By Dale Peterson, MD – Building Health

I’m often asked, What sort of diet do you recommend? Given the dozens of Diet Books and hundreds of articles that have been written about the ideal diet, it’s not surprising that many people are confused about healthy eating. Nearly twenty years ago I introduced seven simple rules for healthy eating. My goal was to provide a common sense approach to eating that could be followed without consulting a book, using a calculator, or checking a list. The rules have stood the test of time, as people who have followed them have improved or maintained their health.


 Rule 1: Keep Your Diet Colorful: Fruits and vegetables provide most of the color to any meal. (Artificial colors don’t count!) They are higher in nutrients and lower in saturated fats and empty calories than nearly anything else we eat. Their glycemic load is the lowest among carbohydrates and they are rich sources of fiber. They are an important part of what is referred to as a Mediterranean diet, which is now accepted by many authorities as one of the most healthy possible.

It is currently estimated that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily could reduce deaths from stroke, heart disease and cancer by at least 20 percent. It light of this it has been said that increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables ranks second only to smoking cessation as a means to prevent cancer. One study showed that each portion of a fruit or vegetable eaten lowered the risk of heart attack by four percent and the risk of stroke by six percent. Other health benefits conveyed by fruits and vegetables include a lower risk of cataract development, an easing of asthma symptoms, improved bowel function, and improved control of diabetes.

Rule 2: Stick to Foods that Would Be Edible at Room Temperature: Foods that are high in saturated fat are unappealing at room temperature because the fat they contain has solidified. This gives them an unpleasing appearance and greasy taste. Studies continue to demonstrate that diets low in saturated fat convey health benefits, including longevity and a lower incidence of degenerative disease.

Rule 3: Avoid Refined Foods: Refined sugars, flours, and grains are largely responsible for the dramatic rise in the incidence of Type 2 diabetes in the United States. Even children are being affected, as one in every three newly diagnosed childhood diabetics in my home state of Oklahoma has Type 2 diabetes. In addition, refined foods deplete B vitamin stores and adversely affect the body’s immune system.

Rule 4: Avoid Additives and Preservatives: Thousands of additives and preservatives are approved for use in the United States. Unfortunately, few of them have been tested for long-term safety and some are known to have the potential to damage the nervous system or promote cancer development. Become a label reader if one of the first ingredients ends in ose (meaning sugar) or if you have trouble pronouncing some of the ingredients put the product back on the shelf rather than into your body.

Rule 5: Include Oils that are Liquid at Room Temperature: Evidence that oils from fatty, cold-water fish and plant oils such as olive oil, flaxseed oil, and evening primrose oil are essential to health continues to mount. Omega-3 fish oils, for example, have been reported to improve cholesterol ratios, prevent platelets from clumping together unnecessarily, improve mental function in children, and decrease the risk of heart irregularities and sudden death. These oils provide the building blocks the body needs to manufacture anti-inflammatory compounds, making them an effective tool in the management of arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

Rule 6: Keep Meat Portions Small: Animal protein, when metabolized, leaves an acidic ash that must be neutralized. If the amount of acid-producing food is too great for the body to neutralize effectively, body tissues will become acidic, a state that promotes cancer growth and bone loss.

I strongly recommend that beef, pork, and poultry be viewed as condiments items that are used in small amounts to add texture and flavor rather than as the main course. Think of a stir-fry dish as an example. Stir-fry recipes call for relatively large amounts of vegetables flavored by a small amount of meat or seafood.

Rule 7: Vary What You Eat: Meals in the United States are usually very predicable: meat, potatoes, bread, and possibly a vegetable. When the diet is limited, so are the number of available nutrients. Increasing the number and types of foods consumed significantly increases the chance of obtaining needed nutrients. Varying the diet also minimizes the chance of developing a food allergy or intolerance. Food allergies, which are quite common in our society, are almost always to foods that are being eaten more than twice a week.

Whenever diet is discussed the question of weight loss inevitably arises. I am confident that anyone who consistently follows the seven rules for healthy eating will experience as great or greater long-term success in weight control than that achieved by any weight loss regimen.

I strongly encourage you to stop pursuing the magical formula for weight loss and begin consistently following simple rules for healthy eating. Your ability to remain well throughout your lifetime depends upon it.

Dale Petersen MD

By Dale Peterson, MD- Building Health

Dr. Dale Peterson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Medicine. He completed his residency in FamilyMedicine at the University of Oklahoma. He is a past president of the Oklahoma Academy of  Family Physicians. He had a full-time family practice in Edmond, Oklahoma, for over 20 years and was a Chief of Staff of the Edmond Hospital. He was active in teachingfor many years as a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine through the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center.

Dr. Peterson left his full-time family practice in 1999 to consult with individuals who are seeking ways to restore and maintain their health through improved nutrition and other lifestyle changes. He founded the Wellness Clubs of America to give people access to credible information on supporting and maintaining their health.  His monthly wellness letter, Health by Design, and his Health by Design E-Newsletter provide helpful information to individuals interested in preventing and conquering health challenges.  He is the author of Building Health by Design:  Adding Life to Your Years and Years to Your Life .

Dr. Peterson speaks regularly on subjects related to health and nutrition. He hosted a weekly radio program,Your Health Matters, on KTOK in Oklahoma City for five years. For the past nine years he has addressed questions from across the nation on his Your Health Matters weekly teleconference.He offers a free video LifeXtension course at

Latest posts by Dale Petersen MD (see all)

Dale Petersen MDBuilding Health Medical ColumnCooking and Recipes,Nutrition  By Dale Peterson, MD - Building Health I'm often asked, What sort of diet do you recommend? Given the dozens of Diet Books and hundreds of articles that have been written about the ideal diet, it's not surprising that many people are confused about healthy...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids