Don't eat any gluten. Only eat meat. Drink a cup of coffee a day. Only drink water. Chocolate is a medical miracle. Chocolate can and will kill you. Eat three big meals a day. Eat ten micro-meals a day. Don't eat anything that is spelled using vowels.
Thankfully, most of the nutritional breakthroughs and miracle diets you read about are downright lies. Good news: no more trying to keep up with the steady stream of misinformation. Bad news: now you have buckle down and do your own research.
Luckily, learning about healthy eating habits isn't very difficult. It's tuning out or unlearning the lies that's the problem.
Marketing, Misinformation and Misunderstanding
Before you can even begin to research healthy diet and nutrition, it's important to learn how to discern the good information from the bad.
When faced with new dietary information, ask yourself, “are they trying to sell me something?” Is what you're reading trying to promote a particular product, program or book? If so, proceed with a heaping dose of skepticism.
Food marketing is especially tricky, as manufacturers are notorious for using healthy lingo to move product, regardless of whether that product is truly healthy or not. Food labels are also quick to capitalize on misunderstandings, like the countless people convinced that gluten is unsafe for everyone (not just those with celiac disease) and to be avoided. Thus “gluten-free” labels have cropped up on the most ridiculous items (like soda, butter or candy).
Finally, beware the on-off “scientific studies” that populate Facebook and feature on every morning talk show. True science requires studies to be replicated multiple times and rigorously scrutinized before findings are made fact. Ignore any “amazing breakthrough” that flies in the face of both common sense and decades of scientific study.
Learning How To Read (A Label)
To get a better picture of a food's nutritional value, skip the flashy front of the package and flip to the back. The nutrition facts is what you want to be reading.
Of course, reading nutrition facts and ingredient lists can be daunting. However, if you really want to take control of your nutritional education, learning to read the nutrition facts is a must. To get started, use the FDA's helpful guide and keep these tips in mind.
The nutritional information is based on a serving size, not the whole package. If the front of the package promises you antioxidant-rich blueberries but the ingredient list only includes blueberry flavoring, you're being sold a lie. And buzzwords like “natural” aren't regulated. To be sure you're getting organic products, look for the USDA organic seal.
Balanced and Proportioned
Once you can identify misinformation and read nutrition facts, it's time for the best news: eating healthily isn't rocket science.
Eating well is all about consuming a variety of nutrition rich foods in moderate portion sizes. ChooseMyPlate.gov is a great resource designed to not only educate you about healthy eating habits, portion sizes and nutrition facts, but also provide you with the tools you need to put that education into practice.
You can learn about the staples of a healthy diet -- protein, grains, vegetables, fruit and dairy -- and find recipes and trackers to help you meet your nutritional goals.
Vitamins and Minerals
Of course, it can be difficult to keep track of the daily vitamins and minerals you need, let alone how to consume them.
For example, did you know that copper is a necessary part of your diet? Copper is an important catalyst for many bodily functions, including your thyroid. But you don't need to gnaw copper pipes to get it. Small amounts of copper are found in nuts, meats, fish and grains so a balanced diet will get you your daily dose.
To make sure you're getting your daily intake, don't rush straight to a multivitamin. Instead, find a guide like this one that will break down the vitamins and minerals needed and where to get them as well as examples of what eating a daily amount would look like.
Use these recommendations when making meals plans. Use apps, online resources like ChooseMyPlate or a simple spreadsheet to keep track of healthy meal and snack options that tick the nutritional boxes. Compiling a list of options takes the guesswork and stress out of healthy meal planning.
Water, Water, Everywhere
Water is free of calories and practically free of charge when you get it from the tap. It's the easiest, healthiest way to stay hydrated -- a real no-brainer.
Diets are easily blown by beverage intake alone, so establishing water as your main drink of choice helps you save calories for tasty meals instead. Looking for a bit of flavor? Skip the powdered packets and add lemon or lime slices, berries or mint to give it a tasty (but truly natural) flavor.
Don't trust your tap water? Invest in a filtering pitcher or faucet rather than paying for bottled water.
The bottom line is there really aren't new breakthroughs in nutrition. Turn a deaf ear to marketing ploys and misleading studies and get back to basics instead.