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Quest for the Healthiest Foods

In our search for the healthiest food products and choices, we often overlook the easiest and most obvious! Choosing plant based meals and snacks is the healthiest.

Everyday I hear discussions about the “healthiest” foods. Some article comes around or a new food product (this should be a flag in itself) claiming the incredible health benefits. It seems that we are in such a hurry to be healthy that we become gullible. A good example of gullibility that was brought to my attention recently is the ruling that a class action lawsuit against Muscle Milk for health claims can proceed. The manufacturers made so many claims of health when in fact, this is an added sugar and fat laden product that doesn’t provide any benefit over a healthy choice of whole foods that are less expensive and much tastier! In fact, in the lawsuit the nutrition is compared to a donut! There are numerous products on the market that I could use as examples, however I’d rather give you some choices that will do your body well. Another area to touch on before the suggestions is that we are in such denial about our own choices that we blame the food industry, media, government, and a host of others for the ill effects or lack of health promoting effects of our choices. Can you tell I’m an advocate of taking ownership of your actions? The road to health management is long, it will last until the end of your life! However, it doesn’t always need to be challenging. In fact simple and doable choices can make or break your efforts. These are not new, nor are they thrilling, but they are choices you can make to achieve the health you want. 

Eat a rainbow to consume anti-oxidant rich nutrients that help with managing stress, lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, reduce the risk for some cancers, are also loaded with fiber which is heart healthy and a key for treating type 2 diabetes. These are flavorful and texturally appealing foods that fill you up for very few calories! For more on how to add more color, visit my blog on Refreshing Summer Eating. People tend to be avoiding fruit because of the sugar content, but this is sugar the way nature intended and I have yet to meet anyone in my 25 plus years in health management that became unhealthy or that did not become healthy because of eating too much fruit. Prepare vegetables the way you enjoy them and then they aren’t the same as the ones you “had to eat” as a kid!

Choose more whole foods. How easy is it to throw a piece (3 ounces) of lean beef or chicken or a piece of fish on the grill with some dried seasonings, herb rub, or plan a little and marinate in vinegar, garlic, onion and seasonings of your preference? You can put chunks of multi-colored peppers and onions brushed with pure vegetable oil and wrapped in foil or on a skewer and grilled alongside your protein. Perhaps, grill up some fresh summer corn and you have a colorful, flavorful, quick and easy meal in minutes! Takes less time than deciding where to eat out or which box to open. There are a variety of websites that have healthy recipes and you can sign up for the e-newsletters and the recipes come to you! How easy is that?

Whole grains are great sources of fiber and B vitamins as well as numerous minerals. The trend toward Gluten Free has escalated in recent years. I’m not saying that there isn’t a true rise in gluten sensitivity. But think about it, who wouldn’t feel better to cut out snack foods, cookies and cakes, large portions of breads and pasta, and refined cereals? Is it the gluten or is it the abundance? Further, many grain products have added a bulking fiber for health benefits and/or utilized sugar alcohols to cut the total carbs. MANY people are sensitive to these products and “blame” gluten instead! 

Manage your weight. Stop striving for some unrealistic number on a scale and shoot for food choices that will enable you to lose some weight and reach the quality of life you associate with that number. Think about it. If the number was so motivating and magical, why aren’t you there? Lots of answers, but it may be that somewhere between where you are and the “magic weight” is where you can happily live! Small changes of five to 10 percent weight loss have big health and quality impacts. In recently published research by Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the researchers found that creating a caloric deficit through food intake and exercise output of 64 - 138 calories per day has the potential to turn around the childhood obesity rates. Think about what this would entail! And, I have found similar results with clients that I’ve worked with over the years. As little as a 50-calorie reduction (or addition) would equal five pounds in one year, so 100-calorie reduction is ten pounds! This can be one handful of chips instead of two. Or better yet, a small handful of healthy nuts instead of the chips. Or it could be cutting your salad dressing/butter/mayo/sour cream/ etc. in half and mix it in better. Perhaps you can consume an appropriate portion of 3 ounces of protein and healthy sides. Or choose ice-cold water instead of juice or soda. The more substitutions the more savings are adding up.

I know, you’re wondering where the list is. There are too many foods to put on the list because the reality is there are lots of fresh, whole, plant based foods that are healthy in combination with other whole foods. The healthiest foods are the ones we eat the least, the fruits and vegetables! Try for one month to eat at least five servings of the seven to nine recommended and see how you feel. The healthiest foods for you are the ones that give you energy without a slump.

Tune in next week for more quick and easy meals, while you wait, see how many you can come up with!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Natural Medical Solutions July 18, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Great information, I am glad someone is taking the time to inform others about the choices they have for a healthy diet.
Andy D July 22, 2012 at 03:50 AM
Agree. Very good info, Julie. While I don't agree with his guidance 100%, Michael Pollan has some very clear thoughts about what we should/shouldn't eat. Rule of Thumb #2 in this article http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/magazine/28nutritionism.t.html?pagewanted=all concurs with your opening point about a food (although I imagine that Pollan would correctly label it a "food-like product") claiming to have incredible health benefits. (Another good heuristic he offers up when thinking about a food is to only eat stuff that our great-grandmothers would recognize as food. If you think she'd look at a box of cereal bars with a milk stripe and wonder what it is, time to put it back on the shelf.) Pollan discusses much of that article and his book, In Defense of Food, in this terrific "Authors at Google" talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-t-7lTw6mA (I loved his explanation of "banquet food".) Anyway, back to your point. When I'm at the grocery store, I shop for produce, beans/legumes, spices, and then I get the heck out of there. I know that many folks struggle with the what-to-eat question and while I agree that each of us is ultimately responsible for what we do/don't put in our mouths, we must acknowledge that we're up against mega-organizations (e.g., fast food, junk food, soda makers) that spend BILLIONS on marketing this (I'll be polite here) "stuff" to us. If any of it was truly good for us, we'd not need to be marketed-to so heavily, right?
Julie Schwartz July 23, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Andy, I would say that Michael Pollan may be much more on target with what we "should" be choosing, however I think we've strayed so far that for many people it's overwhelming to think of an overhaul of choices. Every step towards eating whole foods versus boxed foods is a positive for anyone. Food should rot, however at the same time for variety and living in an urban society we need some shelf stable foods- cereals for one. When more people demand healthier options the food industry will respond- simple supple and demand. So while I agree with your comments on the marketing and advertising, it stems from demand or trends of the consumer. Julie

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