If you learn about nutrition by watching TV or following fads, you are probably confused. According to TV ads, chocolate flavored hazelnut breakfast spreads and sugary cereals are "part of a nutritious breakfast"; and enriched white bread is â€œas healthy as whole grain breadâ€; and energy drinks containing ginseng and guarana are healthy alternatives to coffee. Oh really?!
According to the fads, low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets are best; the DaVinci diet, called the Diet Code, would have you base meals on the golden ratio of 1.618; you need to eat like you are a caveman; you need follow a Mediterranean diet; you need to follow an Okinawan diet; you need to follow a French diet; you need to eat foods based on your blood type; you shouldn't combine fruits with other foods; and so on, and so on, and so on.
I'm not saying that all, or even any, of these fads are wrong. But really, give us a break! It's all very complicated and contradictory. Which diet should we follow, if any?
I love food and I love to eat. However, I'm not a good cook and I don't like to think too much about how to put a meal together. In fact, I believe "diet" is a bad 4 letter word. To follow a diet means being "tied" (if you have you read or seen The DaVinci Code you know that letters can be rearranged to make new words) to a strict eating regimen. I believe a better way to eat is to "edit" your food choices.
Let's start with foods we can indulge in. We all know we should eat more vegetables, so this tops the list. There are many options from which to choose. Even if you are anti-veggie, there should be something that suits your palate. If you crave salty foods, try celery, kale, dandelion, spinach, chard, and sea-vegetables such as nori, kelp, kombu, and dulse. If your sweet tooth is calling you, try sweet potatoes, yams, squash, and beets. Want something crunchy? Go for carrots, celery, broccoli, or cauliflower. Prefer something juicy? Reach for tomatoes and cucumbers. Need help with the greens? If you can't find a way to eat enough greens, both quantity and variety, mix a greens powder (e.g. spirulina, chlorella, wheatgrass, barley grass, or a greens blend) into your favorite shake or juice, or keep it simple by using water.
The basics of nutrition require that you receive a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. All these nutrient categories are essential even though some are labeled as heroes or foes.
Choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates because they break down into sugar more slowly and provide you with a more constant stream of energy, rather than a burst of energy followed by a crash. Whole grains (and especially sprouted grains are better because they are easier to digest), and vegetables are examples of complex carbohydrates. Fruit, while rich in simple carbohydrates, can also contain many vitamins and some fiber.
Lean sources of protein are better choices than meats heavy in saturated fats. Choose organic, free-range meats whenever possible to avoid eating animals that are fed steroids, unnecessary antibiotics, pesticides, or other diseased animals. You might also try eating non-meat meals at least once or twice a week, such as a fantastic vegan chili.
Avoid processed and poor quality oils, but don't go completely fat-free. Why: because fats are important! If you remove all the water out of your brain, it will be about 60% fat! All of your cells are lined in fat. Fat protects your internal organs. Fat keeps you insulated. However, not all fat is good. Essential fatty acids (EFA) are fats you need to consume because your body does not make them. EFAs are omega 3 fats (found in flax seeds and fish), omega 6 fats (found in pumpkin seeds, almonds, and sesame seeds), and omega 9 fats (found in small amounts in all of the above). Fish oil capsules are easy to take. To incorporate EFAs into your food, try sprinkling some on your salad as a dressing, drizzle some on your veggies, rice, or pasta, or add a spoonful to a blended shake.
And the Ugly…
At the other end of the scale are foods we should limit. I'm sure you can already guess many of them…
- Greasy, fried, fatty foods (e.g. deep fried anything, stuff that glistens with grease).
- Processed and refined foods (many packaged foods, canned goods, and ready-made meals).
- White foods, white bread, white pasta and white rice.
- Sugar and excessively sweet foods (watch for hidden sugars in foods such as muffins, cereals and other baked goods) Try natural, zero-calorie, blood sugar stabilizing stevia leaf instead.
- Refined and poor quality oils (margarine, shortening, commercial foods with oil in them, and hydrogenated oils/fats).
If you are generally healthy, you can occasionally enjoy these tempting foods, but limit both the quantity and the frequency that you consume them. Resist the temptation to "supersize"! It is not economical and you may end up paying for it in other ways (with a stomach ache).
Bringing it All Together
Eating is important. Here are some tips I'd like to leave with you:
- Enjoy your food.
- Chew your food well and savor the flavor.
- If you are super busy, try scheduling your meal and snack times.
- If possible, plan to eat 5-6 small meals a day. If you prefer, you can choose the standard 3 meals a day, but don't skip breakfast (break the fast) as it is important to start your day off with a healthy meal.
- Eat around the same times each day so your body can prepare itself.
- Practice portion control.
- Eat slowly so that your body can tell you when you've had enough. Eat until you are no longer hungry rather than until you are stuffed to the gills.
Still confused? When in doubt, use common sense. I don't believe taking the nutrients out of food, processing it, then adding back some of the stolen nutrients, while adding colorants, flavorings, and preservatives to make it look, smell and taste like yummy food really sounds healthy. Do you? We have so many healthy options to choose from! There is no need to feel limited!