YOUR GUIDE TO SENSIBLE EATING
Desiri Wightman, RD
George Jetson wakes up and starts his day off with a push of a button. Out of a machine comes a little pill containing all the nutrients he needs to function that morning. It's breakfast at the Jetson home, and it's the future. The only choice George needs to make is whether the pill should taste like scrambled eggs and bacon or pancakes and maple syrup.
Ah . . . if only eating could be as simple as that futuristic cartoon portrayed. Instead, folks are too often left with a pile of mixed-up media messages. "Don't eat eggs." "Nevermind, eat eggs." "Pasta makes you fat." "No, pasta is good for you." With many celebrities, diet gurus, and "doctors" promoting their views, books, and food products, is it any wonder many people just shrug their shoulders and eat something that just tastes good, mindless of whether it is actually good for them?
Armed with a sensible eating philosophy, you'll be able to do more than just eat for taste. You'll be able to ride the waves of the nutrition fads that roll in and then roll back out. A foundation of sensibility will help you stay afloat when many cave into the waves of the popular, but often poor, nutrition choices. Best of all, you'll be able to establish healthy eating habits that will nourish you for a lifetime and advance your current and long-term health.
Implement the basic reasoning listed below and enjoy eating for life!
1. No one nutrient causes weight gain. In the nineties, "low-fat" products captured space on grocery store shelves. In this new century, "low-carb" is taking over that space. First fat took the heat for our overweight population; now carbohydrates are shouldering the blame. It seems that people enjoy living in denial, passing the responsibility of weight gain to a nutrient instead of facing their personal issues of overeating and under-exercising.
When "low-fat" products crammed the shelves, people bought them in droves and indulged on them because of the aura of health that came with the food. When they still gained weight, some felt a little disillusioned and began to look for another culprit. They found it in carbohydrates. Now, low-carb products are marketed as the new health icon. Unfortunately, they often contain as many, if not more, calories than the "high-carb" counterparts they are meant to replace. As happened with fat, many will consume these new products and menu choices recklessly, and the dial on the scale will continue to progress upward. Will protein be the next nutrient to be blamed?
Sensibility tells us that that no one nutrient makes people fat. Carbohydrates, fat, and protein are all necessary building blocks for good health. They each contain calories. They each have a specific role to play in the body. They are each indispensable.
If you are concerned about your weight, please take a realistic look at your lifestyle. Are you overeating? Does junk food make up the majority of meals? Are you exercising? What are your family genetics? The answers to these questions can help you set practical goals and guide you into programs that will focus on your personal needs, instead of those diets that give you a temporary fix.
2. Eating is not complex.
If life were all about food and how and when it should be eaten, then some of the food rules that are out there would make more sense. But, life is not about food. Food is just one tool that enables us to live happily and productively so we can focus on family, friends, service, learning, work, and so many of the other important things!
Rules of food combining and food timing certainly won't harm you, and if you find they help you feel better, then by all means follow them. But be assured the body is a miracle machine that can digest and handle a variety of foods eaten in one meal.
3. Long-term effects on health matter now.
In efforts to lose weight, too many people look for instant fixes or diets that take pounds off quickly and visibly. Unfortunately, they fail to evaluate the program for its long-term effects on their health. Sensibility suggests that you ask yourself, "If I were to follow this program for the rest of my life, what would its long-term effects be on my health (and sanity)?"
If a diet has the potential of being detrimental down the road, then is it worth sticking with it short-term? Everyone answers that question for him or herself. Certainly many people believed weight loss was worth the risk of heart-valve damage when they popped fen-phen pills.
For more examples, consider the weight loss methods of drinking breakfast shakes or eating diet bars for the rest of your days. First of all, monotony would certainly set in. Secondly, do these foods offer everything the body needs for good health? Though science knows a lot in the realm of food and human digestion, there is still so much more to learn. Natural foods not only contain the vitamins and minerals that shakes are fortified with, but they also contain many additional chemicals that help the body absorb those nutrients, act as cancer-fighters, and function in many ways science has yet to discover. You probably won't be drinking or eating those chemicals in your diet foods any time soon. What would your health be like down the road without them? For these same reasons, it is always better to rely on wholesome food to provide vitamins and minerals than to eat poorly and "make up" the difference with a vitamin/mineral supplement.
Another example of shortsightedness comes in the low-carb/high protein diets so popular today. Yes, they do help many lose weight, and some individuals with serious health issues benefit immensely from any weight loss, no matter the method. However, did you realize that this weight loss method is utilizing the body's emergency metabolism? These diets put the body into a state of digestion called ketosis-the method by which the body attempts to survive when food is unavailable. Long-term effects of these diets can be seen daily on television in the poor, undernourished populations of Africa. Are the people alive? Yes. Are they healthy and energetic? Far from it. Ketogenic diets lead to the long-term consequences of increased heart disease risk, increased cancer risk, higher blood pressure, gout, kidney stones, decreased energy, fainting, poor long-term weight control, and keto-breath.
Looking at the long-term, it only makes sense to spend time now developing healthy eating behaviors that will last a lifetime, instead of wasting years of your life on unhealthy diet fads, and then down the road attempting frantically to implement time-tested sensible eating strategies.
4. The closer it is to mother earth, the more nutrients it retains.
This simple statement can guide the sensible eater in his or her food choices. Replacing refined, processed, and fortified foods, as well as those products that are mostly just a chemical cuisine of sugar and artificial flavors and colors, with fresher, less-processed foods will boost energy, increase fiber, and promote an overall feeling of wellness.
We pay a high price for convenience these days, not only in money but also in our health. Frozen, highly processed foods that we can pop into the microwave or dehydrated, preservative-laden, and fortified meals from a box squelch our appetites but wreak silent havoc on our bodies. With a little planning, higher-fiber, less-processed meals could be often at hand, even when time is racing against us.
For example, brown rice, high in fiber and nutrients, cooked ahead and frozen for later use, could replace the 5-minute instant rice so often used for convenience. Baby carrots, peeled and ready for use, or a crisp apple are easy to pack along for those times when your stomach is craving crunch and the vending machine chips beckon. Slow cookers and make-ahead meals utilize fresh ingredients for delicious home-cooked meals that need no shelf-life stabilizers.
Basically, planning ahead will help you utilize those just-as-nature-intended fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products to ensure that you capitalize on their freshness and nutrient-retentive properties. For more ideas on implementing natural foods into your diet, see Fiberful Ideas.
5. Nutrition catch phrases: balance, variety, and moderation.
Balance in your diet means mostly acquiring a consciousness of your daily eating. If you can't give up whole milk, then choose leaner cuts and smaller portions of meat. If you and your friends plan to splurge on triple-chocolate fudge sundaes in the evening, eat a lighter breakfast and lunch. When you attend a party and dive into the sour cream dip, then exercise for an extra 30 minutes the next day.
Variety in your diet encourages you to enjoy many different foods. Whereas every food contains varying amounts of nutrients, enjoying an assortment of grain products, produce, meat, and dairy foods ensures you meet all the requirements your body needs. Simplistically, if you just ate carrots, you'd consume enough vitamin A but negligible Vitamin C. Expanding the variety of your diet by adding an orange would ensure you get that vitamin, too.
Moderation and sensibility walk hand in hand. Too often we over-consume foods because we love the taste or texture, all the while ignoring feelings of fullness. If overeating is a challenge for you, assess your eating habits and make changes there. When you order out at a restaurant, split the entrée in half and pack it in a take-out container right away. Plate food before taking it to the table instead of setting the entire meal in front of diners. Those who want seconds, then, have to make the walk to the kitchen to get them. This also curbs the habit of grazing in the remaining food on the table, while you socialize or work up motivation to do the dishes. Remember to be moderate in your eating.
Balance, variety, and moderation do not imply that you can't enjoy "fun" foods. They just remind you to not go overboard on any one item.
6. No quick fixes!
Even though many diet-related advertisements insist you can get fit without exercise, don't fall for it! Exercise, hard and painful though it may initially be, is a necessary component of good health, and may be the very best way to burn fat. If you will eat nutritiously and exercise, you'll feel much more energetic, less fatigued, and improve your body image. Yes, you can lose weight through a variety of quick-fix diets, programs, pills, surgeries, and so forth. But in the end, those who will keep the weight off and feel great are those who recognize that good health takes the day by day effort of eating well and adequately and exercising regularly.
* DVO welcomes your kitchen hints and cooking or nutrition questions! Email us and we'll post your hints and Q/A's in upcoming newsletters! *