Friday, January 28, 2011

On What to Eat

Note~ This may be one of the most important posts I ever write.  It's long and comprehensive, but the information included is what changed (and saved) my life.

Back in December I got a great question from reader Jordan...
--do you know of any good nutrition (NOT DIET) books? I've been looking for a total nutrition book that tells us what our bodies need and why. I'm not looking for a book about fad diets though. Do you have any suggestions for this? Thanks.
Every waking minute of every day we are bombarded with mixed messages about what to eat.  Fast food, comfort/reward food, snack food, convenience food, fad diet plans with their very own packaged food, junk food with bogus health claims on the package, sugary sodas that will add sparkle to your life, artificial sweeteners to make you thin and happy, even that high fructose corn syrup is healthy because it comes from corn.

Up until recently, our own government provided us with a food pyramid that urged us to eat as many as 11 servings of bread and cereal every day.  It's no wonder we have a hard time knowing where to start when we become sick and tired of feeling sick and tired and want to improve overall health and shed some excess fat in the process.

I'm not a nutritionist or doctor, but I have done much reading and research on health and nutrition over the past few years and I have found what works best for my family in terms of getting and staying healthy while maximizing eating pleasure, which is precisely what the nutritious and delicious life is all about.  Exercise is amazing for our health for so many reasons but vibrant health and fat loss begins with a healthfully stocked kitchen and the willingness to change the way we eat.  Taking into account my 80% strategy, here is what I have learned and strive for...

Every meal, every day~ 
  1. Eat lots and lots of colorful vegetables and/or fruit, every meal, every day. Don't shy away from the green leafies, they are wonderful!  Try fresh vegetable juicing as a way to up your daily veggie intake.
  2. Get protein from appropriate portions of beans or quinoa, good quality veggie burgers, pastured eggs, lean/grass fed/pastured/wild caught meat, fish, fowl.  (What's a portion? 1/2 cup for beans, quinoa,  up to 4 ounces of meat, pork or chicken, up to 6 ounces for fish depending on the type.)
  3. Choose appropriate portions of slow release carbs from whole grains like oats, brown rice and wild rice, spelt, millet, wheatberries, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread/wraps. 
  4. Choose appropriate portions of healthy fats from avocados, olive oil, virgin coconut oil, flax seeds/oil, (raw) nuts.
  5. Drink lots of water and green tea.
  6. Always choose quality over quantity!
  7. Always read labels if choosing something with a package or wrapper. Know what you are putting into your body.
  8. Remember NO wrapper is best!
  1. Get calcium and protein from organic dairy such as plain yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese or appropriate portions of a variety of different delicious cheeses.
  2. I can't recommend real, raw milk highly enough.  It has made such a difference in my health and it's so delicious and satisfying.  But if you choose pasteurized milk, please choose organic dairies that do not use hormones or antibiotics.  
  3. Indulge in a small amount (about an ounce) of dried fruit like Medjool dates or good quality dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa for antioxidants and pure pleasure.
Indulge in occasionally~
  1. Homemade treats, you can control the ingredients that way.  Stick to appropriate portions.
  2. A glass of wine or cocktail.  Wine can have health benefits but not if you (I) drink the whole bottle.
  3. Good quality ice cream (try the goat or coconut milk versions,) sorbet or frozen yogurt, but measure your portion into a pretty bowl rather than spooning right from carton to mouth.
  4. A nice restaurant meal that uses seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.
  1. White rice, white bread/wraps/pita, white potatoes, traditional semolina pasta.  Choose sweet potatoes and low-glycemic or whole grain versions of rice, pasta and grain products.
  2. Canned tuna due to mercury dangers.  Choose pouch or canned wild salmon but look for no or low sodium varieties.
  3. Processed cold cut meat products, choose low sodium, sodium nitrite/nitrate free varieties.
  4. Butter.  I love butter and use it several times a week but I always limit the portion.  Try cultured butter, it's wonderful and more healthful than regular.  I always buy unsalted butter.
  5. Watch for added sugars (sucrose, dextrin, maltose, fructose, maltodextrin, evaporated cane juice, cane syrup.) 
  6. Choose foods with 4 or less grams of added sugar per serving.  While it still goes to sugar intake, try raw honey or molasses as your occasional sweeteners.
  7. Watch for added salt/sodium, 1500mg of sodium is the limit for some people, 2300mg for others.  Use fresh garlic, hot chilies, herbs and spices to maximize flavor at mealtime.
    Rarely or eliminate completely~
    1. High fructose (corn, maltose and other) syrups, processed sugars.
    2. Fast food, quick service food, roach coach food, cash register candy and anything from a vending machine unless it's an apple or a banana.
    3. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, saccharine,  Acesulfame K. Give stevia a try!
    4. Trans-fats, hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated fats, margarine.
    5. Processed packaged snack foods, fatty, sugary baked goods and breakfast pastries, salty or sugary snacks, processed, sugary breakfast cereal, non-dairy creamers.
    6. Any foods that say "diet" or "light" or "reduced".  Go for real foods, not the fake stuff that is marketed as healthy.
    7. Sugary and diet sodas, processed sugary and light juices and juice drinks (Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail has 3 grams more sugar per 8 ounces than Coca-Cola.)
    8. Ready to bake things that come in a tube.  They are loaded with fat, salt, sugar and processed white flour.  That ain't love despite what that little doughy bugger would have you believe.
    9. If a "food" product has slick marketing and clever packaging, think twice about buying it. Like those boxed dry meals.  That little Helping Hand really only wants to help you into bigger jeans and an early grave!
    10. Be wary of words like "enhanced," which means added sodium, "enriched" and "fortified" which means it has been so highly processed that all the nutrition has been stripped away and added back artificially.
    As for Jordan's original question, there is a countless number of diet, fitness and health books out there and more coming every day, but I have yet to find just one that has everything.  But there is a lot of good information out there.

    Suggested reading, books~ 
    Mark Bittman's Food Matters and any of his cookbooks.  I particularly love How To Cook Everything.
    Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
    The Full Plate Diet has a lot of great nutrition information about getting more fiber and veggies.  And I love that the book is available as a FREE download to anyone who wants to read it.   
    Lisa R. Young's The Portion Teller Plan is a wonderful resource to learn about healthy portion sizes.
    Suggested reading, magazines (be sure to check out their companion websites)~
    Eating Well
    Cooking Light
    Vegetarian Times
    Everyday Food
    Suggested Viewing (all are available streaming on Netflix)~ 
    Food, Inc. 
    King Corn
    The Future of Food
    Food Matters

    Suggested Web Reading~

    Eat Wild
    The World's Healthiest Foods
    Dr. Mercola
    The Natural News

    Please note, I made these changes to the way we cook and eat GRADUALLY.  It's not possible to change everything all at once and it's not about being perfect.  If you start making a change now, after a time you'll be living a vibrant, healthy life.  And always remember that food isn't about morality but about well being, your well being.  You are worth it!


    1. great post (as always), but I have to admit you lost me with "roach coach food." what on earth is that? I guess it's a good sign that I haven't heard of it...

    2. Great advice. Thats a pretty through outline of food and nutrition. Luckily I have been mostly following that for the past month or so.

      I didn't however know about dried prunes or chocolate as an antioxidant. Or about canned tuna.

      I will have to look into that. Thanks!

    3. Good list!

      I also recommend Marion Nestle "What to Eat"

      And "Eat,Drink and be Merry" Forget the author on that one.

    4. Angie, a "roach coach" is a mobile food truck that sells coffee, quick service food and snacks.

    5. What a helpful, comprehensive list. Thank you for this summary. Bookmarked!!!


    6. I love this post!! Love your blog too, but I'm sort of a lurker.. VERY inspirational :)

      I wanted to add Clean Eating Magazine to your list... have you ever had the chance to read it? I love it....


    7. Excellent insights! Thank you for sharing this!