On the Path to Better Nutrition
What did you have to eat today?
Here was my day:
Breakfast: Cup of black tea, laced with agave nectar and a spritz of lemon juice; Kashi Go Lean high fiber cereal mixed with a little Food For Life sprouted grain cereal, with milk.
Lunch: On the run and way too busy to cook at home, I needed something very filling and I needed it quickly. I went to Chipotle for a chicken burrito, (and please tell me how I could feel badly about my choice when their company slogan is “Food With Integrity?”)
Afternoon Snack: One small apple, a bit of string cheese.
Dinner: Homemade stuffed yellow pepper, and a small serving of fresh kale, from my garden.
Nutritionally, this was one of my better days. But I have to admit that the chicken burrito was wrapped in a big flour tortilla made of white flour (no…. just no), and mixed inside with the naturally raised, hormone-free chicken was quite a bit of polished white rice, universally regarded as lacking in fiber and nutrients. There was a 40% chance that the burrito’s black beans were organically grown, as per the company’s web site. But never mind that. I compensated at dinner, because I DID prepare my stuffed pepper with brown rice. That entered a “credit” on my internal balance sheet, and canceled any food sins, or so I told myself.
Today, at least, I hit the USDA recommended goal of five fruit or vegetable servings. Tomato in the pico de gallo, onions in the dinner entree, yellow pepper, kale, and an apple. I still wonder, though, whether a yellow pepper with a bland, so-so taste, grown out of season in a hothouse, really contains anything good my body can use.
Nutrition is Confusing
We’re all baffled, at times, by the nutritional information we’ve seen on food labels, on restaurant menus, and in diet books. Many of us wish we could abdicate this interpretive responsibility to a personal chef. But for most of us, if we’re determined to eat healthily, we’ll spend a lot of time shopping, planning, and cooking in a way that serves our nutrition.
Good nutrition is not a hit-or-miss thing. It takes study, experimentation, and commitment. As our local fitness expert Larry North states empathically, “I know a couple of things about people who are consistently following a good eating plan: they know what they are going to eat for each meal tomorrow, and they’ve prepared plenty of food in advance.”
Now, if you’re ready to improve the way you eat, please don’t think that you need to do it all at once. You probably don’t need to push yourself to get to Larry North’s level. In fact, Andrew Weil, M.D. developed a program quite some years ago, where you incorporate new eating habits over an 8-week period. Sometimes a drastic change really IS necessary, and I’ve done it myself, but I don’t necessarily recommend it unless you’re at a point in life with few outside commitments. There is nothing wrong with taking a few baby steps, and I daresay, success in a few things just might motivate you to try bigger, more ambitious things.
So let’s take a look at some areas in which you might hope to improve.
How To Beat Sugar Addiction
What is Your Personal Downfall?
These are food choices that trip you up every time. What are yours? Do you grab a giant muffin at the train station on the way to the office because you were too busy to eat much breakfast? What about your afternoon bag of Cheetos with a can of Coke?
I once had a colleague who was addicted to her afternoon break snack of cheese popcorn. She told me, “I eat too much of this every afternoon, but there must be something in it that my body needs.” (Yes, the same way you need a hole in your head)
My biggest problem is crackers. I like nothing better than saltines, Ritz crackers, or the like, spread with a flavored cream cheese or other tasty dip. If I’m hungry, and it’s going to be a while before dinner is ready, it’s all too easy to grab my box of crackers and gorge. But that’s a habit I’ve modified a little. Instead of purchasing nutritionally deficient crackers made with white flour, I instead buy rice crackers made with ground nut meal and seeds. Examples are Nut Thins (made by the Blue Diamond walnut people) and Crunchmasters crackers made with things like quinoa, amaranth, and rice.
I think I still over-indulge with crackers, but at least I’m getting some great omega-3 fatty acids from the nuts and seeds.
Some of us cannot resist a
tray of homemade cookies. For addicts like you and me, we can see if there is a
way to make a healthier recipe of peanut butter cookies. Akirchner recently wrote a hub with some enticing, healthy cookie recipes.
Refined carbohydrates are a battleground for many of us. I wish I could tell you that you won’t miss the white flour once you eliminate most of it. But I can’t. Refined flour makes the most delectable of baked goods. I’m sorry, but spelt bread, which I’ve eaten often, just doesn’t have the same quality as a wonderful French bread. But it will help to incorporate into your diet goods baked with whole grain flours as much as possible. You’ll get more of the bran, vitamins, and minerals that real bread should contain.
Identify your own snack weakness. Find a healthier version if it’s out there.
Eliminate Some of the Beef
If you’re not a vegetarian, try to eat more fish, chicken and turkey, and far less pork and red meat. Most commercially produced beef is pretty fatty, not to mention pricey, and why would you want to eat it anyway, since the quality is often quite mediocre? It is so much easier to lose weight and keep it off by eating skinless chicken and baked or broiled fish, and you’re not getting much saturated fat with those animal sources.
If you must eat some beef, try to locate grass-fed beef. Cattle who feed out on the range are healthier, happier and leaner. Producers of grass-fed beef are conscientious and environmentally aware. And, best of all, you can be sure that cattle who subsist on grass are not getting hormones and antibiotics like their feed-lot counterparts This type of beef has a very nice flavor, although it is not juicy or plump. Get used to a somewhat drier hamburger. It’s for your health.
Work on Variety
Don’t get stuck in a rut. If you always prepare the same dishes at home, it won’t be long until you’ll get sick of the process and lack of adventure, and you’ll tell yourself that it’s OK to go grab something at Burger King.
Read web articles and books about food and nutrition. Learn about foreign cuisines, and if you live in a sizable city, explore ethnic markets. You’ll gain new information about how different cultures combine foods for the best nutrition.
Human beings do need variety. Michael Pollan says, in his book In Defense of Food, that half of all the broccoli grown in the U.S. is the Marathon variety. I’m a huge broccoli fanatic, myself. I consume a lot of it. But with so little variety, and maybe too few producers, broccoli isn’t the vegetable it could be. It’s grown in a certain way (usually not organically) for the sake of consistency, to produce huge yields, and to appeal to the American market. I don’t think anyone needs to make broccoli his/her main green vegetable for these very reasons. This leads me to my next point.
Purchasing from farmers’ markets is a great way to support a local industry and obtain better vegetables. Many farmers’ markets offer vegetables from growers who farm no more than 100 miles from your city. You can be sure everything was grown in season and picked closer to its optimum ripeness, and therefore, its optimum nutritive value. And you have the advantage of striking up a conversation with the farmer right there at the stand. There is no middle-man standing between you and the grower, and you can judge for yourself the dedication and integrity of the one who has sown and harvested. If you can afford to buy organic, do so, because you’re helping to support sustainable methods.
Or Learn to Grow Your Own
If you have the time and dedication, I’d recommend learning to grow two or three vegetables well. There is nothing like harvesting your own fresh vegetables, and knowing (if you grew them organically) that they do not contain harmful chemicals.
Let’s face it. Vegetables at the supermarket are expensive. Did you know that a grocery store derives most of its profits from the produce section? In our currently dismal economic climate, many families can barely afford to keep a roof over their heads, much less afford nutritious food at the grocery store. It’s sad, but Hamburger Helper and ramen noodles are among the most nutritionally barren items in the store, but they’re cheap, and for some, an economic necessity.
Remember, we’re discussing baby steps. If you can start small with gardening, that’s all you need. At any rate, it may take you two years or so to learn what varieties work in your climate, and the best way to plant them.
Tomatoes are pretty tough to grow, but they’re certainly a popular vegetable. Growing this vegetable takes a lot of trial and error, but usually the expense is minimal. If you feel up to the challenge, go for it.
For beginners (like me, for instance) who like leafy vegetables, I recommend an easier way that produces instant gratification. Grow kale. Kale is a member of the brassica family, which includes vegetables like cabbage and broccoli. But unlike broccoli, kale is very easy to grow, and, best of all, insects don’t seem to like it. Kale can be grown in the fall and spring, and will come back after some of the harshest winters. For nutrition, kale goes off the charts for values of vitamins A and K, and will give you nearly all of your daily vitamin C allowance, as well as many minerals. At the right is a picture of my red winter kale growing in a square foot garden, which is a raised bed 4 feet on each side. This vegetable is so easy that I’m convinced you could grow it in pots on a sunny balcony, and that’s why I recommend giving it a try.
There are other vegetables for experimentation. So far, I’ve been a failure with broccoli, but I’m very determined, and perhaps I’ll succeed yet. You’ll find something that you can grow well.
What Are Your Priorities?
There will be times, especially around the holidays or on trips home to see your parents, or during extremely stressful times of life, when you probably won’t eat nutritionally sound food. It’s certainly true in my life. My mother was around 87 years of age when she stated to me “I’m too old to change my diet.” That may be true. So if you’re able to do it, try to find the necessary time for meal planning and preparation. You’ll spend far more time in the kitchen, but what could be more important for you and your family’s long-term health than choosing the better path?
- Nutrition facts, calories in food, labels, nutritional information and analysis NutritionData.com
Find nutrition facts, including food labels, calories, nutritional information and analysis that helps promote healthy eating by telling you about the foods you eat.
Find locally grown produce anywhere in the country! Use our map to locate farmers markets, family farms, CSAs, farm stands, and u-pick produce in your neighborhood.
- MyPyramid.gov - United States Department of Agriculture - Home