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Just Eat This: 5 Rules for a Healthy Diet

By Steve Edwards

Banquet"Can't you just tell me exactly what I'm supposed to eat?" is a question I'm often asked. Today, we'll look at the answer that, incidentally, is "no." It's a good thing that there isn't one perfect diet because we don't all like the same foods. The world would be a pretty boring place if we did. It also means that you have many choices when it comes to eating healthy, so why is it so hard?

Eating well, for most of us, requires eliminating junk from our diets. Therefore, it's easier to tell you what not to eat. But based on the questions I receive, that's leaving you too much leeway. Since I can't tell each of you exactly what you individually should eat, let's have a look at what I eat, why I eat this way, and how you can alter my diet to suit your personality and lifestyle.

There are a few rules to achieving a healthy diet. These will give you a far greater understanding of why I do what I do. So let's look at them first.

BooksRule 1: We should not all eat the same diet.

Humans are all different, even if it's only slightly. So when it comes to diet we cannot expect that foods will all work exactly the same for us. This is in contrast to what the myriad of diet books you can choose from will tell you. Most of those want us to think that there's only one way—theirs, incidentally—to transform and keep your body healthy. Of course, if this were true there'd only be one book to buy. So, just the fact that there have been hundreds of best-selling diet books is the best argument that there are many different healthy ways to eat.

There are many other scientific reasons for this as well. Some are proven, like allergies. Some are more speculative, like eating for your blood type, but all have some anecdotal evidence that they work, which is all the validation we need.

Dairy products are the best example to illuminate this point. There is plenty of science showing both pros and cons to consuming them. But regardless of what science tells us, some people do well eating dairy and others do not. When a food allergy is suspected, eliminating dairy is the first step most nutritionists recommend trying. It often yields great results, but not always. This makes dairy a food group that some of us can eat and others cannot.

Similar examples can be found within any food group. What it comes down to is that, no matter how you want to eat, you're going to need to evaluate your diet and see how it's working for you. This requires some trial and error. While that probably sounds daunting, read on and you'll see that it's not. By cleaning up your diet and eating for what you are doing, it becomes fairly easy to identify foods that agree with you and those that don't.

Watching TV Rule 2: Eat for what you are going to be doing.

You've probably heard this before, especially if you're a longtime Beachbody member. Similar to not putting gas in your car when it isn't going anywhere, your body doesn't have the same nutrient requirements when you're sitting as when you're moving. Since it's simple to understand that you burn more calories attempting an Ironman than watching Oprah, it shouldn't be a stretch to understand that you have different nutrient requirements on different days.

Furthermore, most of us have different periods in our life where we not only do things differently on a daily basis, but have different goals. Some common goals, where diet and lifestyle are concerned, are:

  • to lose weight
  • to gain fitness (regardless of weight)
  • to maintain weight
  • to train for an upcoming event

For each of those objectives you will want to eat differently. We will discuss all of them.

Rule 3: There are things you shouldn't eat.

Or, at a minimum, that should never be in your kitchen. These are items that, somehow, have made it onto our daily menus that we could easily live without and, at least, should be treated as desserts, anomalies, rewards, or emergency rations. For a more complete list, visit your local 7-Eleven. Let's look at the major offenders.

  • Soda CansSoda. How soda has made it into our daily lives is a testament to marketing. It's a dessert, at best, and when consumed daily makes it nearly impossible to have a balanced diet. If you'd like more info, read The Worst Food on the Planet.

  • High fructose corn syrup. It's not just for dessert anymore. HFCS is now found in bread, salad dressing, and probably 80% of the stuff at most convenience stores. It's not just that it's bad for you; it's also an indication that a food item is made using the lowest-quality ingredients possible. A 15-second label check can protect you.

  • Trans fats. These man-made fats help foods sit on shelves longer but serve no nutritional purpose for you. They do, however, have a terrible downside. Fortunately, they're on the dangerous food radar and now much easier to detect.

  • DrinksAlcohol. Again, it's not so bad in moderation but as a daily accoutrement to your diet you're adding a lot of calories and very little food value. While I'll be the first to extol its merits as a reward, it has no true place in your daily diet. This will also help to understand which alcoholic beverages are better than others.

  • Splenda, aspartame, and Sweet n' Low. Calories aren't the only thing to worry about. These sweeteners have been proven safe enough to not kill you but have no place as a regular part of your diet. They also can lead to an enhanced sweet tooth, something that won't make your fitness goals easier to achieve. Here are a few options and why you'll want to avoid them.

CookiesRule 4: You don't have to be perfect.

Or even close to it. In fact, there are times when you should relax and let yourself eat whatever you want. I can even come up with a scenario where junk food is what you want to be eating. But we'll get to that later.

Your body is very resilient. Your mind, however, can be the opposite. A constant client excuse is to quit a program due to some type of misstep that they've stigmatized as "I've blown it." That's not how it works. As long as the big picture is better than what it was before, you'll be making progress. One bad meal, day, week, even month doesn't matter. All that matters is that you're moving in the right direction. As long as you're doing better than you were before, you'll feel and look better than you did before. And the fitter you become, the more your body programs itself to toss out those bad days. Translation: the more fit you are the more you can cheat. It's one of the best examples of being rewarded for your work in the natural world.

Junk FoodRule 5: If it's processed, don't eat it (well, sort of).

Your diet should consist of as much whole food as you can fit into it. This means vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and meats that have been processed as little as possible. If your diet consists mainly of these foods then you're on the right track. Whole foods are also more regulating than processed foods. Eating them causes your body to respond in a natural way. It's pretty much exactly the opposite of what happens with soda and candy.

But you don't have to avoid all processed foods. As we learn to read ingredients and understand what types of nutrients our body needs we'll see that not all processed foods are evil. Look for processed foods with whole food ingredients. An easy guide to processing is the fiber content on the label. The more processed something is, the less fiber it usually contains. And fiber is your friend.

So let's get to my diet. I'm what is called a periodizational dieter. Meaning that I eat differently for what I'm doing throughout the year. Generally, I'm maintaining, but that changes as soon as I target an event to compete in, which is similar to you beginning a new Beachbody program. So over the next few months, I'll be providing examples of my daily diet for different sets of circumstances. Stay tuned!

Steve Edwards'If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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3-Course Meal Under 750 Calories!

Over the years, we've featured hundreds of recipes in our newsletter, so to supplement the first article in our "Just Eat This" series, we thought it'd be fitting to include three of the most popular, each with a Middle Eastern flair. Served together, they'd make a great theme meal, with a grand total of less than 750 calories! When you join Team Beachbody diet club, you can get access to great recipes like these and hundreds more!

Appetizer: Classic Hummus

Hummus2 cups canned chickpeas, rinsed
2/3 cup tahini paste
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Throw everything into a food processor. Grind it up. If the mix is too thick, add a little water. Feel free to experiment by adding different flavors. Extra garlic, chili peppers, grilled tomatoes, grilled veggies, or artichoke hearts all make interesting, not to mention healthy, twists. Makes three cups. Serving size is 1/3 cup.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Nutritional Information: (per serving)
Calories 223 Protein 6 g Fiber 4 g
Carbs 16 gFat 16 gSaturated Fat 2 g

Salad: Basil, Chickpea, and Tomato Salad

Basil1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed
2 ripe tomatoes (or large, ripe tomato), chopped
3/4 cup fresh, chopped basil
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more. Serves 5.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Refrigeration Time: 30 minutes

Nutritional Information: (per serving)
Calories 150 Protein 5 g Fiber 4 g
Carbs 25 gFat 4 gSaturated Fat <1 g

Main Entree: Curried Chicken with Couscous

Couscous2 cups water
4 cups canned coconut milk, light
1-1/2 tsp. salt, divided
2 cups uncooked couscous
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. curry powder
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch thick strips
4 tsp. vegetable oil
2 cups julienned carrots
2/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Combine the water, 1/2 cup coconut milk, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in medium saucepan. Bring to boil and gradually stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove cover and fluff with fork. Combine 1-1/4 teaspoons salt, flour, and curry powder. Add the chicken and toss gently to coat. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Stir in remaining coconut milk, carrots, and raisins; reduce heat and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes or until chicken is done, stirring occasionally. Serve 3/4 cup curry over 1/2 cup couscous per serving. Garnish with cilantro. Makes 8 servings.

Preparation Time: 25 to 30 minutes
Refrigeration Time: 15 to 20 minutes

Nutritional Information: (per serving)
Calories 370 Protein 33 g Fiber 4 g
Carbs 49 gFat 4 gSaturated Fat 1 g

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If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Test Your Calorie-Counting IQ!

By Joe Wilkes
  1. 6 oz. of filet mignon, 1/2 cup steamed broccoli, 1/2 baked potato. This tasty meal only has about 475 calories with 58 grams of protein, 19 grams of carbs, and 18 grams of fat. Plus 6 grams of fiber. Not too shabby!

  2. Chicken1/2 of a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. About 600 calories with 33 grams of fat, 10 of them saturated, but a bonanza of protein—70 grams! You could knock the calories and fat down a lot if you could part with the skin. Add a little salad for fiber, and you could do worse.

  3. Salmon6 oz. of salmon, 1 cup brown rice, 8 spears of asparagus with 2 Tbsp. of hollandaise sauce. Sounds pretty healthy . . . but over 700 calories! That little bit of hollandaise sauce was responsible for over 100 extra calories and brought 35 grams of fat (23 saturated) to the party. And at most restaurants, you'll get a lot more sauce than that. The salmon, ounce for ounce, was comparable to the filet mignon. The salmon had 40 fewer calories, but also 16 fewer grams of protein. The fat was about the same, but the heart-healthy omega-3-rich oils in the salmon have the beef beat hands down. So beef is a good choice if you're trying to load up on protein. And the salmon is more heart-smart, but if you sauce it up, you pretty much were just as well off having the steak (and maybe some fries, too).

  4. Cheese Pizza2 slices of a large cheese Pizza Hut pan pizza. 790 calories! For two slices! With just cheese! Not even one pepperoni! Plus over half your recommended daily allowance for fat, and 76 grams of carbs!

  5. Gin N Tonic10 pretzels, 1/4 cup of Spanish peanuts, 3 gin and tonics. 980 calories! And we mixed the drinks pretty light. Go to a bartender with a generous pour, and you'll easily clear a grand. Amazingly, most people will go eat dinner after this. The calories were split about evenly between the snacks and the drinks, with the edge going to the drinks. You could skip the snacks (the Simple Life diet) to cut out the 20 total grams of fat, but you're probably better off skipping the bar altogether.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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