Photo by Matija Barrett
When I was in college I took every nutrition class they had, was a teaching assistant for Nutrition and Behavior and even cooked for two Nutrition PhDs making perfect ‘ten’ meals. After college my continuing education courses also included sports nutrition whenever one was available. Here’s what I learned:
1. An active lifestyle is the most important factor in maintaining good health.
This does not mean you have to run a marathon. Too much exercise, or too intense an exercise program wears down parts of the body and makes old age uncomfortable. And, the common saying, ‘No pain, no gain,’ is a misconception (unless you are a complete wimp with absolutely no tolerance for the minimal pain that comes with exertion…). So keep it safe, and fun, resting when you are injured, and try to choose an activity you can do throughout your lifetime.
2. A balanced diet is the best diet.
Most of the vitamins you need are water-soluble meaning you pee them out easily. This means you need to replenish them often. Further, when your cholesterol is high you are told to increase your intake of fish oils. Why? So your HDLs (good cholesterol) is in sync with your LDLs (bad cholesterol). Your omega threes (fish oils) also need to balance your omega sixes (corn oils). If your diet is high in omega six, like most people in America, you are at risk for increased swelling, and diseases associated with swelling such as arthritis. Diets consisting solely of one type of food, whether it is hot dogs or mushrooms, increase your likelihood of cancer. Also fad diets often have good short-term results, with bad long-term effects. So… a variety of foods at each meal is best.
3. Whole foods are better than processed foods.
This should not surprise anyone, so whenever you can eat food in its rawest form. (But wash it first. E-coli and hepatitis are not fun.) This means whole grain breads, pastas and rice and fresh fruits and vegetables. Sugar is also a refined food, so limit its consumption. Sugar, as it is sold in most supermarkets, is stripped of its nutrients and therefore contains ’empty’ (non-nutritious) calories. Typically one should eat with the goal of maximizing the amount of vitamins and nutrients per calorie if possible. This means high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, and white flour are not your best options.
4. Many health foods are not health foods.
Check the label. Just because it looks like a granola bar does not mean that it is not full of sugar. The ingredients in a product are always listed from largest quantity to smallest on the label. Also remember that all food contains calories, so that nutritious smoothie you just consumed will help you put on weight just as easily as a cheeseburger. It just contains more vitamins and nutrients to keep you healthy.
5. Emotions matter.
If you are stressed, depressed or overly tired you are not as likely to move as much, and more likely to crave food. Take care of your emotional well-being and find ways to simplify your life in order to stay healthy. Having adopted three older children I understand that this is not always possible. Do your best, but know that sometimes sacrifices must be made for a greater good and that is okay. When life gets easier, ease yourself back into healthier living. After thirty trying to jump back into vigorous exercise typically results in needing a physical therapist. Trust me, slowly ramping up into a fun, safe exercise program is the best way to achieve long term results. (Though most physical therapists are fun people. Just make sure you have good insurance, we’re not cheap!)
By the way- this is a lecture I am giving to myself!
My favorite diet:
I believe a macro-biotic diet is best. This means no refined sugar or processed foods such as white flour, white rice or white pastas. Only whole grains, vegetables, fruits and low fat milk and meats (unless you are pregnant or still growing, or exercising like a Navy Seal then the fat is fine). Eating 5-8 small meals a day (every two-three hours) instead of three meals a day is also best, just make sure they are small. Regular exercise is also a must. If you are gaining weight, increase your exercise and decrease your food intake. If you feel sluggish increase your food intake and increase your sleep and exercise. Don’t use caffeine to stay alert, get more sleep.
Now the down-side of this diet is that it interferes with social eating. While restaurants are doing better at providing healthy choices, most friendly parties and church pot-lucks are not. Since hospitality is an important part of Christian living, keep any diet in its proper prospective unless it is necessitated by a health concern.
How to make recipes ‘healthier:’
1. Use whole-grain flours instead of white. There are a few varieties typically available in most areas. You can mix them up or alternate them as you like. You may also add wheat germ as part of the amount of flour called for. Cookies and cakes may be made this way. Check the Internet for some whole grain recipes as well. Others have perfected their recipes and were nice enough to share. You may also use whole grain pastas and hearty rices as well.
2. Substitute no-sugar applesauce for oil in muffins or any other recipe that might taste good with apples. You can also use baby food, such as pureed prunes or peaches for variety.
3. Add dried berries and/or nuts to salads and recipes that would taste good with them for increased variety.
4. Check out vegetarian options to lower calories and fat and increase food variety. Some of the fake meat products are quite tasty- just don’t tell your spouse it’s meat and think they’ll be fooled. Meat in small quantities is good, since it contains fat-soluble vitamins. The amount of meat most Americans consume trends towards breaking the ‘do not eat only one thing’ rule. There are also mayonnaise, salad dressing and ketchup substitutes that are pricier, but lower in sugars and fat.
5. Try adding fish to your diet. Crab salad (imitation crab is usually halibut), salmon patties and tilapia are quite good. Tuna can also be added to some casseroles or served on its own. Vary your fishes as well.
6. When making crumb toppings for cakes and pies use 100% fruit juice concentrate (usually apple- do not dilute, it is so sweet you should use less) instead of sugar and butter. You can also mix it into the pie filling with a little whole-wheat flour instead of sugar and cornstarch. Oats also make a nice addition to crumb toppings. My topping is usually a handful of flour, a handful of oats, cinnamon, a little nutmeg and just enough apple juice concentrate to make everything clump together. (As you can see, I am a very precise baker!)
7. Substitute cottage cheese for ricotta. Some ricotta may be needed for taste in some recipes, but half cottage cheese and half ricotta may be nice.
8. Use soymilk in recipes. This not only decreases the amount of fat, but increases your variety of foods.
9. Learn to use spices to flavor meals instead of high sugar glazes and/or ketchup. Spices also contain anti-oxidants (things that help trap bad stuff like free radicals and get them out of your body) that are good for you. Use spices liberally.
10. Avoid fried foods. There is only so much oil a person needs in a day, and most fried foods have soaked up more than we need. French fries are the worst since potatoes make excellent oil traps. They also taste really good so you are unlikely to eat just a few.
11. Add vegetables to everything. You can even puree, or finely chop them to sneak them into sloppy joes, meatloaf, hamburgers, soups, and casseroles.
12. Use cast iron pans to increase your iron intake. Low iron (anemia) is a common cause of fatigue. Adding spinach or other dark greens also helps. Adding chlorophyll to your water helps too, but get the mint flavored kind. Pure chlorophyll is not all that tasty.
13. Drink unsweetened teas or water. Raspberry tea is my favorite. Teas often have vitamins and tannins that are good for you without the calories. Find a brand you like. You can even put it over ice. I like peppermint tea this way.
14. Oats can be added to ground beef. It increases the amount of fiber in the food and decreases the amount of fat by decreasing the amount of meat needed. Just add the oats after the fat is drained. Oats are fine in meat while baking, like in a hamburger or meatloaf, but are not good browned with your meat. Add them after browning for sloppy joes etc. Oats also make hamburgers fall apart more easily, so unless you put foil down, or really want to frustrate someone, don’t use much for grilling.
15. Try salsas instead of dip and chutneys low in sugar instead of glazes. Opt for baked chips instead of fried and whole grain chips instead of potato and corn for variety.
16. Watch your corn consumption. Most Americans eat too much corn. We use corn oil for cooking, eat corn as a side dish, have corn chips as snacks and there is high fructose corn syrup in everything. Corn is not a bad thing, but overconsumption puts your omega sixes out of balance with your omega threes, so unless you are going to eat a whole lot of fish as well, try another vegetable every now and then.
17. Decrease the meat. Baked potatoes with toppings make a good meal. Portabella mushrooms are great and there are a lot of recipes for them. There are also pasta dishes and rice casseroles that are very tasty. (Just use whole grain pastas and avoid white rice.) I will fry mushrooms in a little BBQ sauce and make sandwiches with them like they are pulled pork. My kids loved them until they tasted real pulled pork…
18. Vary your meats. American diets are typically high in beef. Try other lower fat meats as well. Most of them come ground for recipes, and you can mix them together for different flavors and textures. Add spices if you find them bland.
19. Remember that cut up fruit, or chilled canned fruit in light or no sugar, or even olives can function as a side dish as well. The more sides you serve, the more variety you have and the less of any one thing you eat.
20. Frozen grapes, pomegranate seeds and other fruits make good summer snacks. Fruit in a cup with a little whipped cream makes a desert than is better than most cookies and cakes.
Since vegetables do not keep as long as one may like I have a few interesting ways to get rid of limp veggies and any leftovers. Remember, the healthier you have eaten during the week, the healthier these meals will be.
Garbage Loaf: (You can call it whatever you want. I have boys and tomboys, so garbage loaf works for us.) Take all the leftovers and vegetables you think would taste good with ground meat (which is almost everything). Crumble them up and mix them in with your meat. Add Italian spices, onions, garlic, ketchup and/or BBQ sauce, and any extra healthy chips that are in the bottom of the bags that are too small for anyone to want to dip, but too many to throw out. Add an egg; separate it and add only the white if you want to decrease the cholesterol. Spinach and other dark greens also hide well in this recipe. You can top it with leftover spaghetti sauce too, but you don’t need to. Bake at 350 until cooked through. It’s not the healthiest meal, but it’s better than most meat loafs. Add fruit, bread and salad sides to this meal for balance.
Leftover Soup: Again, take all the leftovers and limp veggies that would work well together in a soup. (Really this only typically excludes breads and cake. It can include your leftover garbage loaf.) Crumble them up. Add V8 juice and Italian spices and pepper to taste. Onions and garlic are also a good addition if you like the flavor. Again, you can hide dark greens well in this recipe. Simmer until everything is as soft as you would like things in soup to be.
Anything Casserole: Take everything you have leftover that will go well together and crumble it together. Add a whole grain pasta or rice. (You can hide dark greens like spinach in this too.) Add a cream of something soup (not low cal/fat but tasty). Add enough water for the pasta or rice to cook (slightly watery, not soupy). Take the ends of the whole grain bread no one will eat and turn them into breadcrumbs. Add Italian spices, then sprinkle them on top. Bake at 350 until rice or pasta is done. If you use leftover rice or pasta (already cooked) then just heat it through.
My son wrote home from the Marines stating that the thing he missed most while on tour was the ‘meals with no name,’ so while these recipes may seem a bit iffy, they do turn out quite good. The only problem is that when your child, or spouse asks if you can make that again, the answer is ‘Only if we have exactly the same meals we had this week again and don’t eat the same amounts…’ A few times the meal was so good we attempted to create a recipe based on the main ingredients present. It worked, and we have a few unique meals we now make.
Disclaimer: This is, of course, not meant to be official health advice. If you do have health issues please see a physician who may recommend a nutritionist to help with your specific problem.
Remember, this is my pep-talk to myself.
Advice to young moms: Don’t stop exercising! It is much harder to get back in shape than to stay in shape, so unless your family really needs you 24/7 (as mine did, and many people with children with disabilities etc do), find time to take care of yourself.