Most of us have tried or know someone who has tried a fad diet to lose weight. And we all know how this goes. We start the diet, lose 20 pounds, stop the diet and gain it all back plus a little more. “Been there done that!” So if this strategy doesn’t work, let’s toss it and try something else. I would like to suggest a common sense nutrition plan, based on sound principles that will improve our health and help us achieve a desirable weight. The strategy is known as Clean Eating. This means choosing more of the foods we know are good for us like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil and less of the foods we know are harmful such as salt, sugar, fried foods and sweets. The point of this plan is not to take all the fun out of eating. The fact is that over time your healthy choices will retrain your taste buds to appreciate real food. This plan can improve your health one bite at a time.
Clean eating means to eat more fresh foods that are in their natural state: unsalted nuts, whole fruits, fresh vegetables, dry beans, free range and grass fed meats. When we read on the nutrition label ingredients that we don’t recognize – high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrins, guar gum – we are choosing a food that is several steps away from its fresh state. This is not to say that everything that is “natural” is good. Arsenic is a perfectly natural chemical. But our common sense tells us that an apple is a better choice than a pop tart. A salad of fresh greens is better than a side of fries. And many of these choices come with better flavor.
We can’t bash food processing too much because there are many processed foods that are good choices: olive oil is processed from olives; milk is pasteurized; raisins are dried; but many foods come in a box with added stuff and key nutrients removed from the original food. For example, instant oat meal in individual packets have sugar, salt, artificial color, dried berry pieces and some oat dust. Look at the ingredients of the traditional rolled oats that we all grew up with: one ingredient, rolled oats. It’s common sense which one is the better choice. The healthiest foods are the ones that contain the fewest ingredients. If you can’t pronounce the ingredient, perhaps you shouldn’t eat it.
Some ingredients are worth mentioning because of their impact on our health. Remember shortening? The new name is trans-fat and it clogs our arteries worse than bacon fat. Check the ingredients for the term “partially hydrogenated.” You will find it in cookies, crackers, microwave popcorn and more. Artificial sweeteners can keep us from retraining our palates by over stimulating our sweet taste receptors. This can cause us to crave sweets and make fresh fruits seem less palatable. There are a number of concentrated sweets that the food industry uses such as high fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, dextrose. You will find these sugars in many foods including coffee creamers, pastries and mayonnaise. These concentrated sweets cause blood sugar and insulin spikes and drops that stimulate more sweet cravings.
Tuna and salmon are good choices to support healthy nerves and brain function, reduce inflammation and reduce heart disease risk. Look for Kiefer a fermented dairy food and yogurt in the dairy case. These probiotics contain beneficial live cultures that improve our immune function. Choose chicken, lean cuts of beef and pork and manage serving sizes to one quarter of the plate. Meat is part of a balanced meal but remember that calories are concentrated in this food group. Whole grains provide us with blood pressure lowering magnesium, fiber and a host of other vitamins and minerals that we don’t get elsewhere. Add to your shopping cart oats, bran cereal with 5 or more grams of fiber/serving, quinoa, wheat germ and hearty coarse breads. Dry beans are one of the most underrated power foods. They are nutrient dense, high in fiber and one of the least expensive foods in the market. Fresh garlic, onions, peppers, fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil bring full flavors to dishes that help us get over our desire for salt.
This common sense nutrition plan to eat more of the stuff we know is healthy and less of the stuff we know hurts us also suggests eating more often: three light meals with snacks each day. This helps us to manage appetite and make more rational (and less emotional) food choices. Add to this daily walking and you will be well on your way to gradual weight loss and healthy living.
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with St. Luke’s Health. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service, The Polk Education Center and the City of Lufkin, Tim Scallon hosts the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations. The popular cooking show celebrates the joy of fresh food and healthy eating and can be seen on cable in 62 cities and online at http://www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.org. On the website find healthy recipes, past cooking shows and sound nutrition information.