Healthy food is no longer trendy. It’s mainstream. This is why whether you're in a grocery store, ordering a meal delivery program, or just hitting up your favorite coffee spot, everyone is trying to sell you their convenient version of better-for-you options.
Your social media feed and grocery shelves are riddled with buzzwords like clean, nourishing, grain-free, and plant-based, and they're marketing the latest diets like keto, paleo, and vegan.
But what exactly counts as healthy food and how do you know which diet plan is going to improve your well-being and lower your risk of disease? Should you be eating high-fat, high-protein, or vegan? And are marketing claims there to benefit your health or to just sell more food?
While the majority of marketing claims and food labels are helpful in finding the options that meet your personal dietary needs or lifestyle, finding the best quality options can be more challenging. The most trusted brands will still market to these trends but are also creating truly healthy options backed by research and approved by experts.
Why is Research Important?
When it comes to the latest nutrition advice, we are overloaded with something called anecdotal observations - which is the practice of having individuals try something on themselves or clients, develop assumptions based on their experience, and then advertise their newfound knowledge to friends, families, and the public.
But just because something makes sense in theory, or on a few people, doesn’t mean it’s sound science or erases over a hundred years of research. However, it is fair to argue that most of what we know about nutrition today started out as anecdotal evidence. And diets are inherently difficult to study. So what should you look for?
Good results take time and require repetition. Early stage research may show promising insight, but it takes more than a few studies to provide meaningful conclusions.
Science-based nutrition is advice backed by a significant amount of well-established, unbiased studies that have been reviewed by outside experts.
So in other words, if you repeated your theory in a controlled research study numerous times and had unbiased health professionals or researchers review and critique your work, you would now be coaching your friends with evidenced based nutrition recommendations. Evidenced based nutrition is the gold standard when it comes to health advice.
THE GIST: Associations and theories are not proven science. And some research is still in its early stages, needing more time and proven results before a conclusion can be reached. For the best healthy eating advice, look for evidenced based nutrition that is recognized by leading experts and supported by years of trusted studies.
Is Most Nutrition Science Wrong?
If the tried and true nutrition advice we've been getting is so solid, then why does the media constantly publish articles like - Everything You Thought You Knew About Fat Is Wrong?
The truth is, research is complicated and the media doesn't always do the best job digesting the results for us. Sharing a health tip we've known forever, like eat more veggies and you could live longer, doesn't make for a sexy or exciting headline.
And the one thing that is consistent in nutrition research is inconsistencies. We are all different when it comes to what works for our own health.
Our nutritional needs can vary based on age, weight, muscle mass, fitness, disease, allergies, genetics, gut microbiota, stress, and lifestyle, just to name a few things.
You can’t exactly isolate one specific nutrient or food item in the hopes of a clear answer. Even within a group of specific food items, there are variables - the quality of soil, life, and diet of the animal, environment, and type of processing all create differences from one carrot, steak, slice of bread, or piece of cheese to the next.
This is why it can seem impossible to get conclusive, definitive answers when looking at nutrition research. There are just too many variables to look at for one study to give you all the solutions. However, consistent, strong results repeated numerous times can get you close enough.
And don't even get me started when it comes to the politics and food industry dollars behind a large portion of the research out there. Studies cost a lot of money and often times it is the parties who will financially benefit from positive results that are footing the bill. They are also controlling the press release/media attention around the results. In other words, a soda company is likely to fund a study with the hypothesis that sugar-sweetened beverages do not cause fat gain. And spend the money to market the positive results or not publish the study at all if it doesn't support their interests.
While it is troubling to see the amount of cash involved in potentially biased science, it doesn't mean all of the research is bad either. Do your due diligence and look for conflicts of interest listed in the study, and determine who exactly supported the research. Or check out some easy tips for learning to identify a quality study design and read beyond the abstract.
What we can assume is, optimal nutrition is a balance of quantity, quality and variety.
The body needs calories in the form of macronutrients - protein, carbohydrates and fat, and an adequate supply of micronutrients - vitamins and minerals - to survive and function properly. The necessary amounts of each can vary from one person to the next, but these basic principles of good nutrition are very well documented in over a hundred years' worth of health studies (1,2,3,4). And the best sources of these nutrients come from whole foods found in nature and made with few “extra” ingredients like salt, sugar, fats and preservatives. Or what is commonly referred to as, eating clean.
THE GIST: Nutrition research can be complicated and is mostly observational studies loaded with variables, but our understanding of the basics is relatively clear - a calorie controlled diet with the right balance of macronutrients and micronutrients is the key to good health.
Are All Calories the Same?
The amount of food you eat is the biggest determining factor for weight loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance (5,6). You can even lose weight by eating junk food, as long as you maintain calorie control. If you don't believe me, take it from a professor who wanted to prove this theory by losing weight on a soda, cookie, and chip diet. (7). Or this guy who lost 27 pounds eating Twinkies.
However, science continues to imply that the type of food you are eating is just as, if not more important - especially when you look at long-term health outcomes (8,9,10,11). A calorie-controlled Twinkie diet may help you drop weight in theory, but food still matters.
There is a difference between eating to shed pounds and eating for longevity. Oftentimes, a diet that promotes a lean physique also improves your risk factors for chronic disease - but we cannot just forget about basic nutrition. Some of the most popular diets on the market forget this basic principle, which can lead to micronutrient deficiencies and eventually health concerns (12). Your body is not a calculator, you also need essential nutrients to thrive.
According to research, the level of processing, nutrient density and type of food you consume can have a major impact on your health and also influence how successful you are on your diet.
There have been many studies documenting that nutrient-dense foods play a role in weight loss, reducing inflammation, decreasing signs of aging and increasing your lifespan (13). Less processed foods have been shown to produce more successful weight loss and health outcomes than counting calories or macros alone (14). And in one study, participants burned twice as many calories digesting clean foods compared to highly processed foods (15).
Eating a variety of nutritious foods is more crucial to your longevity than any single meal or food. And there is actually no such thing as healthy food, only healthy diets.
That's right. Food isn't healthy, it's nutritious. One food cannot make or break your health, and even the “healthiest” options can become unhealthy if that’s the only thing you eat forever; you would be missing out on essential nutrients and health benefits from other things you are not eating. How “good” or “bad” food is should be ranked according to nutrition content, specifically as it relates to your needs.
You cannot argue against nutrient density; a food is either high in nutrients or it isn’t. Whereas healthy food could be unhealthy for someone who is allergic to it.
THE GIST: While how much you eat is important for weight management, eating a variety of less processed, more nutrient dense foods can also promote weight loss and is key reducing your risk of disease and living a long, healthy life.
What Macronutrients Do You Need?
Your balance of macros also plays a role in fat loss, weight maintenance and health, but the quality of these macros is key (16,17).
While there is still a lot of debate around saturated fat, science has proven that fat in general is essential to health and that the right types of fat - unsaturated and omega-3s - can reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes (18). Carbs and protein also play a role.
Carbohydrates come from anything that grows out of the ground, including fruits and vegetables, but they are also found in most processed foods, sugars and traditional junk foods. So it is not surprise that eating more quality carbs can have a major impact on your health.
Whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, and farro, have been linked to reduced risk of chronic disease compared to refined grains, like white breads, sugar, and which may actually increase your risk (19,20). And even better, whole food carbohydrates like potatoes, beans, fruits and starchy vegetables, are some of the most protective foods you can eat (21,22,23).
When it comes to protein, not all sources are created equal. Animal based proteins are more easily absorbed by the body and provide heme-iron which may be more bio-available than iron from plant-based sources (24,25,26). However, there is a lot of research pointing to the health benefits of a plant based diet (27). And high intake of meat has been linked to health problems - but this is mainly limited to highly processed and high fat meat (28).
Organic may also matter. While the research is still growing, organic and grass-fed meat may produce leaner proteins with a better fatty acid complex (29,30,31). And organic meat and poultry is raised without the use of antibiotics or additional hormones. In addition, organically farmed produce may be higher in certain nutrients shown to promote health (32).
While the health benefits of choosing organic over conventional are still widely debated, there are still a number of good reasons to consider buying more organic.
THE GIST: Don't just count your macros, look for the best options backed by research. Eat more unsaturated fats from plants and seafood, choose lean and organic proteins, and go for the most nutrient dense carbs like whole grains, beans, starchy veggies and fruit.
Trends vs. Nutrition
What about trends? Is the latest health craze backed by research or rooted in good nutrition recommendations? If healthy food seems too good to be true, it probably is. Let's play spot the difference between a trendy label claim and a truly nutritious choice.
Clean or organic have become synonymous with health, but these are processing and ingredient claims that often have little to do with the nutrition of the food. An Alfredo pasta made with loads of cream, butter, salt, and fat may be made with all organic, clean ingredients, but it's still going to be high in calories and not provide much fiber, vitamins, or minerals. Whereas a pasta dish made with whole grain noodles, veggies, and a lighter sauce can also be made with clean ingredients, and packs much more nutrition into every bite. In other words, one of the options above will help you control calories and balance macros whereas the other will do the opposite.
Gluten-free is another common label that is looked at as healthier. But gluten-free does not mean grain-free, low-carb, or even clean ingredients. And there are plenty of unhealthy options that can still be considered gluten-free, like candy, ice cream, and potato chips. A pizza made on a gluten-free crust can don this certification, but it may also be high in calories and fat and heavily processed to make the crust free of gluten. For those that benefit from a gluten-free diet, due to allergies, celiac disease, or a diagnosed intolerance, these options are meaningful. But when looking for a nutrient-rich lunch, don't forget to check the nutrition facts label and the ingredients. A simple quinoa dish can be a much better way to get less processed gluten-free grains and a well-balanced meal.
The paleo diet is becoming more and more popular as it emphasizes a whole-food approach to eating that is generally nutritious. But just like any diet, with the wrong macro balance and misuse of ingredients, you can still create a high-calorie, low-nutrient dish. Paleo pancakes may be grain-free, but if they are made with a heavy amount of nut and coconut ingredients, and without much protein or nutrient-dense fruits included, you are probably missing the point. If you're craving pancakes look for recipes that control calories and fat, and include high-protein ingredients. Or opt for a simple dish like eggs and veggies baked in a muffin tin that is also paleo, but much more nutritious.
Being vegan doesn't automatically mean health benefits. Even a donut made with the right ingredients can be labeled vegan - this doesn't mean all of the calories, added sugar, and added fat don't count. Yes, sugar is still vegan! So are french fries, soda, potato chips, and Oreo cookies. If you are looking for a treat that fits your vegan lifestyle, these options are nice to have, but don't confuse them with "good for you".
THE GIST: It is entirely possible to eat like garbage and still stick to certain dietary needs like vegan, paleo, clean or gluten-free. The trick to finding trusted items that meet your needs and benefit your health is to keep an eye on the ingredients and nutrition facts labels. Look for more of what you are getting from the food or meal - i.e. micronutrients, protein, and fiber - over what it is "free" from or made without.
How to Start Eating Clean with Science-Based Nutrition
Now let's boil all of this down into easy evidence-based nutrition advice you can use. Eating well doesn't have to be difficult or require drastic measures. Armed with the right information and willpower, anyone can learn how to live a healthy lifestyle that works for their own needs.
The best clean-eating diet plans consider the ingredients, processing, and nutrition of the food. Look for options with strict processing standards and ingredients you can pronounce and recognize as food, and meals that include a variety of nutrient-dense ingredients that are also macro-balanced.
Are there added preservatives, flavorings, or colors? Is the item organic, non-GMO, and of the highest quality available? And how much sodium, sugar, and fat is added to the food?
And when it comes to following expert advice, look for credentials. What background does this expert have? Are they certified or trained to give this type of advice? And are there any research studies referenced or testimonials from outside experts?
Learning how to tell the difference between food marketing and solid advice is important - your well-being could literally depend on it. Sometimes you've got to be your own health advocate and demand the best.
The Part Where I Sell You On Trifecta
Trifecta not only has a meal plan to fit the latest health craze and just about every diet you can think of, but these meals are nutritionally balanced and made with ingredients that have been shown to promote better health. It's clear that a lot of thought was put behind their menus, and nutrition remains at the forefront of what they provide. It's no surprise that customer success stories continue to pour in, like this one, this one, and this one.
Who Eats Trifecta
Trifecta feeds thousands of customers each week including some of the best athletes and top celebrities around.
There is no segment of the population that has mastered nutrition quite like athletes. And performance nutrition happens to be one of Trifecta's specialties. It's rare that you can find a food company whose products are so clean and adequately balanced, that even the fittest people in the world rely on these meals for proper nutrition. Yes, even athletes whose livelihood relies on their physique and performance regularly eat Trifecta - even up until the day and day-of competition. Check out some of our famous partners featured on our Instagram page.
What are Trifecta's Standards?
Trifecta maintains some of the strictest standards around when it comes to clean eating. While ingredients are important, so is the quality of these ingredients, how and where they were sourced, and how much processing is used to create the final product. Here is a snapshot of what you will get from Trifecta:
- All Trifecta meals and a la carte items are organic and non-GMO. Trifecta’s food is made with Organic ingredients, locally sourced vegetables, and sustainably sourced meats and seafood.
- The seafood is sustainably caught and meats are true grass-fed. Trifecta only uses seafood caught in its natural environment by fishermen. And their meat is sourced from animals that enjoy a diet of exclusively grass and forage, with continuous indoor-outdoor access to pasture.
- Proteins are sourced from farms with ethical living conditions that meet the animals' needs. This ensures all animals are raised with high-quality nutrition in environments that encourage natural behavior, allowing the animals to be happy and playful, and ensuring emotional well-being. We believe if animals are making the ultimate sacrifice for us, they deserve to live happy lives.
- Zero-added preservatives or artificial ingredients are used. You can pronounce and recognize every ingredient on the label.
- There is little to no added sugar, and the only sugar used is from natural sources like maple syrup and coconut sugar. Most processed foods and prepared meals contain hidden sugars from sauces and dressings, which are even added to proteins like salmon and sausage for flavor. But it's difficult to find any Trifecta meals with added sugar, and the dishes that do have it are clearly labeled and only small amounts are used.
- Little fat is added and only high-quality oils are used, like avocado and olive oil. You won't find any partially hydrogenated fats or heavily processed oils.
- All options are gluten-free and dairy-free. These 3 ingredients are exuded because they are the most common food allergens and sensitivities.
- All food is made from scratch, from fresh ingredients. The meals themselves arrive vacuum sealed and last for 2 weeks in the fridge.
Are Trifecta Meals Nutrient Dense?
When it comes to your health, remember that nutrition reigns supreme. You want to get the most amount of nutrients per calorie and strive to hit your macro goals with plenty of health-promoting proteins, fats, and carbs. From a nutrition standpoint, here's what makes Trifecta meals so nutrient-dense:
- Only the most nutritious ingredients are used to keep the options high in vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber. Meals provide a variety of organic whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and veggies.
- Trifecta meals are calorie and fat-conscious. The options are geared towards better portion control, so added fats are kept to a minimum, the proteins used are lean, and each meal has at least 1/2 cup of low-calorie veggies.
- Meal plans are macro-aligned to optimize nutritional balance. Each meal contains a nutrient-dense protein that is paired with a healthy dose of low-carb veggies and high-fiber starch.
- A la carte options allow you to customize your macros and build the most nutrient-dense plate possible. You can easily double up on protein, decrease carbs, etc. with quality mix-and-match options that fit your diet needs.
Is Trifecta Backed by Experts?
But don't just take it from me. Just like any evidenced-based nutrition, outside opinion matters. And Trifecta partners with leading industry experts including physicians, dietitians, and fitness experts that are big fans of the product.
Check out these glowing testimonials:
"The Trifecta meal plans work perfectly with Renaissance Periodization (RP). Our approach is rooted in the rigorous application of scientific principles to nutrition and training with the understanding that evidenced-based advice is the surest path to results. And we’ve helped thousands of clients achieve their goals with food from Trifecta. They offer only the highest quality proteins and meal options that are built on solid nutrition, backed by science. Just clean, great products. Our clients can easily calculate their needs and order directly from Trifecta without having to request substitutions or special changes to meet our diet meal plan standards because their entire a la carte menu fits seamlessly with our program." - Mike Israetel, Ph.D., Head Science Consultant for RP
"Research continues to show that nutrition is an essential and irreplaceable element of health and wellness and that the majority of illnesses we treat daily are at their core preventable with the right diet. Unfortunately, finding the best diet for our health can be challenging due to the difficulty of determining what foods and how much of those foods are good for us. And many of us have extremely busy lifestyles that make avoiding endless temptations around us seem almost impossible. Trifecta has the potential to make such a massive impact on health as it provides the right foods in the right quantities that can be customized to fit the particular needs of each individual...and it's delivered right to your door". - Kiah Connolly, MD, Emergency Physician
"Trifecta is a shining example of evidenced-based nutrition in practice. They’ve got the basics down and it’s clear trusted nutrition is prioritized over just marketing to certain fad diets or lifestyles. They provide great food and great information." - Dominique Matteo, Precision Nutrition Coach
"I love recommending Trifecta to our WAG clients. Their meals are not only lower in calories but have the right portion control and emphasis on good health outcomes. Not to mention, the pre-cooked delivery aspect relieves a lot of stress for those looking to eat better and avoid temptation." - Adee Cazayoux, CEO of WAG
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