Nutrition, Satisfaction, Practicality and Dietary Change

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Nutrition, Satisfaction, and Practicality. The NSP model and dietary change


  • Fortunately, basic nutrition is a science and the basics are not so hard to learn. You need to learn the general ranges of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that are consistent with health and the food values for the things you eat that will land you in the normal ranges for these macronutrients, as well as the appropriate calorie goals for your gender, age, and lifestyle. That's the easy part. Many calorie websites can help with this, even with industrial packaged foods, though their nutrition effects are more complicated than apples and oranges.
  • As you are developing your diet or revising it, it may help to look up food values and weigh amounts. Knowing the macro-nutrient profile of a breakfast, lunch, or dinner helps you add things up on a daily basis. Once you know that your overall diet is healthy, you do not need to track it quantitatively. Once you know the food values of many foods, you can predict the values of new foods pretty well, especially whole foods like apples and oranges.
  • It is also helpful to understand a variety nutrition topics, including: the value of phytonutrients, micronutrients, and vitamins, as well as the effects of refined sugar, and the effects of different kinds of fiber, fats and carbohydrates. If you consume alcohol, you should understand something about how it metabolizes and adds to calories. You should understand the concept of "empty calories" and the risks associated with different kinds of meat consumption.
  • There are many advanced nutrition topics that have to do with complex things like your personal metabolism and research on the health effects of various chemicals that you find in industrial foods. This is still science, but it is more complex, so reliable knowledge is harder to come by. Understanding what is happening in your gut (your microbiota) is pretty important and new science is emerging annually. Keep the trillions of bacteria and other organisms in your gut happy is part of good nutrition, but it doesn't necessarily show up in your calorie count or distribution of carbs, fats, and proteins.


  • Satisfaction is the most subjective of the three pillars of the NSP model. And that might lead you to think it is the easiest. After all, who knows better than you how to achieve satisfaction and whether you are satisfied? Even if the first part isn't always true, maybe the second one is. We should probably trust our immediate assessments of satisfaction, but we are notoriously bad at predicting our future satisfaction, especially if we are comparing something we are habituated to, like our current diet, to something new. When you are trying to improve your diet, you must often compare a current satisfaction to a potential satisfaction from a better diet.
  • For example, you might be convinced that "burgers always beat beans." After all, fat from meat is pretty satisfying for humans. Our satisfactions from sugar, salt, and fat are anchored by both our evolutionary psychology and our current neural conditioning. So there is an objective basis for our subjective attractions to these dimensions of food. From "taste perception research" and neuro-gastronomy, we are learning that eating industrial foods rich in these ingredients affect the taste of other, more natural and plant-based foods. In dietary change, we are often comparing highly conditioned taste satisfactions from these hyper-palatable industrial food, with tastes and flavors in whole foods that we cannot fully detect or appreciate because of our conditioning.
  • We have been talking about satisfaction from food as one thing, but it is really more complicated than that. There is "mouth feel" and relatively immediate satisfactions from eating. Many industrial foods focus on this. But there are also satisfactions from the stomach, and even the next 15 feet or so of transit! If you've had a really well-prepared and healthy meal you have probably experienced these distinction satisfactions.
  • Acquiring new satisfactions from new foods and food quantities is perhaps the central challenge of dietary change. Many people who do change their diets talk about weaning themselves (their taste buds and their neuro-gastronomy) from one flavor profile to another. In other words, you might have to stop eating some foods that distort your sense of taste in order to experience satisfaction from other foods that are healthier for you.


  • Our diets have to fit with the way we lead our lives, though sometimes we need to adjust our schedules to the practical demands of our diet. This is "practicality" and it is a core part of dietary design. You can know how to make a nutritious diet that is satisfying, but if there is no time in your schedule to supply yourself with food or make it, your diet will be impractical to follow and turn into a satisfying habit.
  • You can think of practicality in terms of the follow diet design principles and the challenges related to realizing them.
  • You always have something great to eat and plenty of choices about dinner.
  • Challenge: Make a good assessment of your need for variety and think about how you make meal choices. But you also need to have the skills needed to produce satisfying meals.
  • You always know what you need at the store.
  • Challenge: Making a shopping list is the easy part. You also need to engage in meal planning so that you are not going to the store too frequently and that you are supported several choices for key meals like dinner so that you can make your choice close to the time you eat.
  • You don't spend more time preparing food than you can afford.
  • Challenge: You don't just need nutritious and satisfying meals, you need meals that can actually be prepared under the time constraints of your schedule and lifestyle. Sometimes you need to adjust the latter to the former. How you plan and design meals can have a big effect on the time it takes to prepare them, so "prep time" and "available time" and somewhat determined by other skills.
  • You have plenty of opportunities to prepare food when you aren't busy, but you never have to do it when you are too busy.
  • Challenge: "Time shifting" meal prep time and having an accurate idea of meal preparation time is the remedy here, but this design principle also requires some "discipline" to use free time for meal preparation.
  • Your meals are flexible when they need to be.
  • Challenge: A challenge of cooking with fresh foods is that they have a relatively short shelf life compared to industrial foods. This is a constraint on flexibility. Also, sometimes you want to be spontaneous about joining friends for a happy hour or a meal out. Flexibility is about managing constraints without sacrificing nutrition or satisfaction.
  • Your food is portable when you need it to be.
  • Challenge: Taking your meals, often lunch, on the road might be as easy as boxing them up. But you may need to think about which meals are portable and how to keep portable meals fresh and food safe.
  • You rarely waste food.
  • Challenge: Even if it doesn't bother you to waste food, it is an impractical waste of money.
  • And, it's all completely affordable.
  • Challenge: There's no point designing a great diet that you can't afford or being unrealistic about the minimal cost of a nutritious and satisfying diet. After all, you should eat like your life depends on it!

Using NSP to think about Dietary Design

How N, S, and P work together

  • Nutrition, Satisfaction, and Practicality are important topics on their own, but the value of "NSP" as a model has also to do with the relationships among the three topics. For example, two dishes can be equally nutritious, but not equally satisfying or practical. Your ability to create satisfaction in eating depends in part upon your skills in sourcing ingredients, cooking, and presentation. Gastronomy research tells us that it is not just the food itself that creates satisfaction in a meal.
  • Likewise, you can have a diet that currently satisfies you and which you find practical, but it might not be nutritious. Of course, you cannot know that your diet is nutritious and healthy unless you understand some nutrition science. Applying that knowledge is an additional challenge, which again depends in part on cooking skills and planning.
  • Another general relationship within the NSP model has to do with misperceptions of practicality and satisfaction. Many people in industrial food cultures think of the drive through window as a practical approach to supplying meals. And there are healthy fast food options that can fit very well into a nutritious and satisfying diet. But we also often do some questionable "mental accounting" when we rely too heavily on prepared foods, whether from the drive through lane or not. The time it takes to go out and get fast food is often greater than the preparation time of your most efficient meals. Fast food and prepared foods are often quick to eat because they are "high palatable," they are designed to be eaten quick and often focus on "mouth satisfaction". When you are hungry and unprepared, you might write off the more limited satisfaction without much notice. And while industrial foods can certainly be part of a healthy eating pattern, they often do not contribute as much to it as more nutritious foods.
  • note on the ability to raise satisfaction thorough gastronomy - skills. Satisfaction's effect on N and P.
  • In general, your goal should be to optimize nutrition, satisfaction, and practicality. Understanding how they related to each other should help you do so this, at least in general.

Designing your diet with N, S, and P

  • The hard work is at the level of your specific understanding of nutrition, skills and planning, and perception of taste and satisfaction. Most of this happens at the level of choosing specific meals. Sourcing those meals is highly dependent on the food stores that you have access to. An orange from a discount outlet is not likely to taste as good, or even be as nutritious, as an orange from a premium food source. Your food budget is also a very specific constraint in optimizing N, S, and P.
  • Here are a few general sounding questions that can actually help you make some of the specific choices that you need to make to optimize N, S, and P:
  • How much time do you have for sourcing and preparing your food? When is that time available to you in your average week? When do you have unscheduled time that could be used for advanced meal preparation?
  • What are your expectations for variety in your diet? Do you eat the same breakfast or lunch every day? When you get home at the end of the day, how many different dinners can you choose from without going to a food store? You can think of these as the meals in your "personal dietary supply chain." What is your total repertoire for meals, including seasonal meals and meals that your rotate into your personal supply chain for variety?
  • How much money can you budget for food? Is it enough to fund a healthy diet? Which ways of saving money have the least impact on N, S, and P?
  • Even if you are already a pretty good cook and you understand basic nutrition, how do you plan to improve your gastronomic skills and appreciation?

Some lessons in dietary design using the NSP model

  • The "50-cent egg" lesson:
  • You might think that buying an egg for 50 cents when you can buy one for 10 cents is a complete waste of your money. Could the 50 cent egg really be 5 times as good as the 10 cent egg? If you eat an egg every morning, you will be spending $12 more per month for the 50 cent egg.
  • While all of these figures are accurate, the 50 cent egg might be a great deal. The 50 cent egg is usually larger and has a deep yellow yolk. This is because the chicken that lays that egg is fed more nutritious food, and given more room to move around. There is usually less animal suffering in the 50 cent egg. It tastes better and is probably more nutritious. While you will spend $12 more for that quality of egg, it will be more satisfying. Instead of thinking of the egg as 5 times the cheapest egg you can find, you might try thinking of it as the quality experience that you and the chicken deserve. in a $600/month diet, the 50 cent egg is only 2.5% of your food budget. It may be at the heart of a satisfying and nutritious breakfast.
  • In general, the "50-cent egg lesson" involves realizing that practicality is not always about spending less, but also optimizing satisfaction and nutrition. Of course, if you have a limited budget, it won't always be a good idea spend more on a food item, even for real quality. But often high quality food is more nutritious and satisfying. A satisfying diet is less likely to demand additional snacks and treats. So even the extra cost might be an illusion.
  • Trade-ups:
  • Designing a diet is a wholistic project because it involves thinking about healthy eating as a general practical problem. You might also have general goals for your diet, such as improving nutrition, reducing animal suffering, or increasing sustainability. But thinking about your overall goals might be a bit overwhelming. It might also be useful to look at specific aspects of your diet that are out of step with your goals, and make incremental changes that move you forward. For example, you might have a general goal to stop eating meat, but an incremental change would be to add one meatless meal to replace your least favorite meat dish. Or, you might want to eliminate processed sugar from your diet, but in the short term, you find a snack that keeps you from eating a candy bar every day.
  • In teaching this concept, students started to refer to these incremental changes as "trade-ups", because you are trading one thing for another in order to move toward your goal. Trade ups are a very practical approach to diet design and improvement because they are so specific and can focus on places where change is relatively easy.
  • The home menu:
  • The home menu is simply the number and type of foods and meals that you can produce from your kitchen at any particular moment. You can think of it like a restaurant's menu, which designed to serve anyone who comes into the restaurant. Your home menu reflects your view about the need for variety in your eating. Many people eat roughly the same breakfast every day, or change breakfasts seasonally. Most people want a bit more variety in their lunches and still more in dinner. Some people can decide on their dinners ahead of time, while others (like me) want to come home to a range of choices that are ready to make without a daily trip to the store.
  • In many ways, your home menu is at the heart of a practical diet. Because it is designed with nutrition and satisfaction in mind, it is also the place where N, S, and P come together.
  • Supply chain thinking:
  • Your dietary supply chain is just all of the foods and processes that go into creating your diet. So, you might source your bread from one store, vegetables and fruits from another, and shelf stable items from still another. Managing your supply chain is clearly part of the practicality of your diet, but doing it well can improve nutrition and satisfaction. If it takes you a long time and many trips to the store to provision your diet, it will not be practical, but if you oversimplify the supply chain, you might be overlooking opportunities for using fresh food or the best foods in your area.
  • Once you have some clarity about your "home menu" you can break down your meals into their ingredients and figure out how best to supply them. You are likely to find a mix of shelf stable foods (staples) and fresh foods. Where can you find the best quality fresh foods in your area? How will you "stock up" on items that can sit in your pantry or fridge for weeks. Having an efficient supply chain reduces your trips to the store (especially when you are hungry) and helps you optimize satisfaction and nutrition.
  • Scratch Cooking and Batch Cooking:
  • There's no getting around it. Separating yourself from the "Western Diet" and from much of the industrial foods it produces, requires you to cook from scratch, cooking from basic whole food ingredients. At first, this can seem daunting, especially if you imagine that "cooking from scratch" means that each and every meal starts with basic ingredients. When you cook a batch of food (like a lunch salad that last 4 days, or a marinara sauce that goes into the freezer in portions) you are still cooking from scratch, but you might have very little prep time when it comes to making a meal.
  • Some examples: You make a dinner from scratch, but double the ingredient and save the other half for the next night or two nights from now, perhaps alternating with another "double batch" dinner. You spend an hour making a lunch salad that last for four days, front loading your prep time. Each lunch now only "costs" 15 minutes of prep time and no cooking.
  • Some batch cooking gives you a storable (freezable) portion of something that you can add to with a small amount of cooking before the meal. For example, a portion of "Syrian Lentil Soup" is fine on it's own, but even more exciting with some a small amount of freshly fried vegetables added on the night it is your dinner. Your lunch salad can often benefits from some adding fresh tomatoes right before you pack it up to take with you for the day.
  • To make the point: Batch cooking is a form of scratch cooking that is essential to the practicality of your diet, especially if you are cooking for one or two. It also allows you to work with fresh ingredients without waste.
  • The Culinary Frontier -- Beyond N, S, and P!
  • Having a great diet may begin with the challenge of optimizing nutrition, satisfaction, and practicality, but it certainly doesn't end there. Once you have a diet in place that realizes many of your goals, you can consider focusing on satisfaction by enhancing your culinary skills and your repertoire of foods, dishes, and meals. This can include watching and following chefs on youtube or subscribing to chefs who offer free blog sites, where you can not only pick up new recipes, but often also small techniques for enhancing flavor and presentation that do not always find their way into traditional recipe books. Developing your culinary skills and tastes is a life long practice that takes "satisfaction" from food to levels you may not having imagined.
  • The Culinary Frontier even includes some non-food considerations. For exmaple, we sometimes underestimate the importance of aesthetic considerations for our satisfaction -- everything from the plates to the music to the lighting. "Mindful eating" is one way of capturing some of the more abstract considerations that you may discover in the "culinary frontier." Sometimes you eat just to get it done, but when you think a bit about the importance of food to life, it is not hard to imagine treating it as somewhat sacred. In any case, you should approach eating like your life depends upon it.