Luise Light was a former director of dietary guidance and nutritional education research at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). During her time there, and after her departure, she thought about food and what was required for a person to enjoy total dietary health. She realized she could help people “feel and look better and be healthier, not by taking a dose of something or signing up for cosmetic surgery but by making key lifestyle changes.” These key lifestyle changes are based on her “ten rules for healthy eating.”
Light claims it is never too late to make better, healthier, and smarter food choices. She maintains eating the right foods can help you regain vitality and prevent diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity. Moreover, certain foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, provide “antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, antitumor, antiaging, and detoxification activities that are the body’s first line of defense against disease and poisoning.”
To start yourself on a path to better health, here’s Light’s ten rules.
- Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients and to get them you need to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Limiting yourself to five or ten fruits and vegetables robs you of potential health benefits. Additionally, in a study published in September 2005 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, boys “who consumed 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily wound up with significantly more calcium in their bones than those who ate less, despite eating the right amount of dairy foods.” Fruits and vegetables are also packed with antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals that damage the body.
- Eat whole-grain pasta, rice, breads, and cereals. Whole grains contribute to a low glycemic index score because they breakdown slowly in the body whereas refined grains convert quickly to sugar and whatever doesn’t get used is stored as fat. Moreover, refined grains have few minerals, vitamins, or fiber in comparison to whole grains. Whole grains also reduce the risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. To learn more about fiber read Fiber is More Than a Hill of Beans and Can You Get Too Much Fiber?
- Eat certified organic foods. Organic foods have been proven to contain more minerals and vitamins than traditionally grown foods. In addition, organically grown foods are not treated with chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides. Organic animal foods are also better because they do not contain antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones, and organic animals are raised in natural environments with room to move around. To learn more about organic foods and why you should eat organics read Did You Know Organic … and Organic Versus Non-organic Foods.
- Eat natural fats/avoid synthetic fats. You may think all fats are equal, but that’s not true. Natural fats include olive oil, butter, nuts, and flax and fish oils. Moreover, Light asserts certain oils are genetically modified, such as soy and canola oils, and she claims they “may contain toxic ingredients and/or be altered in processing. If you want to learn more about fats read The Skinny on Fats.
- Avoid refined starch and sugars. Sweet drinks should be limited to 10 percent of your daily calories because according to Light they trigger “the release of insulin and other hormones that convert excess sugar into fat.” This is how people develop high blood cholesterol and high triglycerides, which leads to type 2 diabetes. To learn more about what the Beverage Guidance Panel recommends in relation to drinks read Are You Drinking Your Calories?
- Eat wild fish and meat and eggs from range-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free animals. Wild fish provide omega-3s and are also a great source of lean meat. However, some fish contain more mercury than others, so you should limit your consumption of high-level mercury fish to just a couple of times a month. To learn more about mercury levels in seafood read Mercury Levels of Fish and Shellfish. Light claims you should also avoid farm-raised fish as they are more likely to be genetically modified and contain pesticide residues and heavy metals. Additionally, because toxins are stored in the fat of animals—such as in their skin and tissues—eating fatty poultry or fatty meats means you will likely consume higher levels of toxins. To reduce your level of toxins, eat lean organic meats. If you’re unsure how much protein you should eat read How Much Protein Should a Person Eat?
- Eat several good sources of calcium. Calcium is important to strong bones and teeth. However, cheese is usually heat-treated, and, according to Light that can “damage the fat they contain.” She suggests you use white cheeses as they are the healthiest choice. Additionally, many nutritionists question the value of milk for a variety of reasons—including the addition of vitamin D to it. For that reason, they suggest you eat yogurt, cottage cheese, or cheese and avoid milk altogether. To learn more read Calcium-Rich Foods.
- Avoid too much salt and salty food. Americans consume twice as much salt or sodium as they should, and it’s usually not related to shaking the salt shaker at the table. Prepared foods, packaged foods, restaurants, and fast food meals contain high levels of sodium, and sodium contributes to the high level of Americans who suffer from blood pressure problems, heart attacks, and strokes.
- Avoid processed and additive-rich foods. Processed foods contain additives such as artificial food colors, nitrates, sulfites, monosodium glutamate (MSG), preservatives, synthetic flavors, waxes, and genetic modification. These things are linked to allergies, asthma, cancer, hyperactivity, infertility, and nervous and immune system problems. You can avoid these toxins when you eat fresh organic foods—fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meats, natural fats, nuts and seeds—and wild fish.
- Drink plenty of clean, filtered water. If you’ve never thought about the water you drink, think about this—it’s the foundation for total health. If your water contains pesticides, chemicals, bacteria, viruses, solvents, fluoride, and so forth imagine what it’s doing to your body when you drink it. To learn more about water read Pros and Cons: Tap Water Versus Bottled Water and My Water Decision.
Now that you know Light’s ten rules for healthy eating, you can begin today to make changes towards eating healthier. In order to be successful realize that it can be hard to break old habits and that it takes twenty-one days to create new habits. You also need a plan, so think about what you need to change and write down what adjustments you can make towards a healthier you.
If you want to learn more about Light’s ideas for total health, you can read her book What to Eat.