Healthy Eating 101

So, What Do You Eat?

This is the question I get asked a lot, by friends, acquaintances and strangers in public bathrooms. In the simplest terms, I eat real food. With all due deference to the great Michael Pollan, this has been my stock answer for years.

Carbs Are Not Evil

Do I watch carbs or not eat carbs after whatever o’clock? No. If anything I try to eat more fruits and vegetables (hello? fruits and vegetables are carbs!). Typically more than 50% of my calories come from carbs. Nutritionally loaded carbs like fruits, veggies and whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal and, god forbid, wheat. Let me just get this out of the way… with emphasis. I EAT BREAD! Homemade multi-grain bread is a regular staple around here (with butter, more on that in a minute). Good carbs are typically energy dense, meaning 100 calories takes up a lot of volume. And studies have shown we feel full based on the volume of food, not the calories in them. A snickers bar is 270 calories. About the same as 4 medium apples. When was the last time you sat down and could eat 4 apples? And while I haven’t seen a study on this, it only makes sense to me that after your body got done freaking out over all the sugar in the Snickers bar it would say “hey, there wasn’t any nutrition in that, please eat something else.” I certainly know I eat more when I’m not eating well.

high Protein?

I do not eat a high protein diet, but I do try to eat a little protein throughout the day. There’s a lot of science that peri-menopausal women like me benefit from a little protein throughout the day. I know I feel better and I stay satisfied. A few nuts or a hard boiled egg with a piece of fruit for a snack, and some sort of animal protein with my mail meals even if that just means a little yogurt on my granola. I’ve read the high protein diet books. Ketosis is not a natural state for your body. As my friend Gini Martinez would say, Jackassery! (if you’re not reading her blog you’re missing out).

Low Fat?

Turns out the whole “fat makes you fat” thing was bullshit. This is a great example of when in doubt EAT REAL FOOD. Humans evolved eating fat. In fact, if you didn’t have enough you likely didn’t survive winter. If it’s real food, your body knows what to do with it. If it’s in a deep fat fryer, chances are your body does not.

  • Saturated Fat: I try not to eat low fat anything (low fat typically = processed). If I’m having yogurt it’s full fat and plain (flavored yogurt = added sugar). I absolutely love Organic Valley Pasture Butter. I do trim visible fat from beef and poultry, but don’t have a problem braising a well marbled piece of beef or throwing a ham hock in a pot of beans. Cheese and fruit is a favorite treat. And we go through about a dozen eggs a week around here (and no, I’m not throwing the yolks in the trash).
  • Mono and Polyunsaturated Fat: I don’t watch my “good fat” intake at all, except maybe to make sure we’re getting enough of it. Extra-virgin olive oil, oily fish, avocados, nuts (walnuts, almonds, not the sugary mixed nuts you get at the bar), seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, flax), all excellent sources of healthy fats that we eat plenty of.

so you count Calories?

No. I do plug my recipes into NutritionData.com occasionally. But it’s out of curiosity or to see the effects on the nutrition stats when tweaking ingredients, not obsession over counting grams of whatever. I have, in the past, kept a food diary online (caloriecount.about.com), just to see what’s what, but I find counting calories counter-productive. First, it puts the emphasis on quantity not quality. I know for a fact that me being at my ideal weight is about me eating well, not about me eating less (which isn’t to say you can eat as much as you want, even if it’s healthy. you just can’t. sorry). I also find it has an observer-expectancy effect, where your behavior changes when you know, or feel, like someone is watching. Would I have eaten something different, or more/less of something, if I didn’t have to write it down (one of the reasons keeping a food diary is so effective for some people)? Bottom line, counting calories makes me obsess over everything I’m putting in my mouth and for me that’s not a healthy state of mind.

what about Low Sugar?

We do try to avoid added sugar. Bottom line: sugar is poison. I use Stevita brand stevia in my morning tea (if stevia is new to you, read stevi-huh?). When I want to use real sugar I try to use natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup. I’ve found using about half of what’s recommended in most recipes is sweet enough for me, and I have a sweet tooth.

do you eat 5-6 small meals a day?

Call me crazy. I eat when I’m hungry. And I’m not hungry 6 times a day. If I can eat whenever I want (called weekends) I have a late breakfast, a snack mid-afternoon and dinner early evening. Those days that I have to plan when to eat I’ll have a smoothie early, a snack mid-day (some homemade granola, or more likely a soy chai tea latte from Starbucks, I never said I was perfect), maybe a mini snack in the afternoon and then a decent dinner around 7:00pm.

When eating 5-6 times a day came out as the next great thing, it sounded like jackassery to me. It never ceases to amaze me that we think we can outsmart nature. Humans simply did not evolve eating constantly throughout the day, and your body does not know it’s not still living in a cave. The hunger mechanism is there for a reason.  Now the opposite advice is starting to get into the mainstream press – intermittent fasting. Dr. Weil has an informative post on it here. Personally I’ll stick to not purposefully messing around with my meals one way or the other and stick with what feels right for my body.

A word on portions

When I notice the pounds creeping up on the scale it usually means we’ve been eating out a little too much, or indulging a little too much and just getting back to our normal eating pattern will get me right back to my usual weight. But sometimes it means I’ve simply been eating too much. Even when the quality of the food is excellent, too much of a good thing will show up on the scale. Here are some simple tips for cutting portions without feeling deprived:

  • put less food on your plate. If it’s in front of me I’m more likely to eat it.
  • use a smaller plate. This goes hand in hand with putting less in front of you. If it’s on a smaller plate it will look like more food.
  • slow it down. Set your fork down in between bites. I noticed that while I had one bite in my mouth the next one was already loaded up, ready to go. Putting my fork down between bites causes me to eat more slowly and gives my brain time to catch up to what’s going on in my stomach.
  • slow it down, part 2. Eat mindfully. Eating well is one of life’s great sensual pleasures. Slow down and make the most of it. Turn off the mental chatter (or the TV) and pay attention to what your senses are telling you. Tuning into the taste, the texture, the smell, the look, and even the sound of what you’re eating will heighten your enjoyment of the experience and will help slow you down.
  • when you’ve eaten what’s on your plate stop. If you’re hungry in an hour eat something. This little tip is what finally taught me what a reasonable portion was. I’d trained myself to eat more and I had to train myself to eat less.

What do I avoid or limit?

So if that’s what I eat, here’s what I don’t eat:

  • Soda. Pop. Whatever you call it. Nutritionally void and high in either high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. Complete crap. Never have it. Ever. When I want something sweet and bubbly I have a kombucha. You’ll find it at places like Whole Foods, but you can also make your own.
  • Processed food. Whenever possible we cook from scratch.
  • Refined flour. They’ll try to fool you, but all of these are white flour which has been stripped of its nutrition: enriched flour, wheat flour, unbleached wheat flour. Look for “whole wheat flour”. Better yet buy your own organic flour (conventional grains can have high pesticide levels). I’m a fan of King Arthur flours. Their organic whole spelt has an almost nutty flavor that’s beautiful in breads and pizza dough (spelt is an ancient form of wheat).
  • Dairy. We no longer drink milk as a beverage with meals, even organic milk. Cow milk is designed to turn a little baby calf into a great big cow in just a few short years. I’m not a baby calf. We do, however, enjoy lattes, great cheese and full-fat yogurt is always in the fridge. Contradictory? Perhaps.
  • When I do buy food in a box I read labels and avoid:
    • Anything that sounds like an answer to a high school chemistry quiz
    • ‘Partially hydrogenated’ anything
    • High Fructose Corn Syrup
    • Anything sweetened with Aspartame (Equal) or Sucralose (Splenda).
    • A soy version of real food (soy dogs, soy burgers). Soy as a health food is largely a crock. Small portions of fermented soy like miso, tempeh and tofu have been eaten for centuries. Soy Protein Isolate, however, is highly processed fake food. Think twice if you think that Boca Burger is healthier for you than the real thing.

Good food is one of life’s great pleasures. Eating well doesn’t have to change that. Eating healthfully should be delicious and satisfying. And it doesn’t have to be complicated.

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