Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Nutrition Month!!

It's National Nutrition Month so I thought I would use this opportunity to discuss my favorite subject, nutrition!!! There is so much information about nutrition out there and while it's fun to read about different philosophies on how one should eat, it can be a little confusing, especially for people that are interested in a healthy lifestyle. It takes a lot of time to understand what works and what doesn't with eating. Then add the lack of knowledge about fitness and it becomes overwhelming to a newby. I can sum up my thoughts in this blog for anyone interested in starting a new way of life.

I can't speak for all countries, but America is one of extremes. We love the area of black and white, we love absolutes and we discourage any gray area. If you are going to diet, it needs to be EXTREME. If it's not, then you're not working hard enough!! That's what I take away from all of the diets out there right now. There is the South Beach diet which cuts out large amounts of food and only allows you to eat a little bit while you lose weight. It incorporates new food groups in each phase until you get back to normal. There is the Atkins diet which wants you to cut out all carbs and eat lots of protein, not matter how fatty it is. There is the Special K diet where you eat Special K for breakfast and lunch, then eat a "healthy" dinner, which remains indefined.

In addition to these diets, you also have "weight loss programs" like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. Weight Watchers gives a value to foods and allows you to eat within a specific point system, although it never really explains to you why foods are healthy. It also uses values like caloric content, carbs and fiber to assing value to a food without considering how your body may process that food. So essentially, I could eat a bagel for breakfast, a salad for lunch and a piece of pizza for dinner, stay within my points for the day and that would mean I was "being good". Jenny Craig just sends you pre packaged foods that you pay for, again, never really giving you any idea of what is healthy or why.

In addition to the diets listed above, there are also a number of pills that are supposed to help you lose weight and control your appetite. Alli is one of them, I don't really understand the science behind this but I guess it's supposed to work with the food you eat to break up fats cells or something like that?? You can go to the Bariatric clinic where they will assess you and put you on a host of diet pills. You can take all kinds of synethetic drugs that will suppress your hunger and help you to eat less.

I have a lot of theories as to why we have so many issues in the US when it comes to obesity and it's a dangerous epidemic. I wish I could visit every household and talk to each family about his/her diet, but the truth is, we want the fast, easy way out. I love the Biggest Loser, but even that show emphasize weight loss as opposed to becoming healthy and the quickness with which the contestants lose weight is 1) astonshing and 2) not realistic. I've tried a lot of diets and I have my own ventures with food that I will discuss in a later blog, but for now, I am going to quickly summarize what your diet should be on a daily basis. It's very easy... eat foods that are as close to the ground as they can possibly be. The less chemically altered they are, the better they are for you.

Here are some basic rules that can help guide you as you eat:

When to eat:
1. Eat when you are hungry
2. Stop when you are full

What to eat:
1. Any diet that tells you to cut out an entire food group is not good. It's not sustainable and really, the foods we eat work together to help our metabolism be most efficient. There's is an entire science behind this and I won't go into to it, but you need every major food group.
2. The least amount of chemical processing you can get, the better

Here are basic guidelines that I use when going to the grocery store.
1. Meat: I always buy organic meat that has no added hormones or antibiotics. Certain grocery stores like Whole Foods will even grade their food to tell you the level of processing. Meat with the bone in is actually better for you than boneless because it has gone through less processing. Many would not want you to believe that, but it's true. Lean protein is also best such as chicken, bison, fish. Bison is a great alternative to cow because it is leaner and has less cholesterol. I also consider myself an environmentalist so I look for wild caught fish - that's also healthier for you, bison because it's more sustainable for the environment, cage free chicken and eggs, etc.

2. Veggies: while many diets want you to watch the amount that you take in, EAT AS MANY VEGGIES AS YOU WANT AND EAT WHICHEVER VEGGIES YOU WANT. Yes, some veggies are a higher density carb than others, but I promise promise promise you, that the folks on the biggest loser aren't there bcause they ate too many carrots and not enough spinach. This goes back to the extreme idea, oh sweet potatoes are higher density than spinach, I can only eat root veggies, no... just eat veggies. If that's the bulk of where you get your carbs from, you're good.

3. Fruit... see above

4. Grains... this is the biggest area of debate. Many people say that grains aren't easily digested so we shouldn't eat them at all, many people say there are an extreme amount of nutrients that can help our body, I tend to think this is an area is negotiable. I think it is very difficult for anyone to completely cut out all food groups. Sometimes, I just want a heartier carb than a veggie. So I'll make some cous cous, or whole grain rice. It's rare that I do it, but I do. I am experimenting with whole grain flours. Bleached, white flour is very bad for you because of the chemical process that it must go through to make it white. So, any kind of whole grain that has not been bleached is better. My first experiment was with Whole Wheat Pastry flour. It is supposed to be easily substituted for white flour so I used it in a cookie recipe. It didn't turn out the way I expected, but there may have been other contributing factors. I will continue to experiment and report for your information. So again, I can incorporate whole grains into my diet if I choose to, but I'd like to try to keep them whole wheat, spelt, millet, kemut, etc. The idea of a less chemically altered grain is that it takes less for my body to process it, so it will process more of it, which means it won't store it as fat.

To go back to my original statement discussing how we're a nation of extremes, just remember that everything in moderation is ok and anything that cuts out entire food groups is not ok. I'm not sure that I buy into all of the theories surrounding cutting out these food groups, but the other part of that is that it's not something we can sustain. If we were so great at sticking to this stuff, we wouldn't be an obese nation. I'm not going to go the rest of my life and never have a piece of cake. And honestly, I'm also not going to go the rest of my life and only eat a piece a cake on sundays. So the idea of a cheat day does not work for me either. I listen to my body. If it's hungry, I eat, if it's full, I stop, if it wants a cookie, I eat it, but sometimes, if I am really really listening to it, it's telling me I don't want that cookie, so I don't eat it.

If you want to start eating healthier but you're afraid of how daunting it seems, just take it week by week and start slow. The first thing you can do is cut out soda. Experiment with that for a couple of weeks. Once you feel comfortable with that, reduce the amount of times you eat out during the week. If you eat out 5 times a week, cut it down to 2. See how that goes. Once you feel comfortable with that, then you can continue to make small changes to your diet that are liveable. Read magazines like Real Simple, Clean Eating and Cooking Light. They have great recipes and once you try different things and learn what you like, it will become easier.

Have fun cooking!!