Tag Archives: sugar

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!

Sugar Causes Diabetes

It’s official: sugar causes diabetes.  While this may seem intuitive, it has been debated for decades.  Now, a new study, using data from 175 countries over the last decade, shows that sugar is an independent risk factor for diabetes.  Sugar consumption explains variations in diabetes that are not explained by physical activity, overweight or obesity.  The sugar-diabetes link holds true even when considering total calories, food types (including fibers, meats, fruits, oils, cereals, alcohol), and several socioeconomic variables such as aging, urbanization and income.

The level of scientific confidence here is as strong as that which linked cigarettes and lung cancer in the 1960s.  Of course, we know that it took decades for the tobacco industry to actually admit the connection.  Hopefully, the sugar and food industries will not be so recalcitrant.

So, what’s the size of this effect? For the every equivalent of 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverage introduced per person per day into a country’s food system, the rate of diabetes goes up 1 percent.

For more on the what this means for food industry and health politics, check out this article: It’s the Sugar, Folks

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).