What if I told you that a few simple changes to your diet and eating habits could extend your youth, rip up your physique, get your body fat percentage down to the single digits (or teens for women), and ultimately add 5, 10, or even 20 years to your life? Intrigued? It’s for real. These 17 rules are absolutely integral to any healthy lifestyle, plus they’ll help you look your best — more muscle, less fat, better skin, and more resilient immunity. Many of them are really simple changes, but their impact is exponentially beneficial.
1. No trans fats, limit saturated fats
No other rule is as important as #1. Follow it and live by it, it’ll save your life. Literally. Trans fats are created when food producers hydrogenate oils to preserve food and increase their shelf life. The problem with these nasty fats is that they raise artery-clogging LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) significantly, while simultaneously lowering artery-cleaning HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). Saturated fats still raise LDL cholesterol, but have no effect on HDL levels. Over time consumption of these fats leads to atherosclerosis (fatty build up in the arteries which restricts blood flow), coronary heart disease (CHD), heart attack, and stroke. Trans fats have no health benefits at all and are directly related to an increased risk of CHD.
Where are they found? A major issue with trans fats is that food producers are legally allowed to list that a food has 0g of trans fat if it contains .5g or less. Some foods have .49g, but they can technically be marketed as having no trans fat. Any level, even .25g can have a major negative health impact. It all adds up. Get in the habit of reading ingredients–if you see vegetable shortening or partially hydrogenated that means the food has trans fat. Common foods that have trans fats include: pastries, doughnuts, croissants, French fries and any other fried foods, cookies, crackers and biscuits, margarine and shortening, potato chips, granola bars, and chocolate. BK French Fries have 7g, a Cinnabon Cinnabon has 6g, and every 3 Oreos have 2g!
2. Fight fat with fat
Contrary to what most people believe, fat does not make your fat. Eating too much fat makes you fat. In fact, eating healthy fats can help suppress appetite and is probably one of most beneficial things you can feed your heart. Look for mono/polyunsaturated fats such as Omega-3s. Poly/monounsaturated fats do the opposite of trans fats–raise HDL while simultaneously lowering LDL–which unclogs arteries and improves cardiovascular health. In addition, fat is vital for healthy skin and hair, facilitates muscle growth, and helps transport vitamins A, D, E, and K through the bloodstream.
Fats are higher in calories than carbohydrates or proteins (9 calories per gram in fat, 4 calories per gram in carbs/protein) so be conscious of the amount that you’re eating.
Foods such as salmon and other fish, nuts and natural nut butters, seeds, olive oil, flaxseeds, and avocados are great sources of healthy fats.
3. Wheat over white
When it comes to bread or anything else made with flour make it a habit to choose wheat bread over white bread. When companies process white bread they strip all of the nutrients, fiber, vitamins and everything else from the grain and add a bunch of sugar, preservatives, and chemicals to make it taste better and stay fresh longer. White bread has no nutritional value at all and it digests extremely quickly, leaving the body hungry shortly after. Whenever you eat white bread it sends blood sugar levels on a roller coaster ride and signals the body to release insulin (which functions to bring blood sugar levels down), which ultimately causes body fat gain. Repeatedly spiking blood sugar levels causes insulin resistance, or the inability to control blood sugar levels naturally, which leads to the development of Type 2 Diabetes. If you chop a tree repeatedly eventually it’s going to fall over. Wheat products are slow digesting, help you stay fuller longer, keep blood sugar levels under control, and contain healthy fiber and other important nutrients. Stick to wheat bread, you’ll stay diabetes-free and maintain a lean physique.
Tip: When you buy bread make sure it says “100% whole wheat.” Companies sometimes market their bread as “whole wheat” or “whole grain,” but in reality they just bleach the white flour to make it look like wheat bread. Look for the 100%.
4. Limit alcohol, especially sugary drinks
For most people it’s impractical to cut alcohol out altogether, in fact 1-2 drinks a day can lower LDL cholesterol and keep the body relaxed. Plus it’s social. Don’t overdo it though, once you go over two drinks the fat and health detriments start stacking up. Alcohol is empty calories and promotes overeating. When you eat and drink a lot at the same time the body is flooded with excess calories and it has no choice but to store the excess as fat. The body always digests alcohol first no matter what; whatever else you eat sits in the stomach…waiting…and eventually turns into body fat. Eating pizza or ice cream drunk might taste great, but it’s going straight to your ass, thighs, stomach, and wherever else you don’t want it. The same goes for Long Island Ice Teas, Margaritas, Pina Coladas, etc. All of those are loaded with a ton of sugar and calories, which will just spike blood sugar and turn into fat.
Drinking too much is also linked to cirrhosis of the liver, obesity, decreased muscle function and strength, decreased testosterone levels, and CHD.
5. Eat as little sugar as possible
Plain and simple, sugar makes you fat. In any amount. Sugar has no nutritional value and has a worse effect on blood sugar levels than white bread, plus it rots your teeth. In my opinion too much sugar in the diet is the #1 reason for body fat gain and obesity. Read nutrition labels and choose foods with low sugar levels. Skip the gushers, sugary cereals (lucky charms, cocoa puffs, fruity pebbles, etc.), and other sugary foods and choose whole grain, natural foods. You’ll stay fuller longer and stay leaner.
6. Avoid Aspartame, Splenda (Sucralose), High Fructose Corn Syrup, and other artificial sweeteners
Many people believe that weight maintenance is as simple as calories in vs. calories out, and replacing sugar with calorie free artificial sweeteners is a quick fix. It’s not. Artificial sweeteners are bad for the body and may actually be more unhealthy than regular sugar. The body wasn’t meant to ingest chemicals on a regular basis. Even though these products don’t have physical “energy units” or calories, they still have a significant psychological effect on the brain. The brain associates sweetness with calories–the sweetness-calorie link–but in the absence of calories the body goes into shock. As a result, the body overcompensates by stimulating appetite to account for the missing calories and you actually end up eating more as a result. Interestingly, aspartame has also been shown to break down into its poisonous components when it reaches high temperatures. Army soldiers have actually gotten Methanol (a component of Aspartame) poisoning from drinking Diet Coke that was exposed to extreme temperatures. That can’t be good for you…
HFCS works a little differently. As the name suggests, HFCS has extremely high levels of fructose–a type of sugar found in fruit. Unlike sucrose and glucose, which can be metabolized by all cells in the body, fructose must be metabolized in the liver. Because HFCS has extremely high levels of fructose, much higher than in fruit and whole foods, it dumps the excessive amounts of fructose on the liver all at once, which has no choice but to convert the HFCS into fat. This eventually causes excessive fat build-up in the liver, cirrhosis, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Additionally, because HFCS is able to skip the normal digestion process and go directly the liver, the body never gets any fuller, fat is constantly deposited, and the body gets stuck in an endless cycle of eating. HFCS is responsible for increasing obesity and is one of the main reasons why America has become so fat.
Recently, crystalline fructose has been emerged as a sweetener in a lot of so-called “health drinks” such as VitaminWater Zero. Crystalline fructose actually has higher levels of fructose than HFCS, making it even more horrible for the body. Avoid it.
There is still a lot of research that has to be done about the health implications of each of these sweeteners, but my personal advice is to avoid them whenever possible. It’s impractical to avoid all artificial sweeteners all the time, but moderation is key.
If you need to sweeten use Stevia, it’s a healthier and more natural alternative.
7. Drink water all day
Water is essential for life and is responsible for carrying out almost all of the body’s functions. It prevents dehydration, maintains body temperature, and serves as a way to clean out various toxins from the body. Drinking cold water can also boost metabolism and keep it going throughout the day, burning a bunch of extra calories. Water also helps suppress appetite.
8. No soda or sugary drinks
Avoid all soda, including diet kinds (loaded with aspartame and splenda), and other sugary drinks such as Gatorade, Yoohoo, non-natural fruit juices, Hawaiian Punch, etc. Most of these drinks are nothing more than sugar water loaded with chemicals, HFCS, and other artificial sweeteners. Drinks are a terrible way to spend calories because they don’t suppress appetite and have no nutritional value, plus all the sugar gets converted into fat. Always choose water, green tea, milk or other natural drinks to quench your thirst. Did you know that if you replace one 120 calories can of soda every day with a glass of water you would save 43,800 calories, or 12.5 pounds in a year.
From personal experience, back in the day when I weighed a lot more than I do now I used to drink a ton of diet soda. I stopped all together and lost 10 pounds without making any other changes. I’m a firm believer that diet soda, as well as regular soda, is a big contributor to obesity.
9. No soy
Soy is not a health food, it’s a product that’s falsely marketed as a health food. Soy is genetically modified, pumped with chemicals and preservatives, and loaded with toxins. Soy has been shown to negatively affect thyroid function, which is responsible for regulating metabolism, inhibits the body’s uptake of vitamins and minerals from food, and increases phytoestrogen levels. Increased estrogen lowers testosterone, a hormone responsible for muscle growth, alters the areas where fat is deposited, and is extremely detrimental to muscle gain.
10. Protein is king
Protein is the ultimate nutrient for building a lean physique. It’s the building block of new tissue in the body, creates antibodies and hemoglobin, and is essential for maintaining muscle mass. Protein has a high thermogenic effect, which means that it raises body’s core temperature and burns off extra calories through digestion. It also helps keep the body fuller longer. If you’re serious about building muscle or burning fat, high protein levels are essential. Eggs, fish, chicken, beef, milk, protein powder, and cottage cheese are great sources. Eat protein constantly throughout the day, ideally at every meal.
11. Eat the yolk
There’s a ton of debate about whether to eat egg whites alone or the whole egg. Eat the yolk. Yep, the yolk has more calories and a little cholesterol, but it also has almost all of the nutrients. Many studies have also begun to show that egg yolks raise HDL and LDL levels simultaneously, offsetting any of the negative health effects. Egg whites are essentially only protein, which is great, but otherwise they have very little nutritional value. Some farms are now adding Omega-3s to the diets of their chickens, which increases the Omega-3 content in the eggs.
12. Get your antioxidants
Antioxidants are so vital. They protect the body against free radicals, harmful free-roaming oxygen molecules that cause cellular damage, cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, rheumatoid arthritis, premature aging, and about 50 other diseases. Antioxidants help keep skin clear, delay aging, and also prevent inflammation. The “antioxidant vitamins” are E, C, and beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A). Antioxidant levels in foods are measured by their Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity or ORAC score. The higher the score the higher the level of antioxidants. Many berries, spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, chili powder, cloves, and garlic, as well as green tea are phenomenal antioxidant sources.
13. Eat breakfast
Never, ever skip breakfast. Imagine how hungry you’d be if you ate at noon and not again until 8PM? That’s how the body feels after it goes through an 8 hour sleeping fast. It’s absolutely critical to replenish your body, provide it with energy, and eat to get it out of the catabolic state, or the state in which your body uses its own muscle, fat, and tissue for fuel. Skipping breakfast will make you feel sluggish, tired, and mentally slow. Eat some eggs and oatmeal, or even a quick granola bar or bowl of cereal if you don’t have the time to make something serious. Eat something. Eating breakfast also jump starts your metabolism.
14. No eating at least 2 hours before bed unless it’s protein
When you go to bed your body’s metabolism slows down and whatever is left in your stomach will be stored as fat. The one exception is protein. Drinking a protein shake, eating cottage cheese, or consuming some other source of protein is ideal because it stimulates your body’s metabolism for a few hours after consumption and provides a constant stream of amino acids to your muscles during rest. This aids the muscle building/preservation process and essentially reduces how much your metabolism slows down when you go to bed, which allows you to continuously burn calories. Carbs and fat will just sit in your stomach and convert to fat, and therefore should be avoided altogether around bed time.
15. Eat 5-6 smaller meals
Eating small meals every 2-3 hours keeps your body’s metabolism revved up, keeps blood sugar levels under control, and allows for easier digestion. Your body has a much easier time digesting a small 500 calorie meal than it does digesting a huge 1000+ calorie binge. When you consume that many calories it takes your body a long time to finish digesting everything, and in the process many of those calories that are waiting to be burned get stored as fat. Additionally, large meals produce huge blood sugar and insulin spikes–smaller meals can help keep blood sugar levels suppressed. Small, frequent meals also helps ensure that you’re eating healthy foods as opposed to snacking on junk.
16. Center your diet around natural foods
Whenever possible eat natural, unprocessed foods. That means lots of fruits, vegetables, fish, chicken, and beef, nuts, etc. Eating natural foods ensures that you’re not eating a lot of chemicals and preservatives. These foods generally have the highest nutritional content and allow the body to get all of the essential vitamins and minerals. As a rule of thumb, avoid foods in a can, boxes or other packaging as often as possible.
17. Be a label reader
If you’re buying foods in a package ALWAYS check the nutrition label and ingredients first. Here are a few rules and guidelines:
- Ingredients are listed in order of how much of that ingredient is in the food. The first ingredient is the most abundant and the last ingredient is generally insignificant. This all depends on how many ingredients there are. As a rule of thumb the less ingredients the better. More ingredients means more artificial crap.
- Anything with HFCS, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated oils should never be eaten.
- Avoid foods with aspartame, crystalline fructose, sucralose, saccharin, maltodextrin, and erythritol.
- Sugar should not be the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd ingredient. If it is put it back on the shelf.
- Anything with over 7g of sugar is very high in sugar and should be avoided.
- Check wheat bread to make sure that white flour is not listed.