A vegetarian, a paleo dieter and a Mediterranean Diet proponent walk into a conference…sounds like the start of a joke, but it actually resulted in some common ground between nutrition and food systems experts last week. Put together by food and nutrition education nonprofit Oldways, the Finding Common Ground Conference brought together a committee of experts to reach a consensus on healthy eating.
If you’ve attempted to stay up-to-date on what’s healthy and what’s not over the past few years, you know that there’s been evidence and researchers to back up guidelines that are often at odds with each other—(Are we eating eggs now? Is our next burger going to kill us?)—but after plenty of presentations and debates, the scientists, doctors and professors at the Finding Common Ground Conference were able to, well, find some common ground.
Here are some of the major principles they all stand behind:
1. More veggies, seafood and legumes. Less sugar, booze and red meat.
Sorry, no one’s going to give you permission to skimp on veggies. The group collectively agree with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report that “a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”
2. Don’t cut out entire food groups (unless you want or need to).
We all know someone who’s lost weight or gotten healthier by cutting out carbs or starting every morning with spinach juice—but if you can’t fathom the thought of ditching bagels forever, don’t force it. The experts caution against eliminating entire food groups in the name of nutrition, saying “it is not necessary to eliminate food groups or conform to a single dietary pattern to achieve healthy dietary patterns. Rather, individuals can combine foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve healthy dietary patterns, and these strategies should be tailored to meet the individual’s health needs, dietary preferences and cultural traditions.”
3. Don’t take new nutrition findings as absolute fact.
New research on nutrition is important and absolutely worth considering—but you don’t need to overhaul your diet every time a new study alerts us to a new superfood. Instead of replacing what you already know about healthy eating with new research, consider it as a whole. “Fundamentals and current understanding do NOT change every time a new study makes headlines,” the committee says. “New evidence should be added to what was known before, not substituted for it sequentially.”
4. Let’s think about what we can add to our diets, not just cut out.
Instead of focusing on what we can’t eat, the committee endorses practical substitutions. “Instead of simply saying, “Drink less soda,” for instance, say “Drink water instead of soda.” What we consume and what we don’t consume instead, both contribute to health outcomes,” the report on the conference states.
5. Sustainability is an important part of healthy eating.
Again echoing federal guidelines, the experts at the Finding Common Ground Conference emphasize that “food insecurity cannot be solved without sustainable food systems. Inattention to sustainability is willful disregard for the quality and quantity of food available to the next generation.” According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee, that means “a focus on decreasing meat consumption, choosing seafood from non-threatened stocks, eating more plants and plant-based products, reducing energy intake, and reducing waste.”
6. Food should be tasty!
Healthy food doesn’t mean tasteless food. “Food can and should be good for human health, good for the planet, and simply…good—unapologetically delicious,” the report states.