Rules I Live by in the Kitchen: A Naturopath Explains

By Dr. O'Brien 

Eating healthy can be complicated. What percentage of my caloric intake should be polyunsaturated fats? Is it linoleic acid that's good for me or alpha-linolenic acid? Which oil is best to cook with? It's easy to see why many people can become obsessive with their eating habits and lose their love of food.

I believe that if we instead focus on a few basic guidelines, the small details will work themselves out. After all, your diet is never going to be perfect and the whole point of eating healthy is to live a long and happy life (it's not so happy when you have to write down every bite or second-guess every choice you make at a restaurant!) As an alternative, I propose the following rules that I try to live by in the kitchen:

1. Eat vegetarian at least two dinners per week: Animal proteins do not always have to be the focal point of your dinner. Too often, we get stuck in the mindset of "Do we want chicken, steak or fish for dinner?" Try meals with vegetarian protein sources like nuts, seeds, legumes, goat cheese, quinoa, etc. You can still have your steak - just don't fool yourself into thinking that if you miss two nights per week without it that you aren't getting enough protein.

2. Eat and buy foods that you're excited about! There's no point in buying vegetables that you know you detest. They'll sit in your fridge for a week or two before ending up in the garbage. Start with veggies that you enjoy and then slowly expand your reach.

3. Eat the rainbow: Simply put, if you keep your plate and meal colourful, you are increasing the nutrient density of your meals. Think about it: is a bagel colorful? It literally pales in comparison to a stir-fry or salad.

4. Aim for 50/25/25: Take your plate and draw an imaginary line down the middle. On one half, you should have all vegetables! On the other half, again draw an imaginary line. In these two sections (each representing a quarter of your entire plate), aim to have a source of protein and a grain. This is your goal for every meal. But how do you divide up a casserole? Good point. It's not always going to be easy to divide into 50/25/25 but do your best to visualize the ratios and make sure vegetables are the focal point!

5. Eat whole foods: Ask yourself the question, "Was this food previously living?" If you answer yes, that's a good sign. We want to eat less refined foods found in boxes or packages and more fresh food. If you do this, you don't have to worry about reading labels for additives like artificial sugars, MSG, colorings, etc.

6. Be good 80-90% of the time: The most difficult aspect of any diet or program is staying on track every single day and every meal and snack and moment. If you allow yourself a bit of breathing room, you remove the guilt of having a cookie or a bowl of ice cream once in a while. The concept of "failure" is redefined and no longer associated with eating a snack.

Now, not all of these rules work for everyone. If you feel that only a few of them fit with your lifestyle, start there and work at your own pace. These guidelines should serve as a great foundational starting point for eating healthy. The goal is to improve your health, but ultimately to simplify your life!

Got any tips that you feel should be added to this list? Leave us a comment below and let us know!