SALT LAKE CITY — We've all heard them before: Food rules you should follow if you're on a diet or want to eat healthy.
Does straying from these rules lead to cheating on your diet or keep you from living your healthiest life?
Not necessarily. In fact, there are some food and diet rules dietitians say it's OK — and might even encourage you — to break.
Here are seven food "rules" you don't have to live by to lead a healthy, and you might just find some relief in knowing these rules may be better broken.
Only eat 'good' foods
All diets have a list of good and bad foods. The off-limits foods are usually labeled as "bad for you." So, what happens when you eat food labeled as bad? Are all your efforts in vain? Are you a bad person for eating that food?
"Labeling foods as good/bad or healthy/unhealthy makes us feel guilty when we eat the so-called 'bad' foods," said registered dietitian Maria Adams, an adjunct lecturer at Endicott College.
Adams went on to explain that food is neither good nor bad. Food has no moral value attached to it. It's just food, and "all food has a place in the diet," she said. When you come to realize that all food is neither inherently good nor bad, doors to a more flexible and realistic eating pattern begin to open up.
Don't eat after 7 pm
Cutting yourself off from eating at a certain time is a common diet rule; however, it isn't one registered dietitian Anne Mauney suggests you follow.
"Ignoring your body's cues will simply leave you waking up starving in the middle of the night," Mauney said. "What time you should stop eating depends greatly on what works for your body and your lifestyle."
If you truly are hungry in the evening, go ahead and eat. Don't let a clock tell you when you are hungry — let your body tell you that.
That said, if you often find yourself hungry late at night, Mauney recommends exploring why.
"For example, are your meals earlier in the day too small, unsatisfying, or not balanced in terms of macronutrients?" she asks.
Don't eat carbs
Carbohydrates have been the most recent macronutrient demonized by popular fad diets professing that staying away from carbs will lead you to a healthier, happier life. However, whole grains and starchy vegetables like sweet potato, oats, quinoa and brown rice can be included in a healthy diet, according to registered dietitian nutritionist Lisa Young, author of "Finally Full, Finally Slim."
"As with any food, (carbs) will not cause weight gain unless you eat too much," Young said.
Our bodies function best when fueled with a variety of foods, including those that contain carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our brain's preferred source of energy. Additionally, whole grains, fruit and many starchy vegetables provide key nutrients to our bodies — such as fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients — and benefit our gut health.
Eat 6 small meals a day
There is no set amount of meals you have to eat each day for optimal health. As with any eating pattern, what works best for one person may not work for another. If you don't have the time to take six small breaks throughout the day to eat, then perhaps eating three meals a day would be better for you. If you feel better eating smaller amounts of food more frequently, then do that.
You can eat equally healthy by eating three meals a day as you can with six meals a day. Eating three 600-calorie meals a day will cause the same thermic effect as eating six 300-calorie meals a day. There is no difference in your metabolism whether you are eating more frequently or not as long as you are eating the same amount of calories.
What really matters is that each person uses their individual circumstances to determine how often they should be eating. Whatever you choose, be consistent, as your body will respond best and feel better with regularly spaced meals — whatever that may be for you.
Don't eat anything white
White bread, white rice, white pasta, white potatoes and even bananas are often some of the first things pushed aside when people go on a diet.
Registered dietitian nutritionist KeyVion Miller said she commonly hears from patients who are told not to eat these foods. She suggests a better idea is to encourage people to pair these foods with plenty of vegetables or add a high fiber food like beans, peas or lentils to boost the nutritional value of the entire meal.
For example, if you are serving a chicken stir-fry over white rice, toss extra veggies into the stir fry to increase color and nutrients. Or if you love white potatoes, chop some up and roast them in the oven with a variety of vegetables for a delicious side dish.
"Even a so-called 'perfect' diet — which doesn't exist — can make room for these foods," Miller said.
Only shop the perimeter of the grocery store
This premise of this rule is that by shopping only the perimeter of the store you would only be purchasing the freshest, healthiest foods while staying away from processed, pre-packaged foods.
"The truth is, by only shopping the perimeter of the grocery store you miss out on tons of nutrient-dense foods like grains, beans, canned vegetables, and oils," said registered dietitian nutritionist Kristen Smith.
Smith explained that foods like grains and cereals offer ample B vitamins and fiber-rich ingredients to help keep you feeling satiated. She also recommends venturing into the aisles so you don't miss out on foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts, canned fish, flaxseeds, and canola and olive oils, which can help with brain and heart health.
Never eat processed foods
There are a lot of processed foods that can still be healthy for you. In fact, most foods we purchase at the store have been processed to at least some extent. For example, canned tuna, yogurt, frozen vegetables, string cheese, canned beans, hummus and ground flaxseed have all been processed from their original state to be what you see on store shelves.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Sarah Schlichter assures clients it's OK to eat some processed foods.
"While we know a diet high in whole foods can have many benefits, processed foods can still bring nutrients to the table. More than that, though, they can be a source of convenience and pleasure for those busy snack times or meal times (e.g. minute rice, frozen pizza, chicken sausage, vegetable mixes, etc)," she said.
Schlichter recommends looking at processed foods simply as food made up of carbs, fat and proteins. She says include them when necessary or as needed to help reduce stress, support a consistent eating pattern, feed the family, and save money.
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