Let's make the discussion of "fat choices" simple, for the sake of guidelines and attainable goals. Processed trans fats are being primed for removal from the food chain shortly and, until then, they are one of the few food ingredients that should be completely off limits. So when you see the term "partially hydrogenated" (read labels), move on.
Saturated fat, found predominantly in meats and dairy products (foods of animal origin), should be kept to a minimum (some say 10% of your daily calories) in your weekly diet. Removing the skin from chicken and turkey, limiting red meat, and using reduced-fat and zero-fat dairy products accomplishes that. Avocadoes and nuts (a good source of ALA omega-3 fats) contain healthy fats, but the fat makes these choices caloric - hence the need for portion control. Extra virgin olive oil and specifically corn oil, which is now credited with helping to lower bad cholesterol levels, top the list of healthy fats, along with the omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) in oily fishes. Use oils in spray form, or measure spoonful amounts carefully, to limit portions, but do use oils. They provide satiation and health benefits, and also maximize absorption of certain nutrients. Dietary fat is critical, but specific choices and portion control are necessary.
Grains (the really tough group)
This food group seems to be the nemesis of most Americans - males, females, kids. We love our breads, rolls, pastries, pastas, cereals, rice and other grain products. The ones we choose tend to be refined, which means high in white sugar and, coincidentally, salt. We also seem to "lose count" when it comes to just how many portions of grain-based foods we have in a day. Restaurants serve the bread basket and, before you know it, you've had several servings before you even get to the salad croutons and grain side dishes. Consumers do not want to hear that consuming refined grains equals eating sugar. So choices are crucial. We need to mostly select whole grains, high-fiber grains, and grains that lean a bit to higher protein content, like quinoa. We need to measure grain portions meticulously. We need to eat fewer servings daily. And this is probably the food group that is most difficult to manage. This is a food group that can cause radical blood sugar surges, taxing your pancreas the organ responsible for releasing insulin. Gain enough weight, binge on refined carbohydrates at night, and you increase your risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Decades ago we were told to replace the fat group and to eat a low-fat diet, and we turned to grains to fill the void. Consumption of too many refined carbohydrates is considered a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. Your goal is to limit your choices to "the best" and limit the number of servings you have daily. Try to eat those servings at breakfast and lunch so you use them as energy sources during your more active day hours.
A piece of dark chocolate or a handful of nuts or homemade kale chips are all healthy treat choices, compared to processed chips, candy or donuts. That being said, most of us need some moments of "pure, heavenly pleasure." But there's a big difference between having daily servings of treats and isolating one or two times a week for a portion-controlled amount of a decadent treat. That's your challenge: to really grasp how many treats you are allowing yourself right now, which makes them daily choices, and not treats. You have to embrace that concept in order to change. For some people, indulgences lead to binges. So you also have to know if you can handle limited moments of refined food pleasure, without being tempted to binge. A treat is supposed to be a "limited, decadent pleasure." "Treat a treat that way"
Simple rules will help you navigate portions. Learn to measure using a measuring cup, a spoon. Use visual cues like a deck of cards (protein) or dice (hard cheeses). And sit down with a health professional to figure out the appropriate number of portions of each food group that is right for your goals - regardless of the type of eating plan you choose. Consider trying the DASH Diet, which was ranked number one this year for "health-based" diet, or the Mediterranean-style diet, also associated with many health benefits. Many people benefit from a support-based program like Weight Watchers. Whatever plan you choose, portion control has to be an integral part of the program, even when you eat predominantly healthy foods.
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.