Tag Archives: nutrition

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?

Profits and Pandemics

The journal Lancet, in a series of reports on Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) control, more commonly referred to as chronic disease control, has issued a persuasive report: Profits and pandemics: prevention of harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink industries.  This report is a well-researched indictment of food and beverage industries as enemies of public health, following in the same footsteps as the tobacco and alcohol industries, with their irresponsible business practices.

Here are some excerpts from the report:

National governments, non-governmental organisations,academics, and civil society need to consider what the appropriate role of the private sector will be in NCD [Non-Communicable Disease] prevention and control.

Although there is now consensus that the tobacco industry’s conflict of interest with public health is irreconcilable, whether the competing interests of the alcohol, food, and drink industries are similarly irreconcilable is debated.

The science of the effect of corporate behaviour on health is an emerging area of public health that needs to be developed substantially; it studies the health risks of transnational corporations and the distribution of the unhealthy commodities that they make and market.

In industrial epidemics, the vectors of spread are not biological agents, but transnational corporations. Unlike infectious disease epidemics, however, these corporate disease vectors implement sophisticated campaigns to undermine public health interventions. To minimise the harmful effects of unhealthy commodity industries on NCD prevention, we call for a substantially scaled up response from governments, public health organisations, and civil society to regulate the harmful activities of these industries.

Ultra-processed products

Ultra-processed products are made from processed substances extracted or refined from whole foods—eg, oils, hydrogenated oils and fats, flours and starches, variants of sugar, and cheap parts or remnants of animal foods—with little or no whole foods.  Products include burgers, frozen pizza and pasta dishes, nuggets and sticks, crisps, biscuits, confectionery, cereal bars, carbonated and other sugared drinks, and various snack products. Most are made, advertised, and sold by large or transnational corporations and are very durable, palatable, and ready to consume,which is an enormous commercial advantage over fresh and perishable whole or minimally processed foods. Consequently, their production and consumption is rising quickly worldwide. In the global north—ie, North America and Europe—ultra-processed products have largely replaced food systems and dietary patterns based on fresh and minimally processed food and culinary ingredients that have less fat, sugar, and salt. In the global south —ie, Asia, Africa, and Latin America— ultra-processed products are displacing established dietary patterns, which are more suitable socially and environmentally. Ultra-processed products are typically energy dense; have a high glycaemic load; are low in dietary fibre, micronutrients, and phytochemicals; and are high in unhealthy types of dietary fat, free sugars, and sodium.When consumed in small amounts and with other healthy sources of calories, ultra-processed products are harmless; however, intense palatability (achieved by high content fat, sugar, salt, and cosmetic and other additives), omnipresence, and sophisticated and aggressive marketing strategies (such as reduced price for super-size servings), all make modest consumption of ultra-processed products unlikely and displacement of fresh or minimally processed foods very likely. These factors also make ultra-processed products liable to harm endogenous satiety mechanisms and so promote energy overconsumption and thus obesity.

The consumption of energy-dense ultra-processed foods, unlike low energy foods such as fruits and vegetables, promotes obesity. Similarly, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with increased rates of obesity and diabetes,childhood obesity,long-term weight gain, and cardiovascular disease. In addition to the deaths caused by tobacco and alcohol, more than 18 million deaths every year are caused by high blood pressure (9·4 million), high body-mass index (3·4 million), high fasting blood glucose (3·4 million), and high total cholesterol (2·0 million),much of which could be attributed to the consumption of ultraprocessed foods and drinks.

Almost all growth in the foreseeable future in profits from the sale of these unhealthy commodities will be in low-income and middle-income countries. Saturation of markets in high-income countries and the high global average of income that people spend on food (20%) has caused the alcohol and ultra-processed food and drink industries to rapidly penetrate emerging global markets, as the tobacco industry has done. Transnational corporations are major drivers of the acceleration
of the nutrition transition—i.e., from traditional diets of whole or minimally processed foods to highly processed foods and drinks. The substantial growth of ultra-processed products has paralleled and contributed to the increase in obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related chronic diseases,especially in low-income and middle-income countries.

In the USA, the ten largest food companies control more than half of all food sales. Worldwide, this proportion is about 15% and is rising rapidly.

Strategies by industry to undermine effective public health policies and programmes:

Industry documents released because of tobacco and asbestos litigation show how these industries affect public health legislation and avoid regulation with both hard power (ie, building financial and institutional relations) and soft power (ie, influence of culture, ideas, and cognitions of people, advocates, and scientists). There is now evidence to show that the food, drink, and alcohol industries use similar tactics and strategies to the tobacco companies to undermine public health interventions.

The first strategy is to bias research findings. For example, Philip Morris International implemented the Whitecoat project to hire doctors to publish ghostwritten confounder studies purporting to negate links between environmental tobacco smoke and harm. The tobacco companies created quasi-independent organisations to publish biased and partial scientific reports, deny harm, and suppress health information. Similarly, funding from transnational food and beverage corporations biases research. A meta-analysis of research publications showed systematic bias from industry funding, with articles sponsored exclusively by food and drinks companies four-times to eight-times more likely to have conclusions favourable to the financial interests of the sponsoring company than those that were not sponsored by food or drinks companies. The International Center for Alcohol Policies, an organisation established and funded by large global alcohol producers, commissioned reports from scientists that resemble WHO documents. These reports were “incomplete, not subject to traditional peer review, and either supportive of industry positions or emphasizing high levels of disagreement among scientists”

The second strategy is to co-opt policy makers and health professionals. To undermine tobacco control research, the US Tobacco Institute promoted partnerships with scientists. They hired researchers and disseminated health promotion strategies to mislead the public about the harmful effects of smoking. Like the tobacco industry, the food and drink industry develops customers as young as possible, using tactics such as early-childhood health promotion schemes. SAB Miller and the International Center for Alcohol Policies have assisted the Lesotho, Malawi, Uganda, and Botswana Governments to write their national alcohol control policies. The four draft National Alcohol Policy documents were “almost identical in wording and structure and that they are likely to originate from the same source”,and were designed to “serve the industry’s interests at the expense of public health by attempting to enshrine ‘active participation of all levels of the beverage alcohol industry as a key partner in the policy formulation and implementation process’”

The third strategy is to lobby politicians and public officials to oppose public regulation. Tobacco transnationals lobby policymakers and fund campaigns of politicians who support tobacco use. The lobbying power of alcohol and ultra-processed food and drink corporations is also substantial. According to US Senate records, the largest alcohol companies spent $150 million lobbying compared with $40 million for tobacco between 1999 and 2011.58 US Senate Office of Public Records shows that PepsiCo alone reported spending more than $9 million in 2009 to lobby the US Congress. On the basis of filings with the Federal Elections Commission, in the 2008 election cycle, the company’s Political Action Committee so-called Concerned Citizen Fund alone contributed $547 700 to candidates for federal office. Its policy emphasises contributions to candidates who are “pro-business”, and who have a “commitment to improving the business climate” pending the “candidate’s position on key com mittees where legislation of importance to PepsiCo is considered”. In another example, the Sugar Association threatened WHO that it would lobby the US Government to withdraw its funding because WHO strategy on diet, physical activity, and health highlighted a strong link between sugar and NCD risk. Several people from these industries were billed in the official agenda of the September, 2011 UN high-level meeting on NCDs as the lead representatives of civil society, and gave keynote statements designed to guide policies. One was a former US Ambassador who is now Vice President, Global Public Policy and Government Affairs, at PepsiCo. The high-level meeting civil society list also included representatives from alcohol transnationals such as Diageo, SAB Miller, and Molson Coors Brewing.

The fourth strategy is to encourage voters to oppose public health regulation. For example, the tobacco industry has, and continues to campaign for, a restricted role of government, and against taxation and regulation. Their campaigns emphasise that tobacco use is an individual responsibility and raise arguments against so-called nanny state governments. Contrastingly, public health highlights the importance of social, economic, and political factors, and ethical considerations. The differences between high-risk individual and population approaches underline the gap between public health and industry perspectives. Similarly, blame-the-victim campaigns by transnational food corporations reduce public support for govern ment interventions. As an alternative to regulatory measures, alcohol and food industries promote ineffective individually-targeted information and educational approaches, and sometimes employ counter-productive covert marketing. Their social-marketing campaigns place responsibility for the purchasing decision on the individual, and in doing so, separate these choices from the circumstances in which they are made. The media regularly emphasise personal choice and responsibility and convey government intervention as coercive and oppressive. Despite the industries’ professed faith in these information-based approaches, they avoid disclosure of relevant health information to consumers. From the denial of tobacco addiction as late as 1994 to the obstruction of traffic-light labelling of unhealthy food and the recent detraction of alcoholic drinks from EU labelling legislation, the tobacco, alcohol, and food industries have all tried to block access to objective health information and to manipulate channels of communication. To deflect criticism, corporations promote actions outside their areas of expertise. For example, tobacco corporations promote the prevention of violence against women and ultra-processed food and drink corporations emphasise physical inactivity. Tobacco and alcohol producers also highlight illegal distribution and smuggling to deter policy makers from introducing regulation that will curtail their own activity. The similarities between strategies used by the tobacco, alcohol, and food and drink corporations are unsurprising in view of the flow of people, funds, and activities across these industries, which also have histories of joint ownership—eg, Philip Morris owned both Kraft and Miller Brewing; Altria is a lead shareholder in tobacco and food companies that have shared directorships; SAB Miller Board includes at least five past or present tobacco company executives and board members; and the Diageo Executive Director, responsible for public affairs, spent 17 years in a similar role at Philip Morris. Additionally, tobacco and food and drink corporations use the same public relations firms to lobby worldwide and to design stakeholder marketing campaigns such as Pernod Ricard’s drink Responsib’All Day. The alcohol and food and drink industries are united in intense opposition to the development of an equivalent to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Article 5·3 of this convention outlines the protection of public health policies for tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry and is relevant to the alcohol and ultra-processed food and drink industries. The actions of transnational corporations have generated such major concerns in the public health community,that there is now an emerging willingness to address these issues with scientific methods and systematic analysis.

The case for public regulation

The precautionary principle argues against public–private partnership because there is no evidence that the partnership of alcohol and ultra-processed food and drink industries is safe or effective, unless driven by the threat of government regulation. Similarly, there is little evidence that self-regulatory approaches are effective.

We believe that civil society should be aligned with government, which has the responsibility and power to protect public health, although compromised by transnational corporations. To fulfil this aim, governments need information and support from civil society and from public health interests. Regulation, or the threat of government regulation, is the only way to change transnational corporations; therefore, the audience for public health is government and not industry. Discussions with unhealthy commodity industries will be helpful only if they are with government and if the goal is for government to use evidence-based approaches. To respond to the scale and urgency of the global NCD epidemics, the industrial drivers that underpin them, and the tactics used by the unhealthy commodity industries so far, we have ten recommendations for action:

Recommendations of action for non-communicable diseases

For public health policy making, research, and programmes:

• Unhealthy commodity industries should have no role in the formation of national or international policy for non-communicable diseases
• Interactions with the tobacco industry should be restricted and made consistent with recommendations of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
• Discussions with unhealthy commodity industries should be with government only and have a clear goal of the use of evidence-based approaches by government
• In the absence of robust evidence for the effectiveness of self-regulation or private–public partnership in alcohol, food, and drink industry, rigorous, timely, and
independent assessment is needed to show that they can improve health and profit

For public health professionals, institutions, and civil society:

• Highly engaged, critical action is needed to galvanise an evidence-based constituency for change to implement effective and low-cost policies, to place direct pressure on industry to change, and to raise public awareness of the unhealthy effects of these industries
• Funding and other support for research, education, and programmes should not be accepted from the tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drinks industries or their affiliates and associates

For governments and international intergovernmental agencies:

• Evidence-based approaches such as legislation, regulation, taxation, pricing, ban, and restriction of advertising and sponsorship should be introduced to reduce death and disability from non-communicable diseases

For governments, foundations, and other funding agencies:

• All approaches in the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases — ie, self-regulation, public–private partnerships, legislation, pricing, and other regulatory measures — should be independently and objectively monitored
• Funding of policy development research into modes of regulation and market interventions  should be accelerated and prioritised
• A new scientific discipline that investigates industrial diseases and the transnational corporations that drive them, should be developed.

The full article can be viewed here:
http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)62089-3/fulltext

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.

Nutrient Basics

Nutrient Basics

Nutrition is about getting essential elements and compounds from our environment and transforming them into the metabolic building blocks of optimal health.

Moving from Staying Alive to Optimal Nutrition

Nutritional status exists on a continuum from simply staying alive to optimal health. Humans can stay alive with a few dozen essential nutrients. Optimal health involves thousands of compounds, many lumped into the category of “phytonutrients”, where “phyto” refers to plants. Phytonutrients are often referred to in terms of their antioxidant properties, which play a key role in a whole host of metabolic processes. This is the central reason for the importance of a plant based diet in optimal health.

In the short term, oxygen is the most essential element. Without oxygen, we would die within minutes. Breathe! The most fundamental metabolic process is oxidation, coupled with reduction. Oxidation is the chemical process where atoms and molecules gain electrons, whereas reduction is the loss of electrons. This oxidation-reduction process is how energy is transferred to power the thousands of different chemical reactions in your body. Maintaining the balance of oxidation and reduction is the most fundamental metabolic balance in your body. This is why antioxidants (reductants) are so important and play a central role in overall nutrition and health.

Without water, we would die within days. Water is a miraculous molecule with unique physical and chemical characteristics which make human life possible. Water comprises the majority of our body weight (in a healthy body). Not surprisingly, hydration is important for our health. Drink up!

Provided we have oxygen and water, it is possible to live for months on foods of very poor nutritional quality, that provide mostly energy/calories. The caloric nutrients are carbohydrates (starches and sugars), fat, protein, and alcohol. Carbohydrates are the most easily converted to energy in the body, and produce water right along with their metabolism (that’s why they are called carbo-hydrates). Fats are the most energy dense of the caloric nutrients and the primary way we store energy over the long haul. Protein functions primarily as a building block for muscle and enzymes in the body, but excess protein is converted to energy or stored as fat. During caloric restriction, protein may be broken down for energy. Alcohol is calorie dense, may impair the metabolism of other nutrients, and can dehydrate the body. Fats have 9 calories per gram; carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram; and alcohol has 7 calories per gram.

To survive over the years, your body requires vitamins and minerals. Most vitamins are essential enzymes that cannot be manufactured by the body, so you must get them from your diet. Most minerals are involved as cofactors of enzymes, hundreds of enzymes! Enzymes make complex chemical reactions work in your body. Think of enzymes as workers on an assembly line. You need many workers to work together to produce a complex product. With so many enzymes in action, this is why supplementing or fortifying with a small number of vitamins and minerals often doesn’t promote balanced nutrition. It’s like having one, or a few, kick-ass assembly line workers, but instead of assisting the assembly process, they just end up diverting energy elsewhere. An assembly line is only as fast as it’s slowest worker! So, vitamin and mineral supplementation/fortification is good for preventing a limited number of deficiency states, but it cannot address the whole range of metabolic processes that need to be coordinated and boosted across the board for optimal health. This is why a good diet must be based on whole foods. We need foods that will infuse our bodies with a robust range of nutrients — that, like a tide, will rise the boats of all of the assembly workers (to mix in another generous portion of metaphor).

To live a long, healthy life, we need thousands of nutrients — not merely the few dozen “essential” nutrients identified in the last century. There are estimated to be tens of thousands of different phytochemicals. Only a few percent of these have been isolated; and only a small fraction of these have been analyzed and tested. Nonetheless, while the nutritional science of phytochemicals is young, phytonutrients are not some mystical concept. Research thus far shows that:

• Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity that protect our cells against oxidative damage; this antioxidant activity reduces inflammation, the root cause of much degenerative/chronic diseases
• Some phytochemicals stimulate enzymes, promoting healthy metabolism and detoxification
• Some phytochemicals help regulate healthy hormonal action
• Some phytochemicals regulate and protect DNA, affecting cancer prevention and healthy aging
• Some phytochemicals have anti-microbial properties, fighting against pathogenic infections and stimulating a health gut flora

One common nutrient is found only in plants: fiber. Fiber is often considered “non-nutritive”, but this is a big mistake. There are two basic types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Most fiber is insoluble and provides the bulk or roughage in our diets. Soluble fiber is particularly adept at binding with cholesterol and toxins to carry them out of your system. Fiber slows the digestion of nutrients, spreading out the intake of caloric nutrients, allowing for a more balanced and healthy metabolism. Fiber is the single most important factor in satiety, feeling full. Fiber may not be digested by human enzymes but it is partially digested by the gut bacteria living in the most concentrated, biodiverse place on the planet. This promotes healthy gut bacteria, which are essential to optimal human nutrition. Fiber is the most basic pro-biotic.

In short, a diet rich in whole plant foods is the foundation for optimal nutrition and health.

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).

PRINCIPLES OF A HEALTHY, SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEM

PRINCIPLES OF A HEALTHY, SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEM

In June 2010, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetics Association), American Nurses Association, American Planning Association, and American Public Health Association initiated a collaborative process to develop a set of shared food system principles. The following principles are a result of this process and have been collectively endorsed by these organizations.

We support socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable food systems that promote health – the current and future health of individuals, communities, and the natural environment.

A healthy, sustainable food system is:

HEALTH-PROMOTING

• Supports the physical and mental health of all farmers, workers and eaters
• Accounts for the public health impacts across the entire lifecycle of how food is produced, processed, packaged, labeled, distributed, marketed, consumed and disposed

SUSTAINABLE

• Conserves, protects, and regenerates natural resources, landscapes and biodiversity
• Meets our current food and nutrition needs without compromising the ability of the system to meet the needs of future generations

RESILIENT

• Thrives in the face of challenges, such as unpredictable climate, increased pest resistance, and declining, increasingly expensive water and energy supplies

DIVERSE IN

• Size and scale—includes a diverse range of food production, transformation, distribution, marketing, consumption, and disposal practices, occurring at diverse scales, from local and regional, to national and global
• Geography—considers geographic differences in natural resources, climate, customs, and heritage
• Culture—appreciates and supports a diversity of cultures, socio-demographics, and lifestyles
• Choice—provides a variety of health-promoting food choices for all

FAIR

• Supports fair and just communities and conditions for all farmers, workers and eaters
• Provides equitable physical access to affordable food that is health promoting and culturally appropriate

ECONOMICALLY BALANCED

• Provides economic opportunities that are balanced across geographic regions of the country and at different scales of activity, from local to global, for a diverse range of food system stakeholders
• Affords farmers and workers in all sectors of the system a living wage

TRANSPARENT

• Provides opportunities for farmers, workers and eaters to gain the knowledge necessary to understand how food is produced, transformed, distributed, marketed, consumed and disposed
• Empowers farmers, workers and eaters to actively participate in decision-making in all sectors of the system

A healthy, sustainable food system emphasizes, strengthens, and makes visible the interdependent and inseparable relationships between individual sectors (from production to waste disposal) and characteristics (health-promoting, sustainable, resilient, diverse, fair, economically balanced, and transparent)
of the system.

from: http://www.planning.org/nationalcenters/health/foodprinciples.htm

You can download a PDF version of these principles here: https://planning-org-uploaded-media.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy_resources/nationalcenters/health/pdf/HealthySustainableFoodSystemsPrinciples_2012May.pdf