When I was in my early 20s and decided to start eating meals that didn't require me to peel back a piece of plastic before putting them in my microwave, a friend sent me a copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. If you have it on your own bookshelf, you know that it isn't just a clever name: It contains more than 1,000 pages of illustrated instructions for everything from baking homemade biscuits to buying the right fish. (It also might be the only book to ever receive complimentary blurbs from both Isaac Mizrahi and Lisa "Stay" Loeb).
So yeah, Bittman knows his food, which is probably why Grub Street turned to him — and to nutrition expert Dr. David Katz — to answer every question you've ever had about eating right, detoxes and cleanses, and carbs. It's an exhaustive piece (which you should definitely read), and here are five things that we learned from it.
1. The Paleo diet isn't an excuse to go ham on bacon and eggs.
Bittman and Katz give us a harsh reminder that there was no Paleolithic bacon (or burgers, or pepperoni) but that it "is the diet to which we are adapted." They believe that our ancestors ate about six times as much fiber as we do now (along with way more insects than we've even considered crunching on), but the real key to being Paleo is eating "whole, minimally processed foods."
2. Regardless of what you've heard from a celebrity, seen on Instagram, or read in a magazine, you probably don't need that cleanse.
They said that our liver and kidneys are better at detoxifying our bodies than anything Gwyneth could possibly recommend. And, to keep those organs in prime detoxifying shape, we just need to eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid obvious toxins like cigarettes.
3. Eat your carbs, because they're not inherently evil — or even bad for us.
Plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds all contain carbs, they remind us, before emphasizing that carbohydrates are a crucial part of a complete diet. "Highly processed grains and added sugar are bad, not because they are carbohydrates, but because they've been robbed of nutrients, they raise insulin levels, and they're often high in added fats, sodium, and weird ingredients," they said. "Carbs are not evil; junk food is evil." Oh. OH.
4. If you drink wine every day, do it because you enjoy it, not because you're doing it for your health.
Bittman and Katz acknowledge that red wine can be part of a diet rich in antioxidants (along with coffee, tea, dark chocolate, whole grains, and legumes), but "if you think you're drinking alcohol for health, stop now." That said, they did cite research suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption, defined as two glasses each day for men and one for women, might be beneficial.
5. You're eating enough protein, even if you're working out to build muscle.
The Dietary Reference Intake suggests that one gram of protein for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight is plenty. (For a 135-pound woman, that means 61 grams of protein every day). That means that you can skip the protein supplements or sports bars — which they say are usually about as nutritionally appropriate as a Snickers bar. "Getting enough protein is easy, which is why there is virtually no such thing as protein deficiency in the USA outside of hospital wards (where it is an effect, not a cause, of serious illness)," they said.
Read more: Protein, Hero of the Plate — Or Is It?
Basically, they emphasized that a balanced diet is a combination of fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans and legumes (they love beans and legumes), and nuts and seeds.
Sounds easy enough, right? But we're not entirely convinced about that "cavemen didn't eat bacon" thing.