Basic guidelines for how to eat healthy have not changed

Still Not Sure How to Eat Healthy?

BASIC GUIDELINES FOR HOW TO EAT HEALTHY HAVE NOT CHANGED

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

Consumer surveys done over the last ten years have found more and more people feel there is too much controversy over how to eat healthy, so they have stopped trying. Are you one of them? I can understand your frustration because I read all of the food and nutrition news that is released every day to stay abreast of the issues, and I find it overwhelming. Yet no matter what I read, it rarely affects what I eat. That’s because the basic requirements for a healthy and balanced diet have not changed significantly in over 30 years.

It was 1980 when the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released. My diet has pretty much conformed to them ever since. The recipes I use have changed, but not the food. The 7 Guidelines at that time were:

  1. Eat a variety of foods
  2. Maintain ideal weight
  3. Avoid too much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol
  4. Eat foods with adequate starch and fiber
  5. Avoid too much sugar
  6. Avoid too much sodium
  7. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation

Every five years since then the Dietary Guidelines have been updated, but they have not dramatically revised what Americans should eat, just how much. Unfortunately, those revisions have fueled endless debates over the details which have kept most Americans from getting started on the basics.

If you’re confused about how to eat healthy, maybe it’s time to get back to basics.

Basic Requirement of a Healthy Diet

The most important guideline in the bunch is the first one: Eat a variety of foods. It seems so simple, yet few people actually do it. Variety in the diet means you eat foods from each of the food groups every day:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grains
  • Protein Foods
  • Dairy
  • Oils

Variety also means you make different choices within each food group from day to day and week to week throughout the year. That is always possible when you realize you can choose fresh produce some days and frozen or canned on others. Or you can include eggs, fish, beans, nuts, beef, chicken or pork in your meal for a good source of protein. Eating a variety of grains means you add barley to a pot of soup instead of rice sometimes, take the tabbouleh from the salad bar instead of pasta salad, or use a whole wheat bun on your burger instead of a white one.

How to Handle the Headlines

No matter what crazy claim is being made in the headlines, you have little to worry about if you are eating a wide variety of all the basic foods you need in the right amounts. That alone will provide you with a built-in safety valve against over consumption of any food that could be harmful if eaten in excess. It also delivers a huge dose of natural protection from whatever risks might lurk in the environment.

So before you lose any sleep over whether organically grown fruits and vegetables are better than conventionally grown, be sure you’re eating the recommended 5-11 servings each day.

Also check out these other posts on the topic:

  • Getting Motivated to Eat Right
  • Do You Worry About Pesticides in Produce?
  • 9 Good For You Foods That Get a Bad Rap
superfoods can’t prevent cancer, healthy eating habits are essential

Focus on Healthy Eating Habits, Not Superfoods

This post was written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original post here.

If you follow nutrition news as closely as I do, you might be convinced that eating certain foods can cure cancer. Not only that, the top superfoods promise they can do everything from prevent acne to reverse aging.

If your hearing isn’t impaired, this should sound too good to be true.

When I hear these claims I’m reminded of Ponce de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth. While it did help him discover Florida, no one living there is getting any younger.

Similarly, there are no miracle foods that can save us from the other bad choices we make or our genetic predisposition. If we want food to save us, we need to establish healthy eating habits.

Pursuit of the Perfect Diet

Eating the top superfoods cannot spare us from the leading causes of death in the U.S. – heart disease, stroke and cancer. That’s because when it comes to good nutrition, it’s not individual foods that matter, it’s the total diet.

In its Position Paper on the Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) states it is the overall eating pattern that matters most, with attention to not only what foods are eaten, but how much and how often. A well-balanced diet must also be complemented by adequate physical activity to achieve a healthy weight.

The Position Paper further points out that classification of specific foods as “good” or “bad” (read as super or lousy) can have unintended consequences. Such simplistic categorizations may lead people to limit the scope of their food choices, rather than striving to eat a wide variety of foods, which can offer the best nutritional profile.

Making Moderation Your Mantra

Giving up the belief that a perfect diet is built upon eating only the top superfoods is not, however, the most difficult notion for most people to grasp in their pursuit of healthy eating habits. The real challenge is accepting the principle that all foods and beverages can be included in a healthy diet.

Moderation is a basic tenant of the “Total Diet” concept and one that will withstand the test of time.

There is much we do not know about food composition and how to best meet our unique nutritional needs throughout our lifetime. The future of nutrition science lies in identifying our individual nutrigenomic profiles. But until we have that information, we must rely on what we know. The evolutionary history of our species shows us that human beings have an uncanny ability to adapt to a constantly changing food supply. Limiting ourselves to only a few superfoods is incompatible with our evolutionary success.

Get help starting with your healthy eating habits here:

  • The Yin Yang Symbol Offers Path to a Balanced Diet
  • If Diet Means Don’t Eat, Don’t Diet!
  • Finding the Best Diet for You
  • Why is the American Diet So Bad?
  • Debunking Another Fad: Paleo Diets
Breakfast can be made up of any foods that are part of a healthy diet

Breakfast Myth: Breakfast Foods Are Too Fattening

This blog was written as a guest post for the Bell Institute for Health and Nutrition. You can read the original post here.

It’s easy to understand how some people might believe that certain foods are more “fattening” than others. Classifying foods based on whether they can make you gain weight or not is a far simpler notion to grasp than the concept of energy balance (where calories in should equal calories out)!

So whenever the topic of “fattening foods” comes up, I try to clarify the issue with this brief lesson in anatomy: The stomach does not have eyes.

That’s my way of explaining that the body has no idea what we have eaten. It does not know (or judge!) whether we have had a chocolate éclair for breakfast or a chewy granola bar. It just sorts out the nutrients and calories that were in the food and either uses them, stores them or eliminates them, as needed.

I then explain that since the body continually “sorts” what we are eating all day long, no one food can really be more “fattening” than any other. It’s the sum of all the calories we have consumed by the end of the day that determine whether or not we have exceeded our energy needs, which could make us gain weight over time.

Once that concept sinks in, it’s possible to illustrate how all foods can actually be included in a well-balanced diet complemented by regular physical activity. It also provides an ideal time to introduce the topic of nutrient density – another difficult one to grasp.

My approach is to stress the fact that all of the calories in the foods we eat are exactly the same, but the nutrients are not. And since we need more than 50 distinct nutrients to maintain health and prevent disease, we must choose our foods so they deliver the best nutritional package for the calories they provide.

From there it’s a smooth transition to a discussion of food groups to understand how different types of foods fit together to make an overall healthy eating plan, such as in MyPlate. Any lingering thoughts about “fattening” breakfast foods are then easily replaced by the more important question, ”What are the best breakfast choices for me?”

Consider these important facts about ready-to-eat cereal with fat free milk and fruit when you answer. One serving provides:

  • Less than 200 calories per serving on average
  • Key nutrients many of which are lacking in American diets – calcium, potassium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, folate and fiber
  • Many whole grain options that help meet the goal of making half our grain choices whole grain
  • More nutrients with the fewest calories compared to most other popular breakfast choices
Tips to get the whole family to eat enough fruit this summer

10 Fun Ways to Eat Enough Fruit This Summer

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the blog here.

USE THESE TIPS TO GET THE WHOLE FAMILY TO EAT ENOUGH FRUIT FROM THE SUMMER BOUNTY

I love fruit and eat plenty of it, but most people do not eat enough fruit to get the minimum 2 servings a day recommended in the Dietary Guidelines. That’s too bad because fruit is an important part of a balanced diet, right along with its side-kick, vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables are routinely grouped together in government issued food plans, pyramids and plates, yet some people think vegetables have higher status. Maybe it’s because they have a permanent place on dinner menus, while fruit is relegated to snacks and dessert? Whatever the reason, fruit deserves to be counted on its own merits.

Fruit contains essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber that are not available in plentiful amounts in other foods. The nutrients in fruit help protect us against cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer disease, cataracts, and many other chronic diseases.

Taste is high on the list of reasons why people don’t eat all of the vegetables they should, but that’s no excuse for not eating enough fruit. It can be sweet or sour, juicy or dry, soft or firm, chewy or crisp – something to please any palate. And you can eat it fresh, frozen, cooked, juiced or dried.

One of the easiest ways to make sure teens and adults eat enough fruit is to get them started young. Summer is the perfect time to introduce your little ones to the abundant variety of fruit that is in season and ready for sampling. You can include fun lessons on colors, shapes, and sizes, too, as you shop for an assortment of berries, melons and more.

10 Fun Ways to Eat Enough Fruit This Summer

  1. Melon Bowl Soup Most children don’t like their soup too hot, so make a cold fruit soup and ladle it into carved out half-cantaloupe as a bowl.
  2. Rainbow Pizza Spread cream cheese on toasted English muffins or whole wheat pita bread and top with colorful sliced plums, apricots, and kiwi.
  3. Honey-Grilled Fruit Place pitted and halved peaches and nectarines and sliced pineapple on the barbecue grill for a sizzling fruit platter you can top with a drizzle of honey.
  4. Tropical Dip Cut chunks of banana, mango, and papaya for dipping into lemon yogurt then sprinkling with toasted coconut or crushed cereal.
  5. Green Slushies Puree kiwi, green grapes and honeydew melon together, freeze in ice cube trays, then process again in blender until a slushy consistency.
  6. Fruit Dunkers Easier than fondue, just dunk fruit chunks into caramel or chocolate sauce thinned with hot water or use maple syrup, honey, or whipped topping.
  7. Asian Fruit Salad Combine mandarin orange segments, boysenberries, and cubed Asian pears, top with Chinese noodles, and let everyone eat it with chop sticks.
  8. Crazy Quesadillas Spread shredded mozzarella cheese over a one half of a flour tortilla, top with sliced strawberries, then fold other half over and heat until the cheese has melted.
  9. Parfait Cones Layer yogurt and berries in an ice cream cone for a portable snack filled with summer’s best.
  10. Melon Stick Cube watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and/or Crenshaw and thread onto popsicle sticks.

What’s your favorite fruit of the season?

For more ways to increase the fruit in your diet check these blogs:

  • 11 Ways to Get Kids to Eat More Vegetables
  • Getting More Fruit in Your Diet is Easy with Dried Fruit