Here’s where we get to the meat of the matter, so to speak. At a high-level, deciding what to eat is actually quite simple: Eat Real Food. But what does that mean, exactly?
When making a food decision, we can think, “Who made this food?”
If the answer is no one, it’s probably good to eat. Real food is made by nature; fake food is made by people.
This isn’t to say that all food made by nature is good, or that all food made by people is bad, but it’s a really good starting point. Let’s take a look at the food decision flowchart:
As you can see, natural items are not always food (mushrooms are natural, but some are poisonous). Unnatural items are never food, but some of them can be valued additions to a healthy diet (whey protein powder for some people), or occasional filler items that do no harm (white rice).
This creates a powerful dichotomy that should be readily apparent in this chart. Natural items (provided they aren’t poisonous) will either fall in “Do Eat” or “Eat with Caution”. Unnatural items will always fall in “Eat with Caution” or “Don’t Eat”. This is because the absolute optimal human diet includes ZERO unnatural items.
Let’s examine each of these decision points more closely, and look at some examples.
Decision 1 – Who Made This Food?
If this food is Real Food, it will almost always be a plant or animal. Apples and Beef are clearly made by nature. Bread and Oreos are clearly unnatural items made by people. Where this gets a little cloudy is natural items that have undergone some extent of human processing.
Cows don’t ever look like ground beef, but grinding is a pretty natural, unobtrusive process similar to something that our bodies do naturally (chewing), so ground beef is still a natural food. Butter and cheese are toeing the line; they can be made with entirely natural ingredients (definitely “Don’t Eat” if they aren’t), but they undergo some fairly unnatural processing. For foods like this, it’s helpful to be skeptical, but if the process doesn’t require large machinery or strange chemicals, it’s probably natural enough.
Fermented foods are also natural (provided they start with a natural food) because fermentation is extremely minimal processing, and is similar to a process that takes place in your body (bacteria in your gut ferment many foods to some extent).
Some foods appear natural, but upon closer inspection require unnatural harvesting or processing. Wheat and soy are both examples here. Surely, wheat is a plant that grows naturally. However, modern wheat plants are heavily genetically engineered, and harvesting wheat requires serious machinery. If you happened upon a wheat field with nothing but a few hand tools, you would find it nearly impossible to create bread.
Decision 2a – Natural Food – Is It Proven Poisonous?
Humans have been eating natural foods for as long as we’ve been on this planet. We have a very good idea of what is poisonous of this group, and as a result you won’t see many of these foods in a grocery store. The most common useful example in this group is beans, many of which are poisonous raw.
Decision 3a – Natural Food – Is It Healthful?
This decision is on the graph to keep you from eating too much of an “ok” food. Bacon is a solid example of a non-healthful food that would have made it this far. Bacon is certainly natural (at least when free of preservatives and flavorings), and it’s not poisonous. However, bacon contains many mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and as such, can become dangerously oxidized when heated. This makes bacon a once-in-a-while “Eat with Caution” food. Other foods in this group include nuts and seeds.
Decision 1b – Unnatural Food – Is It Proven Healthful?
Unnatural food should be assumed unhealthy until proven otherwise. That’s why the first step on this side of the chart tests that. The foods that pass this are typically of the supplement variety. Whey protein powder has proven benefits for certain types of people, for example. “Vegetable Oil” is the biggest culprit stopped at this point. It’s definitely man-made, but studies show that it can be healthful in come cases (when fresh, the Vitamin E present can improve health in the short term). However, studies also show that it is very detrimental to long-term health, especially when rancid (as it almost always is on store shelves) or heated (as it is in every case but salad dressing). Taken together, this evidence does not prove “vegetable oil” to be healthful, and it should therefore be avoided.
Decision 2b – Unnatural Food – Is It Proven Not Poisonous?
Again, the language here reinforces that unnatural food is guilty until proven innocent. This is a check on Decision 1b; in theory, no poisonous foods would get to this point because they couldn’t be proven healthy. Unfortunately, some poisonous foods have healthful aspects in narrow situations, so can appear healthful without enough research. Soy foods, for example, have been shown to improve health markers in short-term intervention studies. However, they contain poisonous compounds (isoflavones, phytoestrogens) that cause many long-term issues (infertility, impotence, muscle loss, gynecomastia).
Decision 3b – Unnatural Food – Is It Hyper-Palatable?
Hyper-palatable foods cause weight gain, low energy, body temperature regulation issues, and errors in hormone signaling, among other things. This means “has this food been engineered by humans to taste better than anything natural?” Many whey protein powders could have made it this far, but “Cookie-Dough” and “Triple Chocolate” flavors get eliminated at this point.
Final Outcomes – How to Proceed
Eat as much as you want, whenever you want. You should also actively seek out new foods that fall into this category that you may not have eaten much in the past (liver, bone marrow, heart, brains, kale, sweet potatoes, kombucha, sauerkraut).
“Eat with Caution”
Responsible eating in this category varies by food. If you want to be extra safe, you can avoid these foods entirely, with no detriment to your health. Some foods in this group are “ok” to eat every day (white rice), some foods only once a week (bacon). Foods in this group should only be consumed if you’ve been eating plenty of “Do Eat” foods recently.
Foods in this group should ideally never be eaten. The one and only exception can be occasional allowances for psychological health. Cake on your birthday, stuffing and biscuits at thanksgiving, dessert on vacation. Think of these foods as allowable only on 3-5 day “breaks” a few times per year.
As you realize that many of the tastiest food products you eat fall into the “Don’t Eat” category, you may feel anxious or discouraged. The fact that merely thinking about avoiding these foods causes emotional distress is a clear indication that these foods are psychologically unhealthy. Armed with this new food decision formula, you can overcome those deleterious dependencies and form a healthier relationship with food – in addition to a healthier body. In this case, knowing is more than half the battle, and now you know.
This may seem complicated, but it’s really not – just Eat Real Food. To make it even easier for yourself, read The Definitive Guide to Healthy Eating. Easier still, pick up your copy of the MasculON Fitness Course, which includes tons of extra info and a full six-week meal plan.
Other Articles in This Series
We’re adding new articles to the list regularly – so bookmark this page to check back. Or, join the newsletter to make sure you never miss life-changing info.
- The Definitive Guide to Healthy Eating
- 30 Seconds on Food
- What Men Need to Know About Healthy Fat
- Guide to Intermittent Fasting
- Organic Food – Simple List of What to Buy Organic
- Meat Source Health – What Everyone Needs to Know
- The Real Superfood – Science Catches Up
- Don’t Get Fooled By Claims About Fiber
- Liver is Possibly the Best Thing You Can Ever Eat
- The Insanity of Food Groups