If you haven't had a chance to read "In Defense of Food - An Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan, do yourself a giant favour and pick it up. Hidden amongst the endless reams of mediocrity that is the "diet books" section of your bookstore, Pollan's book shows where we went wrong and delves deep into the complicated aspects of modern diet. He also gives great ideas on how to reverse our eating patterns.
This isn't about dieting, losing weight, increasing performance but more about getting back to "real" food and rediscovering the joy of eating. These are monumental steps towards healthy eating and will help anyone no matter what their goals.
Here's a list of things we can do to set a course for healthier eating (from the book and as published in Diet-Blog):
Don't eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food
Our mothers and grandmothers are likely as confused as we are about food. We need to go back a couple of generations to get past the era of modern food. Pollan uses the example of tubes of flavoured yogurt. Heck, I wouldn’t have recognized those 110 years ago!
Avoid food products that make health claims
For a product to make health claims on its package, it must first have a package, so right off the bat it is more likely to be a processed than a whole food. If they have to try and convince us it’s healthy, it’s usually not. Real foods make health claims, but for the most part it is the products of food science that make the boldest claims, and these are often founded on incomplete or erroneous science.
Get out of the supermarket
The supermarket, the convenience store and fast-food outlets are the best places to avert a life-shortening western diet. It is hard to eat badly from a farmers' market, from a weekly organic vegetable box or from your garden. I personally believe you don’t have to avoid the supermarket, but rather it’s a good idea to avoid most of the processed products that are sold there. It is never a bad idea to frequent farmers markets as you’ll get more locally grown goods.
Eat mostly plants, especially leaves
Almost everybody agrees that plants are really good for you. Without plants, for example, we would be hard-pressed to get enough vitamin C, an essential nutrient that humans long ago lost the ability to synthesize themselves. Aside from what’s in the plants – eating more plant foods means you’re eating less of other unhealthy and otherwise caloric fare.
Eat wild foods when you can
Two of the most nutritious plants in the world are weeds - fat-hen (also known as lamb's quarters) and purslane. Wild greens tend to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than their domesticated cousins. Wild animals, too, are worth adding to your diet when you have the opportunity, if you can be sure you are not putting further pressure on endangered species. Game generally has less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids than domesticated animals and wild fish generally have higher levels of omega-3s than farmed fish.
Don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet
Scientists have spent an exhaustive amount of hours trying to tease out the disease-fighting components of particular diets. Yet when researchers extract a single food from a diet of proven value, it usually fails to adequately explain why the people living on that diet live longer or have lower rates of heart disease or cancer than those eating a modern western diet. The whole of a dietary pattern is evidently greater than the sum of its parts.
Calorie restriction has repeatedly been shown to slow aging in animals, and some researchers believe it is the single strongest link between a change in the diet and the prevention of cancer. The people of Okinawa, for example, one of the longest-lived and healthiest populations in the world, practice a principle they call hara hachi bu: eat until you are 80% full.
We are snacking more and eating fewer meals together. Americans have added to the traditional big three "eating occasions" - breakfast, lunch and dinner - an as-yet-untitled fourth that lasts all day long: the constant sipping and snacking while watching TV, driving, and so on.