and avocados are particularly good if you’re trying to gain weight. If you’re trying to lose weight, keep your overall fruit intake moderate because even though they have a variety of healthy vitamins and minerals, it’s surprisingly easy to gain weight if you overeat them. Or, you can eat those with a higher water content (berries and grapes for example).
Among your best options here are:
- Brown Rice
- Rye bread
- Anything whole wheat
Remember grains should be eaten in moderation! These are high in carbs but whole grains are healthier than white, processed grains because they don’t immediately spike your blood sugar and instead take time to be digested by the body. Whole grain also provide more fiber and are overall more nutritious.
Other foods to add to your list:
- Nuts (especially almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts)
- Coconut oil
- Olive Oil
- Beans of any kind
- Peanut butter (in moderation)
Most of the foods in this miscellaneous category will be your best sources of healthy fats. Remember, trans fats are the bad kinds of fats — healthy unsaturated fats are essential to a healthy diet.
Action Step #3: Get a piece of paper and write out your next grocery trip. If you don’t know how to prepare food, get a book on the subject or check out some online video tutorials. We like this channel (link) for some easy healthy recipes.
What About Supplementation?
Eating real foods is much better than supplementing. But not everyone meets their RDI (recommended daily intake) of certain vitamins or minerals through diet alone
Besides protein, we want to quickly mention two supplements here that are among the most researched and have tons of evidence backing them up. Most people don’t get anywhere near the amount they should be. They are Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin D.
Vitamin D increases physical performance meaning better workouts and quicker progress, keeps you lean by reducing your body fat percentage, and even optimizes your hormone levels. Most people living in the northern hemisphere especially those with darker pigmented skin are deficient due to insufficient amounts of sunlight. Supplementation is a good idea here because Vitamin D deficiency is also linked with a number of increased health risks.
As for Omega 3s, we talked about them extensively in our skin nutrition guide. Besides skin benefits, they also help keep your body slim, delay molecular aging meaning you’ll likely live longer, and improve cognitive function meaning you’ll become “smarter”. Sounds like a good deal to us.
Try the Ultimate Omega-D3 Supplement by Nordic Naturals which combines the two into one soft gel capsule. Nordic Naturals is our favorite supplement brand especially for fatty fish oils and we’ve never had any complaints (and no fishy aftertaste!)
Action Step #4: If you know you’re deficient in one of these three (Protein, Omega 3s, Vitamin D) either increase your intake by eating foods high with a high concentration of them or begin supplementing to help you reap their benefits.
Anyways, this has become a monster of a post and there’s a lot to digest here (ha). Nutrition is NOT a topic that can be covered all at once because there’s simply too much to say. Keep an eye out for new posts because we’ll definitely be spending more time on diet.
We literally can’t stress enough how much eating better will change your life. From the way you look to the way you feel, everyone trying to become the best version of themselves needs to start here.