It has to be intuitive that in order to lose weight and get healthy, it can’t just be about calories, though calorie control is important. One also has to consider the nutrient density or nutrient value of foods. You can eat 1,200 calories of fast food and refined foods and lose weight. And that weight loss may even be profound enough to lessen the health implications of these foods. But I think a reasonable person will recognize that similar to considerations about the fuel you put in your car and your home heating system, the food you put in the machine called the human body has relevance to performance and to maintaining an optimal level of health. Being selective and making “healthier choices” makes a difference.
Food groups and the best choices
According to a recent study, Americans are eating out a lot. So even if I suggest the best selections to make from each food group, and indicate appropriate portion sizes, you will more than likely be eating foods prepared with too much “salt, sugar, and unhealthy fat,” because that’s how foods are made even in some of the finest restaurants. They want you coming back for more and that means heightening the taste of the food. When you personally choose the ingredients and prepare food in your home, the selections and nutrient value is in your control. Consider that reality when you eat out versus choosing to prepare simple dishes at home. Eating out should be considered a treat (more on that later).
Fruits and vegetables
These are your go-to foods and should be included in every meal and every snack. Target between eight and 10 servings daily, and enjoy a variety of choices. When you make a salad, it should include a minimum of five ingredients, and consider adding berries, apples or pears for additional flavor and a unique twist. Just beware: corn, peas and potatoes are considered “starchy or bread-like” so you need to consider strict portion control. Those three really get filed under “grains” when it comes to deciding how often you eat portion-controlled amounts daily. Use an 80 calorie measurement for a serving. If you are hungry (and that includes emotionally hungry) and you need a food fix, fruits and vegetables need to be at the top of the grab list. I might add that when I think of “fast food,” I think of an apple, an orange, or a banana. It doesn’t get faster than that!
A simple primer is to think of red meats as treats (we will discuss later), choose white meats without the skin, eat oily fishes like salmon at least three times a week, consider beans as brilliant proteins, and include eggs, nuts and seeds as other sources of protein. If you don’t have cholesterol issues, an egg daily (and then servings of egg whites) is fine. Proteins need portion control with a serving size about 4 ounces or 120 calories. Eat a variety of proteins, and strongly consider meat-free days to lower the saturated fat in your diet. That type of a diet can support weight loss and optimal health.
In the American diet, dairy or dairy replacements like fortified almond and soy milks are your best sources of calcium. With the recent popularity of Greek yogurts, you can have a creamy and low-fat base for fruit, cereal or nuts – creating a delicious parfait meal or snack. Read labels since many yogurts have added sugar, especially if fruit is in the mix. One to two servings of yogurt, milk, low-fat cheese can provide calcium and satiation. Portions should clock in at about eighty to one hundred calories. If you love cheese, go low fat and use two dice as a visual cue for a serving size (more on portions later).
Next up: Fats, grains, treats and portions
Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience. Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts. Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch? Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at www.healthgal.com.
Published On: January 11, 2014