Primary and Secondary Food Filters

Nutrition is a funny subject – it is very simple and yet very complex at the same time, resulting in a lot of confusion and a lot of people simply giving up ever trying to figure out how to eat properly. However, I think I have a way to look at things that will help clear some of the confusion up.

I call it Primary and Secondary Food Filters. Primary Food Filters are the “rules” that cover general nutrition principles and Secondary Food Filters are “rules” that dig into more specific aspects of what you eat. The problems start to crop up when people hear about and focus on Secondary Food Filters before they have a Primary Food Filter in place.

Here is an example to explain what I mean…

The first Primary Food Filter I teach people is the 123’s of Nutrition:

1) Eat every 2-3 hours

2) Eat a lean protein with each meal

3) Eat fruit and/ or veges at each meal and avoid refined carbs

Those are general rules that are pretty easy to apply and not very confusing. If you ran your current eating habits through that filter you would have a very good idea of the overall effect of what you are eating. If you are not meeting 1 or more of those rules then you need to work on fixing that.

A Secondary Food Filter would be things like eating Gluten Free, Organic Foods, Whole Grain or something else that filters food choices based on a very specific aspect of the foods. The problem is that when you don’t have a Primary Food Filter in place the Secondary Food Filters can actually encourage some bad choices.

For example, a milkshake is “gluten free”, you can make a cake that is “organic” and Fruit Loops are “whole grain” but those foods still are still not good for you. You’d be better off eating a meal that broke all of those rules – a chicken breast with a piece of bread and a salad.

Again, the problems arise when people are sold on and focus on Secondary Food Filters before having a Primary Food Filter in place. Once you have one in place then you can start to add Secondary Food Filters to dial your nutrition program in even more but don’t put the cart before the horse, so to speak. Unfortunately most nutrition programs are promoted and sold on Secondary Filters, which is why it seems every time you turn around there is a “new” nutrition program that you need to follow.

So, when someone asks me if they should eat gluten free (which seems to be the big buzz right now) I ask them how their overall nutrition program looks. Most often I get a blank stare back – they have no idea, they just have heard that they should avoid gluten and start to filter their food choices based on that. Get your primary filter in place first before worrying about the secondary stuff.

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  1. WAKi says:

    I am “following” the first filter with small exclusions (white bread on weekends mmmm….) and the second comes a bit easier. Organic food is the way, especially local. Anyone having doubts please read “Earth’s democracy” by Vandana Shiva or “Stuffed&Starved” (or if you don’t believe in Global Warming because some TV presenter doesn’t then don’t bother :D)- most people have NO idea how bad industrially grown food is, pretty much for everyone involved. Thether it is industrial wheat, corn or rice it has low nutrition value, lots of chemicals in it, bad for local economy, terrible for people growing it, terrible for environment where it is grown. Slow food FTW!

    I am having trouble though when should what be eaten, any book on that James? I’m a bit uncertain at which times of the day is it good to eat carbs, when proteins, when to eat fiber, when to avoid it etc. I read a lot but ther is little explanations why, and when you find contradicting advices, then well… You mention a bit about it in your Nutrition chapter of UMTBW, but I would like to understand a bit of it.

    How does this supply chain work, how the sorting functions, what ends up where in your body (outside?:D)

    Reply • January 16 at 8:29 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Check out http://www.precisionnutrition.com for more in depth info like that, I know enough to get people started in the right direction but have to defer to them when talking about nutrient timing and things like that.

      Reply • January 16 at 2:36 pm
  2. Jakub says:

    In your previous posts you wrote that we should eat every 3-4 hours, now it’s 2-3 – which version is (more) correct? Don’t you think that the stomach should get some rest between meals and 2 hours is too little time for it?

    Reply • January 16 at 10:54 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Both have the number 3 in the middle so focus in that instead. Again, I don’t make this stuff up, I study what the best in the world do and filter that info for you. Check out http://www.precisionnutrition.com for more in depth nutrition info…

      Reply • January 16 at 2:35 pm
  3. Karl says:

    I would disagree with rules #1 and #2 and change them to:

    #1: Eat when you are hungry

    #2: Eat high quality animal products (Primary: grass fed, free range, local Secondary: organic)

    Reply • January 16 at 2:29 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Take it up with the nutrition experts at Precision Nutrition, guys like Mike Rousell. Not sure what you qualifications or education are but I tend to defer to guys who make a living doing this…

      Reply • January 16 at 2:34 pm
  4. Zane says:

    Hey James,

    Based on older articles and mentions I purchased the precision nutrition program from them and have been loving it! They’ve done a great job putting all the info together (which at the core is really 10 habits) and have some really cool suggestions on meals/shakes to get everything going. I can’t recommend it enough, they take you through from a rank beginner in nutrition and dont expect massive habit changes in a in short amount of time…they instead gear you up to follow this for a lifetime and not just temp it in when you feel you need to eat better for a while. Thanks for suggesting them.

    Reply • January 16 at 3:20 pm
  5. cookie says:

    I thought John Beradi was leaning more towards IF these days. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/intermittent-fasting/summary

    Reply • January 16 at 10:08 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I think that he utilizes both approaches. Even with the IF he still uses those 3 rules (or his 7 Habits) to govern when and what he eats.

      Reply • January 17 at 8:21 am
  6. WAKi says:

    Karl – what I learned on myself after starting eating every 3-4 hours is that eating when you are hungry is fine as long as you can eat almost immediately when you start feeling hungry which is a rare situation. Some have stronger will sure, but for me feeling hungry and going to a grocery (or worse: a supermarket”) to buy food is a great way to pick some “satisfy-hunger-now” junk. Even if I have all the stuff at home and I start cooking, waiting half an hour for potatoes to boil, the snacks are screaming to me from all drawers and from the fridge – eat uuuus, you know want it!

    Same thing goes to getting hungry after a workout on the gym/ ride – I asked lots of people about my weakness, and they confirm it: they ride/drive home exhausted and think about only one thing: Burger! Pizza! I want it NAO! I ended up in after-ride fast food way too many times. Prepare something before going for a ride even if it’s a bowl of cereal + nuts and dried fruit.

    That makes me come to a conclusion that hunger is your enemy (thank you captain obvious!) don’t let it click in! Not hungry man makes conscious nutrition choices, hungry – will eat anything

    Reply • January 17 at 1:54 am
  7. Blue Camp says:

    Thank you. This makes a great deal of sense. You do a great job Mr. BikeJames of presenting complex subjects in a very practical manner. I appreciate it and will work on following your 3 rules of nutrition.
    I agree with WAKi above, when I am hungry (especially after a ride or run when I haven’t set up a good meal for afterwards) is when I will eat pretty much anything. Which means basically I will eat the first thing I find that is fast and available. The key is to have good food set up so it is available and ready shortly after you workout.
    Thanks again, your blog is becoming my go to source for fitness advice.

    Reply • January 17 at 8:06 am
  8. Ole says:

    Fish! You americans should eat more fish 🙂 And course nice bread.. I find it very hard to find anything but industrybread in the Us. Maybe I dont know where to go to get nice homemead bread with grains other than wheat?

    Reply • January 18 at 1:11 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      There are health food stores like Whole Foods that carry better alternatives. They can be tough to find in some areas but are becoming more popular as more people recognize the benefits of eating more natural foods.

      Reply • January 18 at 8:41 am
  9. Lisa says:

    The problem with fish here in the US is much of it is Farmed fish and has alot of Mercury, which is linked to Alzheimers.
    Gluten free is very good because gluten is not good for our bodies. Sugar will suppress the immune system and in turn will increase illness. Whole Wheat should be avoided to, wheat and grains get converted to sugars. As James points out, a good diet is just as important as doing the right exercises.

    Reply • January 18 at 11:30 am
  10. John (aka Wish I Were Riding) says:

    @ cookie – Thanks for posting that. (I tried to reply directly to your post but couldn’t)

    I found it interesting that he doesn’t see IF as being that useful, but he said he lost 20lbs. How is that not useful? Anyway, I’m glad you posted it, because I don’t like the idea of eating so many meals more often. I don’t IF yet, but I’m starting to think I’m leaning towards trying that.

    Reply • January 21 at 9:16 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I don’t think that he did not find it useful, he just said that it did not produce better results than the traditional approach. In fact, he said that even though the results were similar he found IF to be easier to stick to. My wife and I still follow the IF protocol and now have a few clients doing it as well, one who lost some pretty significant weight and inches in just a couple weeks. Give it a shot and let me know what you think.

      Reply • January 22 at 2:47 pm
  11. John (aka Wish I Were Riding) says:

    @bikejames – hmmm… I can’t get the “Reply” links to work.

    Anyway, I was glad to get the link to PN and that article. I am going to try IF, and I start today. I’ve eaten breakfast, and I’m going to go until tomorrow breakfast. Wish me luck. I’m supposed to lose 10 pounds for a weight challenge at work, so I need whatever help I can get.

    P.S. I have no idea why, but I have been compelled to buy some Teva shoes and HT flat pedals. I haven’t ridden them yet, but I’m looking forward to trying them out. Maybe I should buy some cheap shin guards first (biggest fear)…

    Reply • January 23 at 8:36 am

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