The human diet

'Eat real food'

We believe what you eat has the power to change everything! Our approach is to focus on foods that we have evolved to eat, we call it the Human Diet.  In principle, this means eating food that could have been recognised by our ancestors; food that is unprocessed or at least minimally processed. 


What and when we eat is the central lifestyle factor for maintaining and improving metabolic health. Food that supports our health must include adequate vitamins, minerals, protein, and essential fats. Conversely, overwhelming our body with ultra-processed foods and sugar is a significant contributor to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and most modern diseases. 

Nutrition is such a key topic because over the past few decades the typical foods people in the UK eat are more ultra-processed and higher in sugar. This shift in diet has led to more people developing poor metabolic health and insulin resistance. Once people develop insulin resistance the body struggles to manage large amounts of carbohydrate, especially when it is refined, such as in breakfast cereals. 

Eating real food, tailored to our individual needs and preferences is key if we wish to feel well, prevent modern disease, reverse conditions such as type 2 diabetes, and achieve sustainable weight loss. 

The Health Results Nutrition Foundation has two core principles, and six adjustable components or levers. 

The two core principles are: 

  • Eat real food
  • Minimise ultra-processed food, sugar and refined carbohydrate, and seed (vegetable) oils

Eat real food
This sounds a simple concept, but what is meant by ‘real food’? There is no formal definition of real food. However, it can be summarised as: 

  • food that could have been recognised by our ancestors;
  • unprocessed, or minimally processed food;
  • often has no ingredients list.

Minimise ultra-processed food
Food that is ultra-processed has been modified through some form of significant factory processing. These manufactured foods will often come in a packet and have a list of ingredients. The ingredients list may include items that would not normally be used in home cooking.

Ultra-processed foods are made by food manufacturers whose primary purpose is to increase their financial profits, and not necessarily our health. These foods are usually engineered to keep us going back for more, even when we are not hungry.
Minimise sugar and refined carbohydrate
As well as table sugar, you have to be aware of sugar that has been added to processed foods, and sugar in products such as fruit juices. Fructose is a type of sugar that is present in all of these. It has a very sweet taste and can be very hard to resist. When fructose is consumed in larger amounts it causes insulin resistance and the liver to become fatty. This insulin resistance and fatty liver is a significant step in developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes or weight gain.

'Refined carbohydrate' refers to starchy foods that have been processed. These foods are rapidly digested in our gut to glucose. The influx of glucose from these foods causes our blood glucose to rapidly rise. The rise in glucose requires insulin to be rapidly released to bring blood glucose back to normal. Frequent consumption of refined carbohydrates, especially if we are already in an insulin resistant state, will worsen insulin resistance and metabolic health. Refined carbohydrates include refined flours, breakfast cereals, white rice, bread, and pasta.
Minimise seed oils
Seed oils are often known as vegetable oils. These are oils that have been extracted from plant seeds. They may be bought as oils, such as sunflower oil, to use in cooking. They are also used to produce margarines, and used in ultra-processed foods. There is limited research and evidence on the health risks and benefits of seed oils. At Health Results we recommend minimising seed oils because:

  • they tend to be high in omega-6 compared to omega-3;
  • they will oxidise if left in storage and when heated (oxidised fats are unhealthy);
  • they are part of ultra-processed foods.

The 6 nutrition levers are:

1. Eat adequate protein.
2. Enjoy non-starchy vegetables.
3. Enjoy fat that is part of a whole food.
4. Adapt carbohydrate amount to personal needs and goals.
5. Only eat when hungry and stop when full.
6. Drink adequate water.

1. Adequate protein

Adequate protein in our diet is important for our body’s growth, maintenance, and repair needs. Adequate protein also helps us to feel full.

What is protein?

  • Protein is one of the macronutrients in our diet (the other two macronutrients are fat and carbohydrate).
  • Protein is made up from smaller sub-units called 'amino acids'.
  • Protein, and its amino acids, are the ‘building blocks’ for every single part of the body.

Protein can also be used as a fuel for the body if needed.

How much protein should we eat?

  • There is a minimum amount of protein needed in our diet. The recommended minimum amount of protein people should eat a day is about 0.8 grams per kilogram of ideal body weight. For example, someone whose ideal body weight is 60kg should eat at least 48g of protein each day.
  • The suggested ideal amount of protein is a bit higher. Approximately 1 to 2g of protein per kg of ideal body weight is suggested, especially if weight loss is a goal. There is evidence that we should eat towards 2g of protein per kg of ideal body weight as we age to maintain our muscle. People exercising a lot, and trying to gain muscle, may benefit from up to 3g of protein per kg of ideal body weight.

2. Enjoy non-starchy vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables typically grow above the ground, although some root vegetables such as carrots also count. Non-starchy vegetables contain larger amounts of fibre and are low in starch and sugar. Eating a variety of vegetables is undoubtedly beneficial for our health. Most people can enjoy as many of these vegetables as they wish.
3. Enjoy fat as part of whole food
Fat that is part of a whole food should be considered healthy. When fat is eaten as part of a whole food it will usually come naturally packaged with a reasonable amount of protein. In addition, there are some essential fats that we must eat, including Omega-3. There are also four fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K. To be able to get these four vitamins from our diet we have to eat them with fat.

Real food examples of foods that contain fat include oily fish, fatty meat, and nuts.

Ensuring the fat is eaten as part of a whole or real food also means industrial trans fats are avoided, as well as avoiding industrial seed oils.

The amount of natural fatty foods someone wishes to eat will depend on their needs, preferences, goals, and other dietary habits. Some people can eat more fat, especially those on a very low-carbohydrate diet. Whilst others will need to reduce the amount of fattier foods they eat, especially if they are trying to lose weight and not seeing results.
4. Adapt carbohydrate amount to personal needs and goals
The amount of carbohydrate different people can tolerate varies. People with markers of poor metabolic health will often see health improvement by reducing their carbohydrate intake. People with good metabolic health and with no excess belly fat can typically eat more carbohydrates.

Everyone benefits from ensuring all carbohydrate foods are unrefined and non-sugary.
How much carbohydrate?
People requiring a lower level of carbohydrate are those with poor metabolic health and insulin resistance, who are looking to improve their metabolic health and also lose excess body fat. This can mean, for example, minimising starchy foods and sweet fruits. (If measuring carbohydrate amount, then many people with poor metabolic health will find they need less than 130g of carbohydrate per day to achieve their goals, or sometimes even lower, such as under 50g).

People with good metabolic health who do not wish to lose weight may be able to eat a greater amount of carbohydrate, including some sweet fruits and starchy foods without issue.

How much carbohydrate someone can tolerate will be individual to their body needs, other dietary and lifestyle activities, and their goals.

5. Food timing - only eat when hungry, stop when full

When the other Health Results Nutrition Levers are followed most people will be able to simply trust their appetite as a guide of when and how much they should eat. Eating when hungry and stopping when full becomes a natural instinct that is influenced by a variety of hormones that affect the hunger parts of our brain.

Conversely, when people are eating ultra-processed food, sugar, refined carbohydrate, and inadequate protein they will be hungry more often. In addition, this pattern of eating will typically lead people to eat more, even when not hungry. Eating these foods can influence our brain and prevent us from feeling full. Furthermore, sugars and refined carbohydrates can cause our blood glucose to suddenly rise, and then fall low a couple of hours later. The low blood glucose triggers hunger with a strong desire to eat.

For many years there has been a belief that we must always eat regularly. This is sometimes quoted as 'eat three meals a day and two snacks'. There is no scientific basis to support this recommendation. In fact, it may be that many people benefit from eating less frequently. 16:8 is a popular approach to food timing now, as is 'one-meal-a-day'. 

16:8 refers to having a consecutive 16-hour period where no food is eaten, and only calorie-free drinks are consumed. Thus, all food is eaten within an 8-hour window. For some people this can simply mean skipping breakfast. For others it means having breakfast but not eating any food past mid-afternoon. 

One-meal-a-day means just that. People only eat one meal a day, and thus have a 23 hours or longer when they are not eating or drinking anything that contains calories. These periods of fasting allow the body to use its own fuel stores which helps to improve insulin resistance and metabolic health

6. Drink adequate water
How much water we need to drink is very dependent on how much water we are losing in our sweat, urine, and breath. Our body needs to maintain the water balance within a fairly tight range. When the amount of water in our body starts to drop this is sensed in our brain. The brain then releases a hormone to instruct our kidneys to make less urine. Another consequence of dehydration is our bowel extracts more water from our gut, which can lead to harder stools and constipation.

There is no strong evidence base to instruct how much water we should drink. The often quoted 6-8 glasses, or 2 litres of water, are actually just estimates and not founded on any firm science. Generally, we can trust our thirst as an indicator of need to drink. If thirsty we should drink more water. However, sometimes the busyness and distractions of life can lead to us not drinking enough water.
Health Results Food Lists

We explain how to use our food lists in greater detail on our programmes and courses.

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