Tag Archives: diet

Healthy Eating Plate

HEALTHY EATING PLATEHealthy Eating Plate

This healthy eating plate model was developed by the Harvard School of Public Health.  I consider this model a more scientifically-based nutritious way of eating than the similar federal government sponsored My Plate, which has a heavier emphasis upon animal products.  For optimal health, moving even further to a whole foods, plant-based diet with even less animal products and less added oils/fats is advisable.

Sitting down to a good meal is one of the great pleasures in life.  First, you may want to consider that when you eat your meals that they involve a plate, rather than a bag, a box, or a wrapper.

Vegetables are the powerhouses of nutrient density, giving the most nutrition for the least calories.  Plus, vegetables offer bulk, a high volume with fiber and water, helping fill you up and prevent overeating.  Fruits, particularly whole fruits, add sweet nutrition to your meal, and make for nutritious desserts.  Make half of your meal vegetables and fruits — though even more would improve overall nutrition for most people’s meals.  Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.  Eat the rainbow!  Plant pigments that color fruits and vegetables also happen to be health promoting phytonutrients/antioxidants.  A wide variety of phytonutrients work better when together with other phytonutrients, so variety and whole foods are key to healthy meals.

Whole grains are the best source for energy-providing complex carbohydrates/starches.  Whole grains are health promoting, providing abundant amounts of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients.  You should limit refined grains — like white rice, white bread or white pasta — because they are a net drain on good nutrition, unless you are starving.  If you are restricting calories, you may want to limit yourself to more modest amounts of healthy, high carbohydrate foods.  Potatoes should be considered in the healthy, high carbohydrate food category, not the vegetable portion.

The healthiest sources of protein are beans, nuts, and seeds.  The next healthiest sources of protein would be fish and poultry.  Modest amounts of lean pork and lean red meat would be the next best choices.  Limit eggs.  Avoid processed meats such as bacon, sausages, cold cuts/lunchmeats, hot dogs, and ham.  Adequate protein intake is not usually an issue for most Americans; however, the one most important exception to this may be when substantially limiting calories, as when on a weight loss diet.

IF you are using added fats in cooking, on salad, or at the table, use healthier oils like olive or canola oil.  Added oils and fats are the most concentrated sources of calories in human diets.  ALL processed oils and fats have very low nutrient density, and they can have a powerful diluting effect on your overall nutrition.  However, the type of dietary fat makes a big difference in nutritional health.  If you are restricting calories, this is the first place you should look to limit calories (along with refined sugars from sugary drinks, desserts, and processed foods).

Drink plenty of fluids. Water, tea, and coffee are fine choices.  Tea and coffee contribute significant amounts of phytonutrients; however, avoid adding milk/cream and sugar. Milk (and dairy) are not must-have foods — limit them to 1-2 servings/day. Remember that vegetables and fruits are about 90% water!  Go easy on juice — instead, choose whole fruits.  Avoid sugary drinks.  Alcoholic beverages can be fine in moderation.

Eating whole, minimally processed foods is an important guideline for an overall healthy diet.  This bolsters nutrient density and limits unnecessary or harmful ingredients from processed foods.  The big three food additives — the most important — are fat, sugar, and salt.  About the only way to moderate salt/sodium intake is to substantially limit processed foods.  Along with nearly ubiquitous salt, cheap fats and refined sugars are easy ways for processed food manufacturers to modify taste.  Be on the lookout: read nutrition labels!

MAKING BETTER FOOD CHOICES: Behavior Change Basics

MAKING BETTER FOOD CHOICES

Behavior Change Basics
To begin changing your behavior and habits, it helps to know where you are starting from. You need to pay attention to your current dietary habits and preferences. What are your dietary strengths to build on? What are your dietary weaknesses to shore up? Next, you need to familiarize yourself with what may be the best dietary practices suited to you. This needs to be a personalized blending of self-knowledge and credible dietary information. Sorting through and prioritizing potential changes is key, since you can’t change everything at once! In the end, to achieve a sustainable set of changes over the long haul, you need to maintain focus and rewards. Writing down your goals and celebrating your successes can carry you a long way in making better food choices. One thing successful people have in common is that they are very focused and strongly goal oriented. 

Behavior Change Basics

Practice Self-Awareness/Mindfulness — focus and attention is required for optimal behavior change. Mindfulness is simply paying attention to yourself and your surroundings. If you want to make realistic changes, it helps to be aware the actual realities within yourself and your environment. You can greatly facilitate the long process of behavior change by gaining ongoing, accurate assessment and feedback on your progress. The most direct way to sustain focus and attention is to write your goals down, put them up where they will be visible to you, and make note of your progress. Also, sharing your plans and getting feedback from a trusted friend can be another source of grounding yourself in reality and getting support.

Get Credible Information — There is a lot of different and conflicting information about diet and nutrition. When sorting through information, consider the source’s expertise, perspective, and bias. Here are some questions to consider:

What is the author’s relevant education, training, or experience?
What types of sources does the author cite?
Is the information current, state-of-the-art?
Is the author affiliated with a reputable organization or group?
What is the purpose, philosophy, or ideology associated with the information?
Is there a commercial or financial interest tied into the information?
Are all sides of an issue presented fairly?
Are appeals made on emotions (such as fear)?
Are unrealistic claims made?

Set Effective Goals — effective goals are only the one’s that you get accomplished. Here are some tips for setting goals that work for you:

Keep It Meaningful — the most meaningful goals are the one’s that will get you the biggest dietary payoff for the least effort. Of course, your goals should address the values that are most relevant to you: what aspects of diet and nutrition are most important to you?
Focus on the Positive — begin by building on your strengths. Do more of something you are already pretty good at. Focus on adding good foods and dietary practices rather than eliminating or depriving yourself.
Set Challenging But Attainable Goals — Avoid setting too many goals or too large goals, which may set yourself up for failures. Break large goals into smaller steps. Challenge yourself when your motivation is high. However, recognize that motivation will have its ups and downs in the long term, and plan accordingly.
Write Your Goals Down — writing down goals crystallizes your commitments and provides a tangible tool to most effectively guide your efforts.
Put Your Goals Up — place your written goals in places where you will see them regularly. Planting reminders in places nearby when you buy food, prepare food, or eat food can be particularly helpful for keeping on track.
Make Your Goals Specific & Measurable — your goals should be specific enough so that you know if you have reached them.
Include Time-Frames in Your Goals — adding time-frames to your goals gives you a more robust framework to measure your goals and serves as a tool to break larger goals into smaller, realistic steps. Deadlines may boost motivation as well.
Build in Rewards for Success — celebrate successes along the way. Identify what rewards will help you celebrate your success and motivate you even more. Set specific times to review your progress. Put it on your calendar and/or tie your progress review to regular events such as before grocery shopping, Monday’s lunch, or any other at least weekly routine.
Keep It Simple — Don’t get bogged down with too many goals. If you have too many goals, start with a few simple ones. If you start with goals with shorter time-frames, you can build early successes and perhaps move on more quickly to your other goals.
Prioritize — You can’t do everything at once. Not everything is of equal importance or effectiveness. What dietary practices will improve your quality of life the most for the least time and effort? Make your short list and focus your efforts on that.
Keep It Flexible — Things change. Adjust to changing circumstances and follow emerging motivations or new information. After all, they are your goals and they should serve you, not the other way around.

Landmarks in Food Choices

Ultimately, the goal of addressing your food choices is to better align your own values, thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors with one another. Hopefully, by leveraging the positive attributes in your life, you can build on your assets and shore up weak spots, to live a balanced and healthy life — for yourself, the people around you, and the planet which feeds us. One way to help navigate such an enterprise is to reflect on the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of food-related choices. Consider these questions:

WHO?

Who grows my food?
Who processes/prepares my food?
Who do I buy, cook, and/or eat food with?
Who influences my eating habits the most?
Who profits from the food I eat?
Who may be harmed in the process of me getting my food?

WHAT?

What foods do I eat regularly?
What are the nutrient densities of the foods I eat regularly?
What eating habits can I change that will offer the biggest benefit?
What plans do I have to help me make positive food changes?

WHEN?

When do I eat typically eat my meals/snacks?
When do I find my eating choices are most compromised?

WHERE?

Where does my food originate from:
Geographically?
Ecologically/Biologically?
Politically/Economically?

WHY?

Why is nutrition and/or food justice important to me?

HOW?

How is my food grown and harvested?
How is the nutritional value of my food changed from farm to table? What is added/removed/modified?
How much variety do I get in my diet?
How often do I try new recipes or new foods?
How much do I enjoy each bite of food I eat?
How ecologically-sustainable are the foods I eat?
How much food do I waste?
How much waste results from packaging and eating of my foods?
How much time am I willing to invest to improve my eating habits?
How much nutritional value do I get for my food dollar?
How accurate, balanced, and unbiased is the food and nutrition information that I use?
How balanced are my food and nutrition practices relative to my other health practices and values in life?

Chemicals and Obesity

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that obesity has been rising, even though Americans are consuming fewer calories.  This seems puzzling to many.  Changes in physical activity, the amount of calories burned, doesn’t appear to explain this discrepancy.  As stated by the co-author of the study, Dr. William Dietz, former CDC director of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, “It’s hard to reconcile what these data show, and what is happening with the prevalence of obesity.”

However, evidence is growing that chemicals in our food, water, and environment may be changing our bodies’ hormonal balances and metabolism.  Such chemicals are called endocrine disruptors.  When linked to hormonal disorders linked to obesity they are called obesogens (literally, “causer of obesity”) — see here for more on the obesogen hypothesis.

A recent scientific review summarizes data from experimental animals and humans which support an association of endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as diethylstilbestrol, bisphenol A, phytoestrogens, phthalates, and organotins, with the development of obesity.  The reviewers state, “The reasons for this sharp increase in overweight/obesity are not well understood but factors such as high fructose diets, genetics/epigenetics, increased maternal age, sleep debt, use of certain pharmaceuticals, and the built environment have all been proposed as playing a role.”  They conclude:

“The data included in this review support the notion that brief exposure early in development to environmental chemicals with estrogenic activity increases body weight gain with age and alters markers predictive of obesity in experimental animals. Furthermore, epidemiologic studies support the findings in experimental animals and show a link between exposure to environmental chemicals (such as estrogenic chemicals, BPA, PCBs, DDE, and persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals) and the development of obesity.Importantly, the use of soy-based infant formula containing the estrogenic component genistein has been positively associated with obesity later in life. Using the DES animal model as an important research tool to study “obesogens”, the mechanisms involved in altered weight homeostasis (direct and/or through endocrine feedback loops, i.e., ghrelin, leptin, etc.) by environmental estrogens can be elucidated. In addition, this animal model may shed light on areas of prevention. Public health risks can no longer be based on the assumption that overweight and obesity are just personal choices involving the quantity and kind of foods we eat combined with inactivity. It is quite possible that complex events, including exposure to environmental chemicals during development, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.”

For more on how our corporate economy is contributing to our living in a chemical soup which can alter our physiology and metabolism, check out: Obesogens & Canned Tales: Lessons in Corporate Social Responsibility.

Avoid BPA in Your Diet

BPA is a hormone disruptor, of which infants and children are particularly susceptible. BPA is found in canned foods and polycarbonate bottles. Look for the recycling numbers 3 and 7 for its presence. BPA leaching is greatly sped up with heat, so don’t heat food in the microwave in plastic containers or on plastic plates.

The World Health Organization (WHO) just came out with a report calling hormone disruptors a “global threat.”  The co-author of the report, Thomas Zoeller, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, tells us, “Frankly, for BPA, the science is done. Flame retardants, phthalates . . . the science is done . . . We have more than enough information on these chemicals to make the reasonable decision to ban, or at least take steps to limit exposure.”

See this Scientific American article for more info on this WHO report: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=united-nations-panel-calls-hormone-dispruptors-global-threat&WT.mc_id=SA_WR_20130227

Powering Up Your Pasta!

Pasta with tomato sauce is a common meal that can be very nutritious. Plus, the nutritional value can be boosted very easily, with just a few tricks.

Tomato sauce is one of the best nutrition buys that is easily available and widely used. Tomatoes have two uncommon characteristics that should earn them a place as a staple in your diet. First, tomatoes are packed with a rare and powerful antioxidant (lycopene) that helps prevent heart disease, cancer, and likely a whole host of other health problems. Second, tomatoes have a savory taste, making them taste boosters. Many people are aware that people have four basic tastes of sweet, salty, bitter and sour — but savory is a fifth taste! Unfortunately, savory taste compounds are relatively uncommon in the average diet. Tomatoes and mushrooms are two common foods which add savory taste (you can probably guess where that is going!).

When choosing a jar or can of tomato sauce, check the nutrition label for sugar and sodium. Choose a variety with a lower sugar and sodium content. If you find a variety that you like on sale, stock up on it, it will store very well. If you make your own sauce from tomato paste or fresh tomatoes you can leave the sugar out and control the salt content.

Next, power up your tomato sauce! This is easy to do with oregano, garlic, onion, mushroom, and balsamic vinegar. Dried oregano has the highest antioxidant content per serving of any commonly used spice. Just add a couple of tablespoons! Onions and garlic both come from a plant family offering powerful health benefits: anti-heart disease, anti-cancer, and anti-microbial. The easiest boost is to add chopped garlic (I keep a jar in the refrigerator at all times). If you have the time, sauté a chopped onion or two, along with chopped garlic. Sautéing in olive oil is both a tasty and nutritious choice. If you are going to use mushrooms, go ahead and add those as well. If you are using canned mushrooms, you can add the “juice”, so you don’t throw out a bunch of those water-soluble nutrients (and flavor). You can also add other vegetables, such as green peppers, to boost nutrition and flavor.  Adding a dash of balsamic vinegar will help create a rich, meaty flavor and additional nutrition.  I like adding ground red pepper for even more nutritional and taste punch.  Hot pepper is particularly useful if you are using/making lower salt tomato sauce.

To pack the biggest punch, eat a lot of sauce with your pasta, particularly if you are resorting to refined grain pasta. I would strongly recommend using whole wheat pasta. The nutritional value of whole grains versus refined grains is incomparable. It’s somewhat more expensive, but well worth it nutritionally. If you are not used to the taste, give it a try; it’s something your tastes can adapt to over time (if you are not willing to use whole wheat pasta, using whole wheat bread in your diet might offer an easier start).  When boiling pasta, don’t use excessive water, since water soluble vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients leech out (or you can use the leftover water for other cooking).