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I spend a lot of time writing and talking about what isn't true. Over the past few months, we've had lots of episodes talking about how many nutrition recommendations aren't supported by science. I've argued that what many people are telling you may be inaccurate. In response, lots of you have asked me what nutrition recommendations should say.

The truth is that it's much easier to tell you what not to do, than to tell you what to do. But we don't avoid the hard questions. Recently I shared my nutrition recommendations over at the Upshot at the New York Times, and they were surprisingly popular. So I'm going to share them with you, here on Healthcare Triage

You should go read that piece, which all of this is based on. References and links can be found there: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/upshot/simple-rules-for-healthy-eating.html

Want a poster of the information in today's episode? It's free and available here: http://ow.ly/NaESK

John Green -- Executive Producer
Stan Muller -- Director, Producer
Aaron Carroll -- Writer
Mark Olsen -- Graphics

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I spend a lot of time writing and talking about what isn't true. And over the past few months, we've had lots of episodes talking about how many nutrition recommendations aren't supported by science. I've argued that what many people are telling you may be inaccurate.

And in response, lots of you have asked me what nutrition recommendations should say. The truth is that it's much easier to tell you what not to do than to tell you what you should do. Recently though, I shared my nutrition recommendations over at The Upshot, at the New York Times. And they were surprisingly popular. So I'm gonna share them here with you. On Healthcare Triage.

[intro music]

These are general rules that I live by. They're the ones I share with patients, with friends, and with my family. They're the ones I support as a pediatrician and a health services researcher. But let's acknowledge up front that these may only apply to healthy people without metabolic disorders. Me, for instance, as far as I know. That seems to be, unfortunately, an increasingly smaller proportion of the world population.

They also aren't supported by the scientific weight of rigorous randomized controlled trials because little of nutrition is. I'll give you links to resources down below to back them up with what's available. These also aren't laws, and they shouldn't be treated as such. No specific nutrients will be demonized, and none will be held up as miracles. But these recommendations make sense to me, and they help me immensely.

One more disclosure: I didn't invent most of these. I've developed them from reading the works of others, including what may be the most incredible official nutritional guidelines, those of Brazil -- links also down below.

Here we go.

1a. Get as much of your nutrition as possible from a variety of completely unprocessed foods. These include fruits and vegetables, but they also include meat, fish, poultry, and eggs that haven't been processed either. In other words, try to buy food that hasn't been cooked, prepared, or altered in any way before you got it. Unprocessed food is basically ingredients. Brown rice over white rice. Whole grains over refined grains. You're far better off eating two apples than drinking the same 27 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce glass of apple juice.

1b. Eat lightly processed foods less often, and with unprocessed foods. You're not gonna make everything yourself. Pasta, for instance, is likely gonna be bought already prepared. You're not gonna grind your own flour, or extract your own oil. These aren't meant to be eaten alone, though--they're meant to be eaten with unprocessed foods. And try and eat less of them.

1c. Eat heavily processed foods even less often. There's little high quality evidence that even the most processed food are dangerous. But try to keep your consumption of them to a minimum, because they can make it too easy to stuff in calories. Processed foods include bread, chips, cookies, and cereals. In epidemiologic studies, heavily processed meats are often associated with worse health outcomes, but that evidence should be taken with a grain of salt... not literally, as I've written and talked to you about before.

2. Eat as much home-cooked food as possible, which should be prepared according to rule 1. Eating at home allows you to stick to unprocessed ingredients. It allows you full control over what you eat, and allows you to choose the flavors you prefer. You're much less likely to stuff yourself silly if you eat home-cooked food. I'm not saying this is easy -- like anything, it takes repetition and practice to effect behavioral change. It also unfortunately takes time. 

3. Use salt and fats, including butter and oil, as needed in food preparation. Things like salt and fat aren't evil. They're necessary in the preparation of tasty, satisfying food. Seasoning is often what makes vegetables taste good. The key here is moderation. Use what you need, but not more. In general, go with sautéing over deep fat frying.

4. When you do eat out, try to eat at restaurants that follow the same rules. Ideally, you should eat at restaurants that are creating all of their items from completely unprocessed foods. Lots and lots of restaurants do. Follow rules 1 to 3 even while out to dinner. Some processing is going to be fine, but try to keep it to a minimum.

5. Drink mostly water, but some alcohol, coffee, and other beverages are fine. 

6. Treat all beverages with calories in them as you would alcohol. This includes every drink with calories, including milk. They're fine with moderation, but keep them to a minimum. You can have them because you like them, but you shouldn't consume them as if you need them.

7. Eat with other people, especially people you care about, as often as possible. This has benefits even outside those of nutrition. It will make you more likely to cook. It will likely make you eat more slowly. It'll also even make you happy. 

I've avoided treating any food like the devil. Many nutrition experts do, and it may turn out they're right, but at this point I think the jury is still out. I've therefore tried not to tell you to avoid anything completely. My experience tells me that total abstinence rarely works, although anecdotes exist to support that practice. 

I think you'll find that many other diets and specific recommendations work under these rules. They're much more flexible and I hope reasonable than what some might prescribe.

And all of these rules are subtly trying to get you to be more conscious of what you're eating. It's far too easy these days to consume more than you think you are, or more than you really need -- especially when you're eating out.

I've found that it's impossible to tell any one person how much they should be eating. People have varying requirements, and it's important for each of them to listen to their bodies to know when they should eat and when they should stop.

One other thing: don't judge what others eat. One of my closest friends has been avoiding carbohydrates for months and he's seen remarkable results. Another was a pescatarian, or a person whose only meat is fish, for a year and was very happy with that. I, on the other hand, avoid no food group in particular.

People are very different. Some may have real issues with consuming even the smallest amount of carbohydrates. Others may be intolerant of certain foods because of allergies or sensitivities. It'll likely take a bit of experimentation on an individual level to find the actual diet within these recommendations that works for you. But my hope would be that the above rules would allow for a wide variety of food foci while still remaining healthy. At least, I hope so.

But as I said before, I sort of made these up -- and I'm curious what all of you think. We welcome your comments right below, as well as any tweets you want to send to me in response.

[outro music]