by Darra McMullen,Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher
This month’s topic is nutrition; although this subject is far too broad and detailed in its entirety to be covered in one moderate length web article, we can, in this story, touch on some important points to consider when thinking about how to choose foods in our diet.
Then, in a second, upcoming article this month, we’ll take a look at some of the latest nutritional news tidbits that can improve your life in many areas, especially in the arenas of digestive health, mood, and memory.
For now, let’s start by looking at some commonsense guidelines on how to approach a sound nutritional foundation.
Point #1: Most nutritionists agree that eating a varied and balanced diet from all the major food groups is the best approach to insure a stable platform of health and to enable the body to prevent and treat diseases.
For the majority of people, the above advice means adding more fruits and vegetables to the daily diet, as well as, possibly for some people, more dairy products (or dairy substitutes for the lactose intolerant or vegan). Americans generally do pretty well in consuming meats (or meat substitutes) and grain-based products, and usually don’t have to be encouraged to consume more from those food categories.
Point #2: Beware of the long-term effects of out-of-balance diet programs that emphasize one or two macronutrient types to the exclusion of others in the name of weight loss or maintenance. For example, high protein, high fat diets or conversely, high carbohydrate, low fat diets may even result in weight loss in the short run, but their emphasis on excluding certain types of food can result in overall poor nutritional intake over time. It is a much better idea to partake in all the food groups regularly to maintain a good balance and consumption of nutrients.
Point #3: Always be cautious of peddlers of nutritional advice who give oversimplified quips that don’t tell the whole story. For instance, the frequently heard, “Don’t eat anything white (in color),” is an excellent example. If that statement were taken to its logical conclusion, this advice would lead adherents to believe that garlic, white onions, tofu, navy beans, and cauliflower were forbidden foods, not to mention egg whites, milk, and yogurt.
Even the strictest of vegans would vouch for the nutritional, sometimes healing, value of garlic, onions, tofu, navy beans, and cauliflower.
Most nutritionists and scientific studies agree that egg whites are an excellent and easily assimilated source of protein. Milk and yogurt are also excellent sources of protein (and calcium), as are white cheeses, and now, dairy products are readily available in a wide variety of fat contents to meet varying needs.
Presumably, the “anti-white food” proponents really meant to say something along the lines of, “Limit foods made from white flour, simple sugars, or white rice,” which is sound dietary advice for most occasions. Limiting the frequency of consumption and the overall volume of simple sugars and starches leads to more even and stable blood sugar levels and a lower incidence of insulin resistance, diabetes, and other inflammatory disease states.
That said, there are some times and places when occasional use of simple sugars and starches can be quite helpful, even life saving. For instance, a person suffering from a bout of low blood sugar needs an easily obtained, fast-acting way to raise his/her blood sugar before coma or death ensue. Simple sugars and starches fit that need perfectly.
Similarly, most pregnant women have, at one time or another, reached for saltine crackers to quell a nauseous stomach to enable them to eat healthier foods for their growing fetuses.
Babies are usually offered simple white rice or processed wheat cereals as “first” solid foods for their simplicity of consumption and digestion.
And who hasn’t wanted to indulge in an occasional sweet treat at a child’s or friend’s birthday party or a family gathering, not just for the pleasant taste, but as a way of participating in a precious shared experience among loved ones?
We could list various other examples of times when sugars and simple starches can be a part of a healthy diet, but the point here is to think about so-called “forbidden” foods carefully. Practice critical thinking when considering all food choices. Think about risk vs. benefit when choosing foods, and approach the whole subject of food selection with an attitude of balance and moderation. Use a critical eye to meeting your personal health needs, both immediate and long-term.
Point #4: It is best for us not to “vilify” any food, but rather, calmly consider what we do and don’t know about the food’s characteristics and try to make a reasonable choice about how much, if any, to include in our diets, based on personal health needs and nutritional commonsense. All too often, foods fall on and off the “villain” list based on changing scientific evidence, popular fads, or even political influences between food producers/manufacturers and the government. Therefore, hearing that a particular food has been criticized or “vilified” can’t be a 100% reliable way of thinking about what to consume or avoid.
Instead, look at both the pros and cons of a given food and look at who is saying something positive or negative about it. Is that source reliable, knowledgeable? Does the source have a vested interest in promoting or downgrading a food’s value or characteristics? Even if the source has no malevolent intent, could they simply be mistaken or only partially informed?
To give a concrete example of a food “villain”, let’s look at the common egg. For many years, people were cautioned away from eating eggs by doctors, scientists, nutritionists, and other well-meaning individuals. The concern about eggs seemed to center around the high fat and cholesterol content of the egg yolk. Many people were concerned that regular consumption of eggs could cause high spikes in our own internal cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease and blood vessel blockages.
More recent scientific evidence shows that light to moderate egg consumption for most people is perfectly safe, even healthy, due to the many other nutrients contained in eggs besides cholesterol. The only people who may need to avoid egg consumption are those who have a genetic predisposition to extremely high cholesterol levels and have to watch every bite of fat or cholesterol intake in their diets to remain healthy.
So, here we have an example of changing scientific evidence first “vilifying” and then “de-vilifying” a common food. What should we do as everyday consumers? If you enjoy eggs and their positive traits and don’t have a known cholesterol problem of any sort, then try a few eggs in your diet and see how you feel. Get a blood cholesterol check-up after a few weeks with eggs in your diet and see if there is any negative change in your numbers. Then you can make an informed decision about whether eggs are right for you as a regular actor in your diet.
Point #5: Don’t forget to hydrate! With everyone so busy so much of the time, many people get sufficiently distracted with work, social media, or other pursuits that they literally forget to drink a healthy quantity of fluids. Plain water is always an ideal choice, but the many antioxidant benefits of vegetable juices (preferably low sodium varieties), tea, and coffee make them good choices for beverages as well. Look for decaffeinated teas and coffees for optimum hydration, as well as a “no jitters” after effect.
Hopefully, these points to ponder will get you thinking deeply about your nutritional picture and inspire personalized dietary improvements. Look for another nutrition related article later this month featuring the latest news. Happy thinking!