Have you ever heard your doctor say, “Don’t eat anything white.”? What they really mean is don’t eat fried potatoes, sugary foods or white bread. Navy beans are an exceptional food providing a wide range of vitamins, minerals and fiber in a relatively low-calorie package. Cauliflower like all vegetables is nutrient rich and adds variety and interest. Potatoes are high in potassium, fiber, vitamin C and many other nutrients and contrary to popular belief are not high calorie unless you fry them or cover them with gravy. These foods are also some of the lowest cost items in the grocery store.
“The healthiest choices in the grocery store are foods on the perimeter. Avoid the center of the store.” This generalization is aimed at reducing intake of processed foods (canned and boxed dinners) and increasing intake of fresh foods like produce, meat and dairy. However, if you are watching your weight, meat and dairy are high calorie choices. True, the cookies, candy, chips and sodas are in the center of the store but, what about brown rice, pinto beans, whole grain cereals, blackeye peas, pasta and canned vegetables with no added salt. These are all good choices for a healthy lifestyle. The real places to beware in the grocery store are the impulse racks at the check-out counters. These items are usually less nutritious and are more expensive. Good choices in the grocery store can be found on almost any aisle.
“You are what you eat.” This is truer than we might want to believe. Everything we eat is digested into vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat and whatever else that was in the food we ate, i.e. bacteria, pesticide residues, antibiotics fed to animals, plastic residues, industrial chemicals. Nutrition is a fundamental part of our health. Small changes made over several years add up to major health savings. This expression also highlights the value of organics. The term has many definitions depending on the food type. For example, organic milk producers must not use antibiotics on cows that are being milked or use growth hormones to increase production. They must graze their herd on fields that have not been treated with pesticides. Organic fruits and vegetables must be grown without using commercial fertilizers or pesticides. This requires adopting different gardening techniques such as mulching to control weeds and pests. Improving soil health with organic mulches improves the plants’ natural defenses against pests and at the same time enhances the nutritional value of the produce. Several studies have shown that organically grown vegetables are higher in nutrients than non-organic.
“Everything that tastes good is bad for me.” The target of this idiom is sweets, excessive meat portions, fried foods and rich sauces. However, the idea that eating healthy means no flavor and uninteresting food is incorrect. A plate of pasta with marinara sauce and a side salad with garlic toast is a very flavorful and satisfying meal. Pinto beans, collard greens and cornbread with a glass of skim milk is balanced and delicious. A sandwich on wheat bread with lean meat and packed with veggies, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, onions and mustard with baked chips is a celebration of flavor and texture. All of these meals are less expensive than instant or pre-prepared choices. And notice the examples focus on plant foods.
Food choices can either promote good health or lead us into health problems. Making informed choices requires us to think beyond the one sentence phrases we sometimes hear. I advise clients to eat more plant foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, to limit meat and dairy to lean choices and to avoid high fat and sugary foods. Think of it as building one good choice upon another.
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with many years’ experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations is produced by St. Luke’s Health and the City of Lufkin. It currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable TV channels and online at www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.org.