image via flickr
I now have enough evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother was trying to kill me. She kept a can of grease under the kitchen sink that she repeatedly recycled for frying things—like her potato pancakes, pork-kraut roll and even mince bologna. For breakfast when I was in grade school, she’d warm a tray of pecan twirls and instant black coffee, then puzzle over why I got D's in conduct. Any meat, like steak or chicken, was always boiled first (“to get the scum off”) and then cooked. It wasn’t until I was well past puberty that I realized a good steak was dark and juicy rather than the color and texture of rhino hide.
I weighed 200 pounds when I left home at age 21, and my cholesterol and sugar were already high. Fortunately, a succession of jobs in the health-and-fitness field educated me about proper eating, and I slowly changed my diet. Now on the brink of turning 50, I weigh 175 pounds and have no significant health problems. In her defense, mom didn’t know what she was doing nutritionally and, when it comes right down to it, neither do most people. So I won’t prosecute.
But I often wonder if I’d be in even better shape if I hadn’t eaten so poorly for almost half my life. What if there was an Age-Defying Diet just like there is an RDA for nutrients that could keep us forever fit, slim, strong and energized Well, with the help of Jose Antonio, Ph.D., CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, we’ve created one for you—an eating plan that strives to deliver all those benefits and can adapt to any lifestyle. Here are the components:
1. Eliminate (or significantly limit) processed foods.
“This is 90 percent of the battle,” says Antonio. “If it doesn’t occur in nature, then try to avoid it.” The closer a food or drink is to its natural state, the more beneficial nutrients and fewer artificial ingredients it contains. It’s like premium rather than regular fuel for your body. (Click here to watch a video of resident nutritionist Amanda Carlson explaining this concept more.)
2. Maintain a 40/30/30 diet.
This means 40 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrate, 30 percent from protein, and the remainder from fat. There’s no need to count calories and start a spreadsheet, though. “Eating shouldn’t be about mathematics,” says Antonio. Just ballpark it.
3. Eat fish at least three times per week (and lean meat the rest).
“Fish is the most important food,” says Antonio. It not only supplies protein and healthful fat, but it also contains heart-protecting nutrients such as omega-3s. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, cod and mackerel are best. To prevent developing fins or bankrupting yourself at the sushi bar, eat lean chicken or beef the remainder of the week. Antonio points out that people who replace a percentage of their carbs with an equivalent amount of protein or healthy fat (while keeping total calories the same) automatically lose body fat and either gain or maintain lean muscle mass. “So weight and body composition isn’t a calorie issue, it’s a food-choice issue,” he explains.
4. Eat more nuts, avocados and eggs.
All these foods were once considered bad for us, but we now know they contain beneficial fats and, in the case of eggs, additional protein and essential nutrients. (Eggs won’t raise cholesterol either.) For more, check out this primer on healthy fats.
5. Make colorful fruits and vegetables your major source of carbs.
This means eliminating or reducing processed breads, pastas, rice, cereals and snacks such as cookies and crackers. The more colorful the fruits and veggies, the better they are for you. Eat plenty daily. Bonus: You’ll be able to quit lugging around a water bottle because you’ll be naturally well hydrated.
6. Organic is nice but not necessary.
Antonio points out that there is no scientific evidence that organic food is any more healthful than non-organic. However, here’s the trick: If you eat more organic fruits and veggies because you think they taste better or your conscience is clearer, then by all means pay the premium to build better eating habits.
7. Eat three meals per day and two snacks.
Notice that we didn’t say “graze your way through the day” or “eat five meals daily.” That intimidates people. Most of us don’t have time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, let alone brunch and linner. So take the pressure off yourself. Eat as you’re accustomed to, and then just add a healthful mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. It’ll keep the edge off your appetite and steady your hormone levels so you’ll be less likely to give into cravings or overeat at mealtimes.
8. Take a daily multivitamin and 2 grams of creatine.
The former is insurance for those days when we’re too busy to eat right. The low-dose creatine, which is available in capsule form, has been shown to not only help maintain lean body mass but also boost brain function. Check out our complete guide to creatine to learn more.
And that’s it. Notice there isn’t anything wacky here—nothing worthy of a new diet book or a Kirstie Alley commercial. It’s just a solid eating plan that anyone, regardless of age, can maintain for life. And that’s the key: Diets fail because they aren’t sustainable. This one is.