I recently read an article claiming that crystalline fructose was different than the fructose in fruit because it’s “stripped” of fiber. Fact: Fructose is fructose.
Unless you are slurping up clear liquid fructose concoctions all day long (which don’t exist), the sugars you consume are most likely consumed with other foods/meals, which likely includes some fiber.
Fructose has been in the news quite a bit recently, and the movie Fed Up has stirred up some controversial ideas. The movie sends a message that the food industry and government could be a factor in the cause of obesity, particularly pediatric obesity. The movie claims that food companies market products to children, which causes poor eating habits.
Unfortunately simply looking for a one-ingredient-cause, or the promotion of extreme dietary change, won’t address the real problem: A lack of education and a lack of understanding the true importance of proper nutrition and eating habits. In children, the early years are very important in terms of feeding. Eating isn’t just about food choices, it’s also very much about behavior and habits. Good eating habits begin early – right at birth – as mother’s nurse or bottle feed their infants. Taking cues from the infant early in life (for instance stopping bottle or breast when the infant turns away) helps the connection to his natural satiety cues develop. A breastfed newborn does not require “the food industry” – only his mother. The mother however has to learn how to eat properly to fuel her baby, and then begin to set a good example as the baby grows. Early, and proper, introduction of food at the age of 4-6 months also helps an infant learn about healthy eating habits.
Feeding Your Family a Balanced Diet
So why does the media insist that sugar or fructose is the big universal problem? All of this focus on sugars may indeed backfire. The goal is to get people to learn more about nutrition basics, cook more meals at home, even if some packaged food is used along with whole food.
If most people would worry less about getting a magnifying glass out to read ingredient labels and worry more about planning 3 balanced meals, there’d be no issue balancing your diet. Sugar helps make some foods palatable, and in some cases it simply enhances the flavors of food. Instead of obsessing over every gram of sugar, focus on what you should be adding to your diet and the sugars will automatically be reduced.
Eat real food first – lean protein, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, bread, and grains.
It’s okay to use some packaged foods for convenience, just balance it out. Sitting down with your family at the table for supper is a great goal.
Learn some simple cooking techniques and cook as a family. Start with 5 go-to recipes. A vegetable recipe can really give you a whole new appreciation for how good food can taste!
If you are a new parent, learn more about feeding children. Buy a good book, or find a dietitian. Young children need foods from the 5 food groups to grow, they need smaller portions than older children, teens or adults. Toddlers shouldn’t drink soda at all, but as children approach school age, you can provide sweet drinks occasionally as a treat as you teach your child about moderation. By the teen years, they’ll understand how to choose healthy food first then allow for the treats.
Don’t worry about the sugars on ingredient labels of products that only have <1 to 2 grams of sugar per serving (items such as tortilla chips, salsa, bottled salad dressing, whole grain crackers).
Buy more fresh produce.
Consider the other nutrients provided by a food that may have added sugars. For instance – the calcium and protein in yogurt or chocolate milk; or the fiber and vitamins from the oatmeal you add 2 teaspoons of sugar to; or the particular sweet and sour dressing that allows you to really enjoy a large veggie-packed salad.
Enjoy sweets in moderation and on special occasions.
There seems to be a bit of a turf war going on – who should you trust to give you nutrition advice? A newscaster? A doctor? A scientist? A magazine? An herbalist? A babe or some other self-proclaimed nutrition expert?
People generally believe what they want to believe, but I believe in science-based nutrition recommendations, and also the fact that eating should be a nourishing and enjoyable activity. I also happen to be a registered dietitian. Dietitians certainly aren’t the only ones who are qualified to provide accurate diet and nutrition information (key word is qualified – I’d expect at least an undergraduate degree in nutrition, and the RDN credential indicates just that, plus field experience and credentialing). Yet why do you see so many television shows featuring “nutrition expert” panels, that are void of the RDN? These television panels or interviews include MDs, activists, or policy makers, but not the input of the most widely recognized nutrition professional? To me this is unfairly balanced. Sure, seek an “alternative opinion”, but that opinion should also be weighed against that of the credentialed RD who represents a huge portion of the nutrition science profession.
Every week the media prints something about the new “evil food” or “poisonous ingredient” that will destroy your body. On the other hand, you’ll also hear about the “healthiest superfood you can eat!”. I’d like to know what the authors of these columns really have in their refrigerators and pantry cabinets, and why they may feel that an RDN has nothing to add to the conversation.
While I do firmly believe that a plant-based diet is important (along with regular physical activity) – and science supports a basic healthy diet “framework” – I don’t believe that everyone has to eat the same foods. Some may choose a vegetarian lifestyle, others may avoid alcohol, some may avoid sweets, but others may include meat, alcohol and sugar among those plant products in their diet, and not have long-term health consequences from it.
If some of you feel that there’s only one set of foods and beverages that can result in health, you are missing the boat to improving public health. Or perhaps you don’t understand how different people are. There are too many different types of people, from different backgrounds, with different means, living in different areas for a “single diet prescription” to work.
Our food system has become a political issue, with some feeling that processed foods have no place in a healthy diet, or that only a plant-based, “whole food”, or vegan diet can result in health. Or, that if you just eliminate sugar for ten days, you’ll be home free to a healthy life and healthy weight and your eating habits will suddenly reach nirvana. Why so judgey (and funny, some people judging aren’t real nutrition experts)?
In addition, it seems that so many people are getting into activism. This isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes it’s misplaced. Chefs are using their celebrity clout to make statements about everything from food to water (caring about safe water is one thing, a chef claiming to have any expert knowledge of geoscience is absurd). Political activism may have its place to get food policy changed (such as labeling guidelines, or school lunch guidelines, or food safety guidelines), but using politics to try to change individual eating behaviors, or to control well educated nutrition professionals, or to micromanage the manufacture and delivery of food in every school, institution, grocery store or home in America? That is counterproductive and will backfire.
Trust me, as someone who has actually spoken to thousands of people about what they eat – they don’t want to be told what to eat! They want guided. They want options. They want to make their own decisions, and the opportunity to meet with a registered dietitian can help them do just that.
The fact is, everyone can’t eat the same thing. I’ve been a dietitian for 28 years. While I still do some nutrition coaching, I now primarily work as a nutrition communications writer and author. The 10 of my first 28 years of experience however included counseling and entering food record data for research studies. I’ve seen and listened to many people from many walks of life tell me about what they eat on a daily basis. Real life is usually not the way you read about it in the media.
I’ve counseled moms who worked full time and had 3 kids; dads who worked 15 hour days or the night shift; young women who struggled with eating disorders; pregnant women who smoked and ate chips and a cola for lunch; people who skipped breakfast daily, ate fast food for lunch, and a bowl of cereal for dinner; 380 pound men with diabetes who drank 4 liters of soda daily; 40 year old women who ate oatmeal, fish, and carrots by the pound (orthorexia); 50 year old obese women who have been dieting all their lives.
Do you think each of these people could follow the same dietary advice? No, I individualized their advice. I met them halfway when necessary. I understood their complex medical and social history. I got them started on the right track.
Somehow, we have to get people to understand that they have some control over their own wellness, and that feeding yourself well is your number one priority. Somehow we also need insurance companies to also cover nutrition counseling from qualified counselors, but we also need people to feel it’s important to invest in this help as well.
Many would rather argue that there is no amount of toaster strudels or fast food that can fit into a healthy diet, in lieu of getting these people referred to a registered dietitian-nutritionist for counseling. An RDN can teach a busy mother of 2 how to plan 3 healthy meals each day. The healthy food you eat in addition to the proverbial toaster strudel is far more important, as is the manner in which you eat.
Proper eating is about valuing your own health, and the health of those you care for, so in my work, I try to help people set realistic goals (i.e. easy and doable) for themselves. Cooking from scratch is a step in the right direction. Whether you are using a few processed foods, or canned vegetables to get dinner on the table, or cooking from basic or gourmet recipes – cooking at home is a good habit.
But how many times do I have to say it? There is no one-size-fits-all diet.
I believe people should enjoy the food they eat, and nurture their body with the nutrition that it needs. I also believe eating is influenced by important cultural aspects, and people certainly have different food preferences. Of course in addition, physical activity is also vital to health, which is why I go to the gym twice a week, and run, walk or use a cardio machine 3-4 times a week (but I mostly enjoy getting outside for walks or runs).
The easiest way for me to share my thoughts on balance and enjoyment of food, is to tell you what my pantry looks like. Some may want to judge me, but I’ve always said – I practice what I preach. Rather than tell you what you should eat, and what you should avoid, I think it’s better to show you how you can balance out healthy foods with treats.
I don’t expect you to replicate my pantry, I expect you to work towards healthier eating, and get advice from a professional if you need it.
Staples in my ‘fridge:
Fresh eggs (although they don’t require refrigeration, we put them in there anyhow). These are from the hens we raise in the backyard henhouse (aka ‘chicken tractor’ – hand built using recycled materials.) We recycle any rotten produce or moldy bread to the hens to eat in addition to their feed and water.
Fresh vegetables. In season – from the summer garden planted in raised beds using the recycled composite decking material that was left after we tore our deck down (asparagus, tomatoes, herbs, eggplant, variety of peppers, onion, squash, beans, peas). We also buy vegetables at the store, and not organic-exclusive.
Fresh fruit (we buy this at the store, but also have apple, pear, peach trees; grapes, blueberry, raspberry bushes) Right now there are apples, grapes, strawberries, blackberries, one kiwifruit, one grapefruit, lemons, limes, and an avocado in the fridge.
1% milk, low fat or nonfat Greek yogurt, half and half
Coffee (hence the half and half – for our daily coffee habit)
Romaine lettuce (I won’t lie – some of it goes to the bearded dragon), spring greens, carrots, asparagus, assorted mini sweet peppers, celery, sugar snap peas
Lunchmeat drawer: baked ham, turkey, hot dogs (it’s summer), Laura’s fresh ground beef, cheddar cheese (3 blocks of different variety), American cheese deli slices, grated Romano, Feta, goat cheese, hummus, a package of shredded taco-blend cheese.
Freezer – pork loin, shrimp, sirloin or beef roast, frozen bell pepper strips, spinach, ice cream
Salsa from the deli, grape jelly, peach jam, seedless blackberry preserves (I love toast)
Nestle’s cookie dough (my 16 year old son enjoys baking these on occasion, but I also bake from scratch)
A variety of condiments (Heinz Ketchup, mustards, pickles, relishes, mayonnaise, salad dressings)
About 12 varieties of pasta (none of them whole wheat at the moment)
Uncle Ben’s Instant Brown Rice (hey, sometimes I am in a hurry to get dinner on the table before we get “hangry” or right after Track practice)
Quinoa, Barley, boxed Pilaf
Applesauce, canned peaches (lunchbox)
Oreo cookies (again, the hyper metabolic 16 year old)
Tortilla chips, pretzels, potato chips (unopened, for crowds)
Cereals – At least 4 types of ready-to-eat breakfast cereal (with 3-9 grams of sugar/serving), and oats.
Canned tomato puree, 2 jars tomato sauce
Kind bars, Nutrigrain Bars (again, 16 year old who runs out the house in the morning 1 minute before the bus comes)
Crackers – Nabisco® Triscuits and Wheat Thins
Jiff Peanut Butter (son’s favorite)
Marshmallows, Hershey Bars, Graham Crackers (yep, it’s s’more season and we love family time at our fire pit to enjoy this sweet treat – one each, plus a marshmallow or 2 on the side)
courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
We have a second small refrigerator where we keep soda pop and extra food (the back-up gallon of milk, half and half, or large platters or bags of produce when entertaining). Since soda, lemonade, or iced tea are “occasional beverages” it’s not front and center in the kitchen where the milk and water are. I feel this helps maintain the message that soda (like beer) isn’t something you drink every day.
We also follow these guidelines in my home:
Don’t skip meals. At a minimum, have a glass of milk in the morning before school or work.
Include all food groups when packing a simple lunch – protein, bread/grain, fruit/vegetable, milk/yogurt
Enjoy a home-cooked meal for dinner, even it’s simply meat from the grill with a vegetable or fruit.
Eat out less than 3 times a week.
Encourage the kids to eat fast food no more than once per week, or less. Choose small portions when there.
Only drink soda or sugary drink with meal sometimes when dining out, but not every time (have water or milk sometimes).
Limit between meal eating. If you’re hungry, plan a snack of fruit, veggies, cheese, or nuts.
Eat chips, crackers or cookies only after you’ve eaten a healthy meal or snack.
Get some exercise.
So what’s in your refrigerator and pantry?
As my mother used to say: Cook what they like. As a parent it’s your job to expose children to a variety of foods, and their job to eat it. If children are exposed early on to vegetables, they will eat them, but they will not like every one. If your family doesn’t like kale or spinach, then don’t try to shove them down their throats! Offer broccoli or carrots or snap peas or whatever vegetables they enjoy.
The same goes for other meals. Take breakfast cereals. If my son likes to add 2 teaspoons of sugar to oatmeal, I think that’s okay. Oats are good for him. If he likes ready-to-eat cereal for breakfast that has 9 grams of sugar per serving, I don’t have a problem with that either, because I’m not serving cereal for dinner, and I know he’ll eat the veggie and meat that we have.
When I counsel people, I don’t expect them to recreate my pantry, I help coach them into figuring out how to create the healthiest pantry that they can, and to modify habits that may lead them to poor choices. There are as many ways to create a healthy diet (one that’s full of fruits and vegetables, low in sodium and saturated fat, and moderate in sugar) as there are people.
If you haven’t heard, a new movie about the potential causes of childhood obesity opened this past weekend. In the likes of Supersize Me, King Korn, and Food Inc (which claims that for “the average American, the ideal meal is fast, cheap and tasty”), this movie sensationalized the way some people choose to eat, and blames the food industry for essentially making it too difficult for them to choose otherwise.
I haven’t seen the movie yet. But the trailer and synopsis seem to place a lot of pressure on the food industry in general for marketing unhealthy foods exclusively to children (think: sugary cereals, yogurt), which they believe to be the cause of excessive weight gain leading to obesity. I think they take a few unjustified stabs at the National School Lunch Program too.
The movie will no doubt stir up a bunch of heated conversation and fist pumping (Yeah! Stick it to the man!), but will not solve any problems, just as previous movies have not. More importantly, the movie may feed into the misinformed notion that sugar causes obesity. I served on a Children’s Task Force about 12-14 years ago, when “competitive foods” such as soda, chips and other vending machine items, were identified as problematic to overall nutrition and weight in students. They’ve since been removed from schools. While calcium intake may have gone up, the action didn’t “solve obesity” (and many parents pack soda and sugary drinks in their children’s lunch boxes anyhow).
Those who subscribe to the theory that it is the food industry’s fault that our citizens are fat and unhealthy believe that this industry markets unhealthy food to children, and saturates the grocery stores and markets with junk – and people are too weak to handle avoiding it.
The other part of the theory is that sugary foods create an addiction in some people (rat studies have attempted to claim sugar is as addictive as cocaine). This puts you in the awkward position of having to walk by the potato chips and candy bars without buying them, or saying “No, not today” when your child asks you to buy a candy bar, sugary cereal, or blue yogurt.
Now I’ll admit, I bought blue yogurt a couple of times when my children were small, even though I had made secret pact with myself not to give into it. Guess what? Sometimes you have to pick your battles. Raising children is difficult, and seemingly endless, work. Parents have to realize that sometimes giving in to small stuff is okay, as long as you hold your ground in other instances, to ensure the small stuff doesn’t become big stuff. Teaching a child about healthy eating is as important as teaching them about safely crossing the street, or teaching them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and how to set other limits in their lives.
“Healthy eating” does not mean that you must only eat healthy food all of the time, it means that you understand that fueling your body properly is the priority, while learning to take your body’s cues for hunger and satiety, and at the same time, balancing the healthy food with treats.
A child needs help learning these skills, and sometimes as a parent you have to be strong and say “No, you can’t have that.”. And when the going gets rough, you really put your foot down with the tried and true, “Because I said so, that’s why!”.
Some people do have addictive personalities, and may indeed have more trouble abstaining from certain foods, or consuming them in moderate amounts. These people need counseling; because even if Coca Cola took all of their products off the shelves, a true addict will find what he needs elsewhere.
While I’m sure there are many science-based facts in the Fed Up movie, I’m also sure that many who watch it will walk away with distorted facts. I was recently quite amused by the Jimmy Kimmel bit where he asked “people on the street” who are following a gluten-free diet – “What is gluten?” Most people could not define it, or provided completely inaccurate information. They’ve just “heard” that “gluten is bad” so they avoid it (this was confirmed in my own reality when a friend recently asked a health food store owner what gluten was and he truly had no idea but tried to fake it).
Sugar isn’t “bad” unless you let it overtake your daily intake. The dose makes the poison. What is bad, is having poor eating habits and not being able to reconcile your behavior. There’s been quite a bit of research on the ideas of using simple behavioral techniques to help yourself avoid unnecessary snacking, or correct other types of problem eating behaviors. I often suggest using smaller bowls, for instance, for your ice cream. It fools the eye, and a little bit of something sweet is often satisfying enough (and won’t poison or kill you). So rather than banning caloric sweeteners, how about learning how to enjoy them in moderation?
Facts are facts. There are certain aspects of biochemistry and human physiology that are pretty well understood by scientists. Obesity that occurs in a 10 year old is also very different than fat accumulated later in life. While there are likely biochemical differences among people in terms of their appetite/satiety hormones, behavioral issues are at the crux of the problem. An attempt to ban sugar or a singular nutrient, while demonizing the food processing industry, is not going to reduce the incidence of obesity. Obesity is a very complex problem involving behavior, and an imbalance of energy. It’s very difficult to lose weight, but it is up to the individual to put in the effort. It’s not easy, it never has been, which is why prevention is the best cure. Don’t ban foods, let’s teach children how to eat properly.
May is High Blood Pressure Education Month, and one in three Americans have it. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a leading risk factor for stroke and is often referred to as the “silent killer”, since you may feel no apparent symptoms. Yet high blood pressure will cause damage to the blood vessels, brain and heart over time.
Blood pressure consists of a top number (systolic) and a bottom number (diastolic). Normal systolic pressure is around 120, and normal diastolic pressure is less than 80 (this is expressed as “120 over 80” or 120/80).
Your goal is to keep those numbers under control. Some people may be diagnosed with high blood pressure without having any other risk factors for heart disease, but it’s still beneficial to make as many positive lifestyle changes as you can. Rather than “go on a diet”, it’s best to choose a dietary plan that is well evidenced, and that is reasonable enough to sustain for a lifetime. Eating for better health is not a one-month or one-season deal – it’s a lifetime deal.
Maintain a healthy weight. Lose weight if overweight.
Exercise at least 4-5 days a week, for 30 minutes or more.
Add more activity to your daily life (take the stairs, do yard work, walk more, move more)
Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables – make them half your plate!
Adding more DASH-friendly foods is easier than you think. This salad includes field greens, yellow and red tomatoes, low fat cottage cheese, and sunflower seeds. Delicious!
Include low fat dairy daily
Limit salt, and reduce processed foods high in sodium (1500-2300 milligrams a day is recommended) – read labels.
Drink more water and limit sugary beverages – sugar doesn’t cause high blood pressure, but since sugary drinks contain no nutrients, limit them. [One research study correlated a high sugar diet with heart disease, but it is likely that the overall quality of the diet is more important.]
Add healthy fats to your diet (olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds) – in small amounts
Take control of your blood pressure this month: Talk to your doctor about your heart health and blood pressure. Follow up for regular appointments as directed, and ask for a referral to a registered dietitian.
I’m a nutrition consultant for various food and beverage companies, and I am sometimes paid to write, but my opinions are my own.
A state senator in Cali is trying to get a warning label put onto soda pop and other sugary beverages. Something to the effect of: “This could kill you”. [Ok, joking aside, he actually would like it to state: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”] In addition, retailers would have to post warnings wherever sweet beverages are sold, otherwise face a $500 penalty.
The idea of adding a warning label to foods and beverages takes its lead from alcohol and tobacco warnings (do people who drink and smoke read those?). Unlike tobacco in which any amount harms, soda, like alcohol, can be enjoyed in moderation. Alcohol should not be consumed during pregnancy (a time when every bite counts). While even a small amount of alcohol may cause harm, soft drinks are simply “empty calories” that do not promote growth of a developing fetus.
Most reasonable people understand that obesity is not caused by one food or ingredient. The key to correcting the problem is education, counseling by qualified health professionals (i.e. registered dietitian-nutritonists, RDNs) and creating environments that encourage more daily walking. It takes more than a doctor or food label telling a patient: “Too much soda is bad for your health”. Making changes in dietary behaviors takes time, and most people need very specific advice.
The state of Illinois on the other hand, wants to add a tax. This would hit soft drinks, other sweetened beverages, including sports drinks (so all you cross country runners and cyclists out there – you will pay to fuel!).
Let me tell you how it will be. There’s one for you, nineteen for me. Cos I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman…
If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street. If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.
~ The Beatles, Taxman
If obesity is costing the nation $150 billion (yes, that’s with a B), it’s not time to tax, it’s time to hire a lot more registered dietitians in medical practices and outpatient settings! RDNs can help a patient understand why they may be consuming too many sugary drinks, what to replace them with, and how to balance out their whole diet in a way that they can successfully manage. RDNs also act as coaches to help the patient follow other important doctor’s orders.
People also need to want to lose weight, and if they do, they should have access to appropriate support. Taxing all sugary beverages, or adding simple warning labels, is only going to increase prices at the grocery store, yet get us nowhere in terms of public health.
Nutrition is a vital part of being well, and an even more important part to getting well (or healing). It’s a critical part of prevention, yet if I surveyed physicians or lay people, and asked them “Does diet therapy work?” chance are at least 70 percent of them would say: “No”. (For one thing, they have no idea what diet therapy really is).
Why is that? My theory is that the delivery of medical nutrition therapy is either underutilized or delivered by the wrong individual. Registered dietitians-nutritionists (RDNs) are nutrition experts that are educated and trained to understand human physiology and how diet relates to it. RDNs also are trained to provide nutrition assessments, and behavior counseling to deliver current diet therapies for both wellness and disease.
Just as I would not propose to offer you physical therapy or take your blood pressure, I wouldn’t expect a nurse or physical therapist to be able to help you lower your blood lipids or counsel you about diet and diverticulitis. Nor would I expect them to know how to interpret your BMI (body mass index – which is still an appropriate tool to include in nutrition assessment). They don’t have the training in nutrition assessment, nor do their fields of expertise mandate that they keep abreast of the latest epidemiological studies on diet and disease, and the resulting protocols.
Perhaps this is why I chose to no longer work in the clinical setting, but instead in research and nutrition communications. It is extremely frustrating to see how underutilized RDNs are, both locally and all over the nation. I absolutely know that people with diabetes, heart disease (high blood pressure, congestive heart failure), pregnancy, anemia, gastrointestinal disorders (such as Celiac, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), or obesity, would have better clinical outcomes if every single one of them were referred to an RDN for a diet prescription and counseling. Sometimes it could even take just two simple 30 to 60 minute visits, and many insurance carriers now cover it. This should be routine care in my opinion, and there’s plenty of research that shows that diet therapy and lifestyle interventions, when delivered properly, work.
It is the in-person delivery of this diet therapy that leads to positive outcomes, not just knowing what the dietary guidelines may be.
Most people with a psychiatric disorder require cognitive behavior therapy from trained therapists to direct and coach them, for best outcomes.
Most people with joint pain or a limited/altered range of motion issue benefit from a physical therapist to act as both director and coach, to aid in healing, and possibly eliminate need for surgery or limit use of medications.
Most people who would benefit from diet therapy need a registered dietitian to properly assess them, and direct and coach them. No other health professional has this unique skill set.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the governing board for RDNs), Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) is:
“…an essential component of comprehensive health care. Individuals with a variety of conditions and illnesses can improve their health and quality of life by receiving medical nutrition therapy. During an MNT intervention, RDs counsel clients on behavioral and lifestyle changes required to impact long-term eating habits and health.”
Performing a comprehensive nutrition assessment to determine a nutrition diagnosis
Planning and implementing a personalized nutrition intervention
Monitoring and evaluating an individual’s progress over subsequent visits
So the next time your doctor wants to add another medication for blood pressure, cholesterol, or possibly a gastrointestinal problem – ask for a referral to a local registered dietitian. Actually applying appropriate medical nutrition therapy after a proper nutrition assessment, and just saying, “I tried a diet”, are two completely different things.
People tend to make food very complicated. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is more fixation on food being “free” of things, than being full of things (i.e. important nutrients like protein, vitamin A, C, B, iron, calcium, etc).
Ha! Don’t make it so complicated. You can feed your family simple foods and rest easy. Putting together a healthy meal involves 3 simple steps:
Choose fresh food from at least 3 food groups to plan the meal
Find easy recipes that appeal to you that you can count on during busy days (and let’s face it, they’re all busy)
Enlist the family to help out (do some simple chopping or prepping, set table, clean up, store leftovers)
Take a peak at a recent meal I put on the table –
So simple and delicious, well-balanced, and tasty. Leftover chicken breasts went on a salad or sandwich the following two days for lunch.
Bring large stock pot of water to boil.
Carefully cut boneless, skinless split chicken breasts, cutting through thickness of breast crosswise to form 3 pieces, about 1/4 inch-1/2 inch thick. (I do this when the breasts are still partly frozen – it’s easier to handle)
Mix a few herbs together in a small bowl (I used oregano, thyme leaves, garlic powder, ground pepper. You can also use Italian seasoning, basil – whatever you prefer). Rub the herb mixture over each side of each piece of chicken.
Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in non stick skillet. Lightly brown each cutlet on both sides (about 2-3 minutes each side).
Pour about 1/4 cup tomato sauce (jarred or homemade) into a baking dish. Place cooked cutlets on top. Top with another 1/2 cup of sauce. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons part skim Mozzarella and 2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese over chicken pieces.
Bake chicken in 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.
While chicken is baking place 1/2 pound of pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8-9 minutes.
Prepare fresh green beans – snip ends off beans, rinse well in cool water. Place beans in small baking dish, add 1/2 inch of water, microwave for 5 minutes until crisp-tender. Drain off water. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has been voted best diet for the fourth year in a row, so more and more people are trying to adopt it. It not only helps lower blood pressure, but can help you lose weight too.
As you work toward the goal to reduce sodium, add good fats, and add more fruits and vegetables into your diet, keep these easy tips in mind:
Remove the salt shaker from the table. While you may use a bit of salt in cooking, do your best to not add more at the table. Out of sight, out of mind, and your taste buds will adjust. Use other natural salt-free means to add flavor – citrus juices or peels, fresh or dried herbs, ground pepper.
Add fruit to every meal. Try sliced banana on whole grain toast in the morning. Keep berries washed and ready-to-eat in a airtight container in the fridge. Have an apple for your mid-day snack. Incorporate fruit into after-dinner desserts (think: Pear or berry cobbler).
Add nuts. Nuts are great to snack on as is, and also make veggie dishes more delicious. Try adding sliced nuts to tossed salads, or add slivered almonds to steamed green beans. Toss cashews into a quick and easy chicken and veggie stir-fry.
Keep vegetables on hand. Make sure veggies make it to your grocery list, so that you can incorporate them into your diet. Add more veggies to your sandwiches – bean sprouts, spinach leaves, thinly sliced bell peppers or cucumbers – all make great sandwich toppers. Keep bagged vitamin-packed shredded cabbage mix on hand. Substitute for iceberg lettuce in your sandwich wraps. Or, in place of noodles or rice, saute shredded cabbage for an Asian dish.
Add beans, fish and lean meats. Learn how easy it is to prepare fish and seafood! Try a fruit-vegetable mixture to top your fish or chicken. Make this easy bean soup for dinner, and use it through the week for lunch, or turn add it to wraps.
It’s easy to add these nutritious DASH foods into your diet with a little bit of planning. Make your plates more balanced and colorful, and you’ll be on your way to better health!
A colleague recently pointed out how people are often more worried about what their food is “free” of (sugar-free, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, fat-free), as opposed to the important stuff that the food is providing (protein, antioxidant vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals). Not to mention the enjoyment good food can bring.
I guess I’m becoming a lady curmudgeon, but this is probably one of the more annoying diet trends to me. Why are you spending so much energy on finding foods or ingredients to avoid?
It’s so much better to be grateful for all of the nutrients that you have access to, and can enjoy each day, as they keep your body chugging along.
There’s no guarantee that a particular diet will “prevent or cure” cancer, diabetes, heart disease – or allow you to live forever. But you will feel and function better, while you are alive, when you eat reasonably healthy food most of the time, stay active, and maintain a healthy weight.
Problem is, nobody can agree on what a healthy diet is. And diet is only one piece of the healthy lifestyle puzzle. I’ve given my opinion on it numerous times, but as a society we’ve become so judgey about food. You know, think about the time you see someone buying a box of Hostess Ho-Hos® as a fun treat for their child’s lunchbox – “Oh the horror!!” – And you may assume “that mother feeds her child nothing but junk!” which may be completely false. You have the right to choose whatever products you want, but putting the country on an organic, vegan or grass-fed beef diet, isn’t realistically going to solve our obesity problems.
“I don’t allow milk in our home. Humans weren’t meant to drink milk from other animals”
“I only buy organic vegetables”
“I do not let my children eat potato chips. We’re having homemade banana chips and agave nectar sweetened tea for my daughter’s 5th birthday”
“I don’t buy packaged cookies, unless they’re made with organic ingredients”
What has eating come to, and where is it going? In my profession, we are constantly battling the popular media who squeaks out premature news on a daily basis. Rather than rely on nutrition experts, consumers get diet and nutrition related news shoved in their face on the daily. And most of the time, it’s completely conflicting. No wonder you’re confused!
Am I the only one who sees the irony in a set of “food rules” that “allow” a powdered protein drink mix, a supplement pill, or a cellophane-wrapped “meal replacement bar”, but bread is absolutely off limits!? [while “Big Food” gets a bad rap, many “health-nut” sources also make a bit of cash – take for example, this $60 powder – and note that this hemp protein product only provides 2 grams of protein per serving]
Now, don’t misread me, protein drink mixes and grab-and-go nutrition bars may have a place in someone’s diet – just as many other packaged foods. But there’s not one plan for all. Be careful however not to tout manufactured foods wearing a “health halo” as superior to another sort of packaged food or treat.
MYTH: Science is not to be trusted, and everyone’s an expert
Nutrition is a science. News about it should be sourced from peer-reviewed textbooks and journals, and from people with degrees in nutrition. Can you benefit from the information a lay person provides who has managed to lose 60 pounds and keep it off for 3 years? Definitely. Should that person be writing up new policy guidelines for nutrition or making public statements about diet and public health? No. Not any more than a person who managed to submit their own tax return should hang an accounting shingle, or write a blog titled “everything you wanted to know about the IRS”.
Is research science flawless? Of course not. But I want my science to come from people with advanced degrees who have read and studied a topic much, much more than everyone else with an opinion on the subject. An “expert” is someone who has been formally educated, and exhaustively continues his or her education (reading, trained, additional formal education) on a particular topic. “Comprehensive knowledge” takes a lot of time, thought, and reading.
In today’s world of Tweets and Internet “news”, it can get difficult to distinguish the experts from the frauds, in any field, for any topic. A colleague tuned me into a recent Twitter conversation in which a “science teacher” called her out for recommending fruit as part of a healthy diet. This guy was damning fruit, claiming it’s “manufactured to contain more fructose”! What are you talking about? And you’re a “science teacher”? Yikes. Buy your kids some science books folks. Fruit is good for you. Don’t eat the entire watermelon yourself.
Despite what you may believe to be true, or want to be true, what is actually true is that our human bodies are pretty darn adaptable. What’s also true is that there are some things in our genes that we don’t have any control over at all. Yes, I firmly believe that diet and exercise can have a positive effect, and in many cases, have a disease-prevention effect to a certain degree. Nonetheless, the basics of including whole foods (fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, intact grains, nuts, seeds) in your diet every day, and balancing it out with small amounts of fat, meat or dairy (or not if you are are Vegan) will sustain you.
The simple answer to “How do I improve my diet?” Buy less packages. Buy more whole food. Create more balance. Period.