For Health, Think Quality Not Quantity

Listen up, as this is a message you are going to start hearing more and more of with respect to healthful eating.  When it comes to making smart food choices, focus less on how much you are eating of a certain nutrient and focus more on the quality of the nutrient you are eating, and you will be on your way to a better and healthier you.

Heart-healthy fats

Remember the low-fat craze of the 90’s and the low-carb mania of 10 years ago?  There is good reason why these terms are no longer plastered on food packages or emphasized in food commercials.  Current nutrition findings show that when you eat the right types of these nutrients, you don’t have to worry so much about the quantity, which makes healthful eating easier, and more importantly, much more enjoyable.

The Macronutrients: Fats, Carbohydrates and Proteins

If you aim for a low to no fat diet, you probably find it difficult to a nutrient-rich diet that allows for proper portion control and weight maintenance.  That’s because we need fat in our diets to: 1) make us full and not overeat; 2) absorb essential nutrients in our diets, such as vitamins A, D, E and K and antioxidants and; 3) obtain heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and avocado.

In fact, it was during the low-fat craze of the 90’s when obesity rates began to soar, as low-fat packaged foods were loaded with sugars and calories to compensate for the fat that was taken away.  So, instead of worrying about your total fat intake, focus on reducing your intake of saturated fats from red meat and dairy and trans fats from processed foods that contain hydrogenated oils.  In a nutshell, get your fats from plant-based sources.

Nutrient-dense carbs

If low carb/high protein is your emphasis, you’ve missed the health memo.  Once again, it’s not avoiding carbs that keeps you fit and healthy, it’s avoiding highly refined  and processed grains and starches.  Whole grains and starchy fruits and vegetables provide lots of disease-fighting nutrients and energy to fuel activity, so you can burn calories and maintain a healthful weight. Quality sources of whole grains include quinoa, gluten free oats, all rices except white rice, 100% whole grain corn tortillas and popcorn (except highly processed bagged and microwaved popcorn).  One of the food trends of 2011 is exotic grains.  Experiment with delicious varieties, like teff, amaranth and millet, each of which offers its own unique set of nutrients.

Real Food

I believe the only diet book necessary is the one which contains three words… EAT REAL FOOD.  Along with eating mindfully, when you get nutrients from real foods, your body knows how to respond appropriately and provide the hunger and satiety cues to stop eating when you’ve given your body what it needs and to eat when your body needs to restock on what it’s used up.  When your body is filled with highly processed foods that are loaded with chemicals, preservatives and artificial ingredients it doesn’t know what to do with, it has a harder time recognizing and telling you what its needs are. 

The biggest favor you can do for yourself is reduce your reliance on highly processed foods and spend more of your grocery money on real foods, like lean meats and poultry, minimally processed milk products and fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.  Your body will thank you and your brain will know precisely what the body needs.

Living Gluten Free?

I mention this topic specifically for those who have to eat gluten free, because the health status of our diets has declined with the advent of packaged gluten free foods.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many minimally-processed gluten free packaged foods on the market that are healthful.  However, there are also alot of highly processed gluten free foods that we are relying more and more on, and to the detriment of our health and weight. 

Many of my dietitian collegues are seeing CeliacDisease patients gain weight.  That’s because back in the day when gluten free packaged foods were scarce Celiacs had to rely on natural, gluten free foods.  And they had body mass indexes that were lower than the average.  Now that highly processed gluten free alternatives are readily available to us, our weight is more on par with the rest of the country…which is overweight. 

So, remember this message for healthful eating…focus on the quality of your food and the rest will fall into place.


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