Reason for writing: I didn't see a clear, unambiguous explanation of this concept when I did a search on LW.

Epistemic status: Confident, but this is a normative claim, not a descriptive one. Skip if you hate normies.

Eat plenty of vegetables. Drink plenty of water. Get enough protein.

For the average person in a developed nation, mixing these 3 heuristics into their current nutritional profile is likely to improve their health. I don't know if anyone has actually penned a distance function that lets us rank how good or bad someone's nutrition *is*, but I'm pretty sure that if you aren't following these 3 heuristics, and then you start, will be greater than , even if you're inconsistent.

Past general heuristics, we run into a problem when we try to compare specific foods to find the best one in a given class. For example: is rotisserie chicken or canned tuna better for your meal plan? That's a question of moderate difficulty to answer; we would need information such as

  • The nutritional profiles of the chicken and the tuna,
  • Whether you prefer the taste of one or the other, and
  • How much you're willing to spend and the relative prices of both in your area. (Fun fact: A 1200 calorie $7 rotisserie chicken from a supermarket is actually less expensive, calorie-per-calorie, than a 120 calorie $1 can of tuna. Otherwise it would be >$10.)

But there are dozens of common kinds of common protein sources out there, and they all can all be prepared in so many different ways. When you factor in meal prep and individual variation and all the different kinds of recipes you can make, finding the "best" food for any given metric honestly starts to look intimidating.

The answer? Don't look for the best; look for good enough. Nutrition is satisficing. Take some time to learn some general heuristics about nutrition, don't be afraid to explore randomly a bit at the supermarket, but also don't stress out about your own nutrition once you've got a few solid principles in place.


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Food is satisficing too. I found it liberating to realize I don’t need to come up with a new meal every day. Food doesn’t have to be exciting or novel or an amazing taste sensation most of the time.

Minor point of disagreement: unless you are actively working to build muscle, you don’t have to worry about protein. The vast majority of people in Western societies already get more than enough protein. Perhaps this is different for vegans, but I’ll let them weigh in if they choose.

Good points! Also helps one avoid the Goodhart trap, optimizing for a wrong thing. Also applies to savings: Dilbert's 9-point financial plan is one of satisficing, not optimizing:

Dilbert creator Scott Adams claims this is "everything you need to know about personal investing":

  1. Make a will
  2. Pay off your credit cards
  3. Get term life insurance if you have a family to support
  4. Fund your 401k to the maximum [Or your local equivalent employer contribution matching]
  5. Fund your IRA to the maximum [Or your local equivalent of tax-deductible investment and/or tax-free interest growth]
  6. Buy a house if you want to live in a house and can afford it
  7. Put six months worth of expenses in a money-market account
  8. Take whatever money is left over and invest 70% in a stock index fund and 30% in a bond fund through any discount broker and never touch it until retirement
  9. If any of this confuses you, or you have something special going on (retirement, college planning, tax issues), hire a fee-based financial planner, not one who charges a percentage of your portfolio

Nutrition is one of those cases where perfect is the enemy of good. I mean, if you have sufficient education and enough time, go ahead, research everything, and create the perfect diet for you. But otherwise, your only choices are: using a few heuristics, or giving up. (Note that "I will research this topic later, and meanwhile I will continue eating junk food" is also a form of giving up. The "later" usually never happens.)

In the past, when I asked people what is "healthy nutrition", there were two kinds of unhelpful advice:

a) an incredibly complicated theory, that would require me to spend a few weeks or months studying, and afterwards measuring and analyzing everything I eat and calculating how many calories and vitamins it had;

b) a list of "forbidden foods" which contained pretty much everything I could think of, except for fruits and vegetables (actually, if I remember correctly, even bananas were bad somehow; also potatoes).

It also doesn't help that different people have contradictory theories, e.g. meat, eggs, and diary are either very important to eat, or very important to avoid. More precisely, the best form of meat is fish. Except you shouldn't eat fish, because they are full of deadly mercury. Also, you should eat less to avoid obesity, but you need to eat enough to have enough nutrients. (It is even easier to lose weight if you exercise a lot; but if you exercise seriously, it is even more important to eat enough nutrients.) As a feedback, you should measure your BMI; except that BMI is completely misleading, because it doesn't distinguish between fat (bad) and muscles (good).

(And if you happen to be a woman, it is even more socially important to lose weight, but at the same time getting rid of too much fat will damage your metabolism, because some female hormones need certain amounts of fat to function properly. Also, you probably don't want to get rid of your boobs, which are mostly fat.)

Well... thanks for the helpful advice, I guess. /s

Eat plenty of vegetables.

Notice that this is one of the few things the contradictory nutrition theories all happen to agree about. Vegetables are important in both paleo and vegan diets.

I would also recommend fruit. Unlike vegetables, fruit is usually not a part of a meal... so the simple solution is to eat it between large meals.

My favorite heuristic is Dr. Greger's Daily Dozen (available also as Android app).

Eat plenty of vegetables.

Notice that this is one of the few things the contradictory nutrition theories all happen to agree about.

…Except all the low-carb, keto, and straight up carnivore diets that are getting increasingly popular :)

Both low-carb and keto are improved by eating lots of leafy green vegetables, I think. The main question is something like "are you getting more sugar or fiber out of this?". Plant-free diets, of course, recommend against eating vegetables.

With plant-free diets, where does one get their vitamin C? Lots of raw meat? Supplements?