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
A quick healthy meal made with pasta is penne with vegetables and fresh herbs

Quick Healthy Meals Begin with Pasta

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

THE BENEFITS OF PASTA INCLUDE THE QUICK HEALTHY MEALS YOU CAN MAKE BY ADDING VEGETABLES, LEAN PROTEIN AND FRESH HERBS

Remember the days when we were told fat was killing us, but we could eat all the carbohydrates we wanted? Of course, that backfired. You can never eat all you want of anything and remain healthy. But back then, pasta was considered a superfood as long as you didn’t put any olive oil on it.

Then the tides turned on food high in carbohydrate, and protein became top dog, along with whatever fat clung to it. Soon people who hadn’t sunk their teeth into a piece of prime rib in ages were hitting the carving station again.

We have now entered the era of the good fats. The marbled meats are gone, and the healthy fats found in the foods of the Mediterranean, like olive oil, almonds and sesame seeds, are in.

Since the Mediterranean Diet has been linked to better health, you might be wondering where pasta fits into the plan?

I’m here to deliver good news. There are many nutritional and culinary benefits of pasta, and we were wrong to abandon the quick healthy meals we can make with it.

The problem was never the pasta; it was how much we were eating. Let’s try to get it right this time around. With all the new shapes, sizes and types of pasta on the market, there are more ways than ever to enjoy it.

Pasta Does Not Make You Fat!

Neither pasta in particular, nor carbohydrates in general, can make us gain weight any faster or easier than any other food containing calories. All of the excess calories we consume contribute to weight gain if we don’t burn them off, no matter what the source.

If you love pasta, the key to keeping it in your diet without exceeding your daily caloric allowance is to portion it properly. Two ounces of dry pasta is considered one serving, and it has about 200 calories. There’s no law against cooking a 12 ounce box and eating half of it yourself at one meal, but you must be able to use those 600 calories, and any that were clinging to it, or they will be stored as fat.

If you have a hard time estimating what 2 ounces of penne, fettuccine, or any other pasta looks like after it has been cooked, Barilla Pasta has a great chart that tells you how to measure it both before and after cooking.

Health Benefits of Pasta

  • Source of enriched and whole grains – Dietary Guidelines recommend eating at least 6 servings of grains a day, with half of them whole grains and half enriched
  • Low in fat and sodium – You don’t have to salt the water to cook pasta; let your sauce provide the flavor.
  • No cholesterol or saturated fat – If you use only plant-sourced toppings, like vegetables and beans, your dish will remain cholesterol free.
  • Enriched with thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, folic acid, and iron – Including enriched grains in the diet is an important way to meet requirements for essential nutrients.
  • A low Glycemic Index food – This means pasta makes us feel satisfied longer than other food high in carbohydrate and it doesn’t cause blood sugar to surge.
  • Available in nutritionally enhanced varieties – The list includes whole grain, vegetable, high fiber, high protein, ALA omega-3 fatty acids, and gluten free.

Culinary Benefits of Pasta

  • Partners well with every other food group – It’s the foundation for endless quick healthy meals when prepared with vegetables, fruits, lean meats, beans, nuts, or cheese.
  • Quick and easy to cook – Depending on size, it only takes 6-12 minutes to cook pasta to “al dente”, so follow the directions on the box.
  • Variety of shapes and sizes – The names on the boxes mean different things in Italian, but the shapes are basically long or short, ridged or smooth, thin or thick, hollow or solid, flat or filled.
  • Versatile serving options – One of the few foods you can enjoy hot or cold and reheated.
  • Inexpensive and widely available – Pasta provides a valuable way to stretch food dollars without compromising on value at meals.
  • Tastes great – A favorite of children, teens and adults alike, so everyone in the family can enjoy more meals together.
People fill their grocery shopping carts with foods they like.

Obesity and What We Buy at the Supermarket

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

MANY FACTORS INFLUENCE WHERE WE BUY GROCERIES AND WHAT WE PUT IN OUR SHOPPING CARTS

Do you like to check-out what other people have in their carts when doing your grocery shopping? I admit it, I do, but then I’m a nutrition expert. For me, watching what people buy at the supermarket is like looking through a microscope for a biologist.

One of the most interesting observations I repeatedly make is that having a higher income and access to better quality food does not necessarily mean you buy better groceries.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has noticed this.

Some fascinating new research has taken a look at what people eat when they live in so-called “food deserts” – typically poor urban areas with few grocery stores – and those who live in the burbs with endless choices. As it turns out, no one is filling their cart with the right stuff.

Quality of the American Diet

A study published in the February 2013 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics described how well the diets of Americans from different groups across the country stacked up when compared to the recommendations in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. The authors concluded that regardless of socioeconomic status, the diets of everyone 2 years and older were far less than optimal.

Of interest, children in the lowest income group had higher dietary scores than those in the higher income groups due to their participation in national School breakfast and Lunch Programs and Summer Food Service program. Also of note, suburban families ate more fast food meals because they were often in the car during the dinner hour traveling between various after school activities.

Availability of Better Quality Food

Another study compared the diets of more than 8,000 school children and how much they weighed to the number of food outlets in the different residential neighborhoods where they lived. The goal was to see if there was a connection between available food sources and obesity in children.

The researchers found poor neighborhoods had nearly twice as many fast food restaurants and convenience stores and more than three times as many corner stores compared to wealthier ones, but they also had twice as many supermarkets per square mile. When they analyzed all of the data the researchers concluded that exposure to the all of these food outlets does not independently explain weight gain in school age children.

A similar study conducted with more than 13,000 children and teenagers in California found no relationship between what type of food students ate, what they weighed, and the type of food available within a mile and a half of their homes. The researchers concluded living close to a supermarket did not make students thin and living close to a fast food outlet did not make them fat.

What’s On Your Shopping List?

These studies are important because there are still people who believe the only thing keeping overweight and obese Americans from losing weight is the availability of more fresh fruits and vegetables where they buy groceries. I never believed it based on what I saw other people putting in their shopping carts. Maybe the solution is a better shopping list?

Find other ways to shop smart when you buy groceries here:

  • Imagine Shopping Without Nutrition Facts on Labels
  • Want to Save Time and Money in the Supermarket?
  • Can Too many Food Choices lead to Obesity?
  • Eating Healthy on a Budget
Nutritious snacks like cheese and vegetables help kids eat less and feel more satisfied

Good-For-You Foods Make Best Snacks for Children

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

STUDY FINDS KIDS EAT LESS WHEN NUTRITIOUS SNACKS ARE SERVED

I’ve never met a parent or grandparent who didn’t want their little ones to eat more good for you foods. That wish stems from a lesson we all learn from our personal battles with food. Simply put, it’s a whole lot easier to start out life with good eating habits than to try to establish them later.

Amen to that.

Now we can turn to snacks as a way to help our children eat better and prevent obesity says a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics. The researchers set out to discover whether different types of snacks for children would make them feel full, yet consume fewer calories. And the winner was cheese with cut-up vegetables!

Some Background on Snacking

Thirty years ago American children ate about one snack a day. Now they eat three. Along with those extra snacks they have put on some extra weight. Nearly one-third of our children are overweight or obese.

Since snacking is part of the culture our children are growing up in, trying to restrict or forbid it is fruitless (pun intended). But changing what kind of snacks we offer them is not. The goal is to select snacks that help meet nutrient requirements without exceeding caloric requirements.

Highlights from the Snack Study

201 children in grades third through sixth were in the study. The participants and their parents were told the children would be asked to watch some cartoons and answer questions about the characters at the end and be given snacks to enjoy while watching. Measurements of body mass index and information about food allergies were obtained.

The children were assigned to one of four “snack food groups” and screened in 24 separate experimental sessions with 5-11 children in each. During the sessions the children were given a bottle of water and identical plates of food. They were told they could eat as much as they wanted of the food provided, and asked how hungry they were in the beginning, middle and end of the 45 minute period.

The snack food options included a plate with either:

  • A tube of plain potato chips and a medium bag of crunchy cheese flavored snacks
  • 6 Laughing Cow cheese wedges and 6 Mini Babybel cheese rounds
  • 2 cups each of raw bite-sized broccoli, baby carrots and bell pepper strips
  • A combination of 6 cheese wedges and 6 cheese rounds and 1 cup of each vegetable

The food on each plate was weighed at the outset and any uneaten food was weighed at the end to determine exactly how much each child ate. No child finished it all. Parents completed a questionnaire designed to measure family mealtime habits and levels of engagement.

Surprising Results About Snacking and Kids

Children who consumed the cheese and vegetable snack ate 72% fewer calories than those eating chips and needed significantly fewer calories to achieve satiety compared to them.

The children eating the combo snack consumed roughly the same number of calories from vegetables as the children who only got vegetables, so they did not replace the vegetables with cheese.

Overweight and obese children and those from low-involvement families had a bigger reduction in calories compared to normal weight children and those from high-involvement families.

Key Conclusions About Snacks to Make for Kids

Offering cheese and vegetables as a snack leads to eating fewer calories than when salty, high-fat chips are served and provide good sources of fiber, calcium and protein.

Eating cheese and vegetables as a snack may encourage healthier eating habits in children, especially in those who are overweight.

A higher level of engagement between children and adults at mealtime is correlated with healthy weight in children.

Don’t you wish someone had given you some mini cheese and baby carrots when you came home from school?

Studies show a bowl of cereal is an easy healthy breakfast

Is a Bowl of Cereal a Nutritious Breakfast?

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

STUDIES SHOW A BOWL OF CEREAL IS AN EASY HEALTHY BREAKFAST

I’m one of those people who can hardly get down the stairs in the morning – let alone out the door – without eating breakfast. I wake up hungry, so head straight for the kitchen. Lucky for me since more and more research shows the benefits of eating a nutritious breakfast.

But what about the one-third of Americans who do not start their day that way?

The excuses I hear run the gamut from “I don’t have time” to “It’s too fattening.” My response to all of them is, “Eat a bowl of cereal.”

Ready-to-eat cereal is an easy healthy breakfast that’s lower in calories than most other foods people eat in the morning. If you choose a cereal made from whole grains and pair it with skim milk and fruit, it delivers three important food groups to start the day. With them come key nutrients most often lacking in our diets: fiber, calcium, Vitamin D and potassium.

Here’s what else research has to say about the most important meal of the day.

Benefits of a Bowl of Cereal

Better Weight Control

Children who regularly eat cereal for breakfast (at least 7 out of 14 days) have lower body mass index (BMI) than children who only have cereal 4-7 times or fewer than 4 times every two weeks, reports the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. The same holds true for adults. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found lower BMIs in women who had ready-to-eat cereal rather than higher-fat breakfast foods, and a Harvard study of more than 17,000 men found those who routinely ate breakfast cereal consistently weighed less than those who rarely ate breakfast.

Better Quality Diets

People who rush out the door without eating in the morning have diets that are lower in essential vitamins, minerals and fiber than those who do make time for nutritious breakfast. Even if something is grabbed on the run, the types of foods selected do not make up for the nutrients provided by a breakfast of fortified cereal with milk. In fact, a review of the research on breakfast and health found the diets of people who people who eat whole grain cereal with milk and fruit or fruit juice come closest to meeting the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Better Cognitive Function

Eating breakfast doesn’t just help children perform better in school; it can help adults with recall and memory, too. Many people think they need a jolt of caffeine to clear the cobwebs from their head’s in the morning, but a healthy breakfast is more important.

After an overnight fast of 8-12 hours with no food, your blood sugar level is at its lowest. The only fuel our brains can use is glucose, and the best way to get it is from complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains. They are digested more slowly so deliver a steady supply of glucose that keeps our brains fueled longer. And who doesn’t need more help staying focused these days?

These are just a few of the many benefits to eating breakfast, and the options to make it quick and easy are endless. Whether you eat your cereal dry with a smoothie on the side, stir it into some yogurt, or buy a cereal bar to nibble on with a latte, eating breakfast is the best way to start your day.

Follow these guidelines to enjoy grilled meats safely

Is It OK to Eat Grilled Meats?

This post was written as a guest blog for Family Goes Strong. You can read the original post here.

FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES TO ENJOY GRILLED MEATS SAFELY

Now that another barbecue season is about to begin, are you worried about the dangers of eating grilled meats? Should you panic if you mindlessly eat that severely burned hot dog the kids wouldn’t touch? Is the risk of ordering a well-done burger worse than making yours extra rare?

Like most health alerts, the issues surrounding meat cooked on the grill are a long story that has been reduced to sensationalized headlines. There is no reason to abandon this summertime ritual, but there are some things you need to know to make your cookouts healthier for everyone.

What Happens When You Grill Meat?

Protein-rich foods, like meat muscle, contain amino acids, creatine and some sugars that can react under certain conditions. Depending on the type of meat (it could be beef, pork, poultry or fish) and the cooking time (longer is more problematic), temperature (usually over 300 degrees F) and method being used (grill or stove-top frying pan), a chemical reaction can occur that causes the formation of compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

Other compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are found in the flames that flare up when fats and juices from meats being cooked over an open grill drip into the fire. These PAHs can adhere to the surface of the foods being cooked above the flames. They are also formed during food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats, and are found in cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes.

What Does the Research Say About Eating Grilled Meats?

Now here comes the troubling part. Research found laboratory animals exposed to large amounts of HCAs and PAHs developed cancer. In the studies rodent diets were supplemented with very high levels to HCAs and PAHs – thousands of times greater than a person would consume in a normal diet. Also worth noting is the lab animals were not actually fed grilled meats because it is too difficult to measure the exact amount of these compounds in them. The rat chow was fortified with the stuff.

No population studies – the kind that look at a group of individuals who share common traits – have established a definitive link between exposure to HCAs and PAHs from cooked meats and cancer in humans. However, epidemiological studies have found an association. These studies gather information from large groups of people who have nothing in common and look for common traits. What they found was the people who reported eating the most well-done, fried or barbecued meats had the greatest risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. That is not evidence of causation. Many other factors could have increased their risk, including environmental exposure to PAHs from air pollution.

What Are the Guidelines for Eating Grilled Meats?

The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research issued a report in 2007 that recommended limiting the consumption of red and processed meats, including smoked meats, but made no recommendations about the HCA and PAH levels in meat. There are currently no federal guidelines on the consumption of grilled meats or HCAs and PAHs.

Advice for Grilling Meats

  • Raise the grill rack away from the heat source
  • Wait until flames die down so they won’t burn meat surfaces
  • Place aluminum foil on the grill to reduce exposure to flames
  • Cut meat into smaller pieces and skewer so it cooks faster
  • Select thinner steaks and chops that will cook faster
  • Buy leaner cuts of meat so there is less fat to cause flare ups
  • Precook meats to reduce the cooking time on the grill
  • Marinate to help lower HCA production
  • Turn meat frequently so surfaces don’t char
  • Scrape off charred areas
Motivation comes from within, the reasons are your own.

Getting Motivated to Eat Right

Why motivation is a critical step to eating right

Somewhere along the way, after counseling thousands of clients about food and nutrition, creating hundreds of handouts, writing books and articles, teaching classes, delivering presentations and providing media interviews, I realized that all of the valuable nutrition information I was disseminating did not automatically motivate those on the receiving end to eat better. The only real measure of success for all of my efforts has been the improved knowledge about food and nutrition people have gained from me. But seeing that knowledge put into practice is another matter entirely.

Finding the motivation to act on one’s knowledge of how to lead a healthier lifestyle is a private matter. It cannot be taught, but must be discovered within. And it must be a deeply powerful motivator because we must draw upon it every day, several times a day, to reap the benefits. Making good food choices just three out of seven days a week doesn’t cut it. Nor does exercising like a fiend after every binge.

My motivators for eating right and exercising regularly have been clear to me for most of my life. I had the motivation long before I had all of the knowledge acquired as a registered dietitian about the do’s and don’ts of living well. Those forces have never weakened their hold over me. With each new day and every new situation I have faced, the decision to make wise food choices and remain active have always won out over all other temptations and distractions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that my life is a bore – far from it. I just don’t lose sight of the prize.

Here’s what has motivated me to maintain a healthy body weight for over 50 years and better than average stamina, strength and flexibility for a woman my age:

Low pain threshold. I don’t like to hiccup, let along cough. Knowing certain behaviors can increase my risk for pain and discomfort is like an inoculation against living carelessly.

Belief in prevention. Most treatments involve some risk and lots of side effects, not to mention pain, so preventing injury and illness has always made more sense to me. By living clean I pay it forward.

Fear of hospitals. Maybe it was that first time I visited a hospital as a little girl and smelled that smell when I exited the elevator on the ward where my grandmother was a patient, but I can still recall wanting to run away as fast as I could. I have never gotten over my aversion to hospitals and do all that I can to avoid them.

If you haven’t found your personal motivation to eat smart and stay fit, this is where your journey should begin. If you have found it, I’d love to hear what works for you?

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