Tips for Healthy Eating

Don’t eat that. Eat more of this. Eat now. Eat later. Eat, eat, eat! Seems everyone’s talking about eating these days. Some of the conversation is inviting, some engaging, some of it’s scientific, medical, and some of it’s down-right scary. As long as people have been eating, you’d think we would have the situation figured out by now but every breaking news story seems to say we’ve got it all wrong. And no two news stories seem to be in agreement about where we went wrong and how to get back on track. If the conflict, confusion, and quackery have you on the verge of giving up food forever, consider these safe, sane, and very usable tips for healthy eating.

Basically, we all need the same nutrients from our foods. Basically. Some lifestyles and medical conditions may require a little more attention to certain details that others of us have no need to worry about. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has devised a graphic example of what’s best for us with its food pyramid program. There’s a different pyramid to address certain medical conditions, too, so there really is something for everybody even though we all have the same basic nutritional needs. Basically.

Cut back on sugars to minimize the risk of medical disorders that include metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes. For best results, stick with the sugars that occur naturally in nature, such as honey and fruits. Avoid refined sugar products like table sugar, syrups and molasses, and any processed foods that have a lot of added sugar in them. And do remember that even though it doesn’t actually taste sweet, alcohol is a sugar; the body converts it into instant sugar for the bloodstream the minute it hits the gut so go easy and avoid all kinds of alcohol-related complications.

Cut back on fats, too, but don’t eliminate them entirely. Every cell of the body requires some fat to function but stick with monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, for the healthiest choice. Polyunsaturated fats, which are most vegetable oils, are OK, too, but only in small amounts. Avoid saturated fats, those that come from animal sources, including butter and lard.

How do you know which is which? Saturated fats are solid at room temperature; they form solid walls of artery-clogging gunk in your bloodstream. Fats that are liquid at room temperature flow more freely through the bloodstream. But don’t get fooled by solid fats made from vegetable sources. These fats have been hydrogenated to be unnaturally solid at room temperature. They clog the arteries, too, even worse than animal fats do. We see them most often as margarine and shortening. If the ingredients list says “hydrogenated,” even “partially hydrogenated,” leave it on the store shelf.

Without going off the scientific deep end, a quick understanding of lipids, cholesterol, and lipoproteins comes in handy. Lipids (fatty acids) need to travel freely through the bloodstream so we can get rid of them once we’ve used them. One of them is cholesterol and the human body, like all animals, makes about 80% of all cholesterol that’s in the blood. We make it because we need it. The remaining 20% comes from our diet and that’s where we get into trouble.

Triglycerides are fatty acids, too, and we need them but only in amounts our body can manufacture and use itself. Cholesterol and triglyceride levels get too high for health when we eat a diet loaded with animal fats and meat because all animals make their own, just like we do. When we eat them, we eat the fats their bodies made for their benefit, not ours.

The body uses lipoproteins to help those lipids find their way out of the body when their time has come. If they stay, they build up like an overflowing garbage can, only the garbage can here is our bloodstream. One lipoprotein, the high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is great for such garbage collection. We need a high HDL count to keep the bloodstream free of artery-clogging lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides). A high HDL count equals a happy heart. Monounsaturated fats (olive oil) are high in HDL.

On the other hand, the low-density lipoproteins (LDL) aren’t so efficient. They’re slow and lazy. A high LDL count means those low-down lazy cholesterol-collectors aren’t getting the job done. Our garbage can/bloodstream will soon be overloaded with fatty acids and we’ll regret that some day. Slow, sluggish LDL comes from solid, saturated fats, like butter, lard, shortening, margarine, and everything that lists trans-fat or trans-fatty acids on the label, even processed foods like breads, pastries, and anything else that’s sold ready to eat from a package. Leave these alone.

Cut back on salt and train your taste buds to appreciate the naturally occurring flavors of the foods you eat. Salt doesn’t enhance the flavor of foods, it hides it. Too much salt raises blood pressure, overtaxes the heart, and increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. Throw away the salt shaker and minimize salty snacks. When cooking, don’t add salt until the dish is almost done but taste it first. You may not even need the salt after all.

Watch your carbohydrate intake, too. Everything we eat is made from carbohydrates and we get energy and a fantastic supply of nutrients from naturally occurring carbohydrates such as whole grains, nuts, beans, and starchy vegetables like potatoes. They’re called complex because it takes a long time to digest them; while that’s going on, they’re supplying us with a steady supply of fuel and keeping us from getting hungry right away. Other veggies, fruits, meats, and dairy products have carbohydrates in them, too, but they’re not complex. We digest them quickly but may feel hungry again soon.

The problem with carbohydrates is the simple ones we get from sugars, alcohol, and refined grains. These carbs have been over processed, leaving nothing nutritious behind to fuel our bodies and we stay hungry even after eating lots of them. That’s because our bodies are still begging for nutrients, not volume or bulk. These simple carbohydrates digest quickly and are converted to sugar in the bloodstream. Too much sugar is dangerous. For optimum health, avoid foods that are processed, pre-made, come in packages of any kind, are made from white things like white flour, white sugar, and white rice. Complex carbohydrates, which we want, are not white.

All the foods we are supposed to eat are loaded with vitamins. As more scientific research is done on vitamins, the more science is finding. This is one reason why relying on a healthy diet is better than trying to find nutrition in a bottle. Supplements contain only the vitamins known to science and that can be synthesized in a laboratory. These artificial nutrients don’t work in the natural human body the way the natural vitamins from healthy food choices work and they are limited to just what the lab knows how to make, not what’s hiding in the real food for future food scientists to find.

For optimum vitamin value, eat the most colorful fruits and vegetables you can find. There are vitamins galore in those color pigments. Eat fruits and veggies in season, too; they’ve got the highest nutritional value. The mango you pluck from your tree when it’s ripe will be sweet, nutritious, and delicious; the mango plucked from a tree in the opposite hemisphere and shipped weeks and weeks and miles and miles was plucked before it could ripen to its full nutritional potential. It won’t taste as good and won’t be as nutritious, either. Eat a wide variety of colorful foods grown close to home and in their natural season for best flavor and nutritional benefit.

We all know somebody who seems to eat anything they want with no apparent ill effect. That may be the case for this lucky somebody, for a while anyway. The dangers of eating an unhealthy diet do catch up and they cause complications that affect all aspects of our life. Think of food as fuel for the body. Be as mindful of the fuel you put in your body as you are about the fuel you put in your car’s gas tank. You won’t get far in a car full of sugar and you won’t get too far in a body full of inappropriate substances, either.

Drink water. Drink water. Drink water. Other than mother’s milk, water is the only beverage created for consumption by humans. There’s a reason for that. We need it. We’re a great big, walking, talking bag of water and we need to keep a constant level of water in the body or we can’t function. Water is water. Water is not coffee, tea, cola, milkshakes, fruit juice, sports drinks, beer, wine, cocktails, punch, cow’s milk, or anything else. Water is water These other beverages make great treats but shouldn’t be a regular part of the diet. And, yes, beverages do count as part of a diet. Don’t overlook them.

Most of us could use a shift in our dietary habits. Some of us need an extreme makeover. Extremes don’t work for diets, though, and failure only leads to frustration and low self-esteem, which gets us right back with our hands in the cookie jar. Ease gently into a healthier diet one step at a time.

Don’t expect to wake up to a whole new-and-improved you. By noon, you won’t know who that person is and you probably won’t like her, either. Analyze your own eating habits and identify an area or two that needs some adjustment. Start there and start small. Throw away the salt shaker and leave it at that for a week or so. Then toss the butter and margarine. Next week, trade that white bread in for the 100% whole grain kind. Replace the light-colored pasta for the darker 100% whole wheat variety. Start reaching for an apple instead of a doughnut. Drink a glass of water before having a second cup of coffee or a cocktail. It’ll take time to get used to the new you so have some fun along the way. Enjoy the journey, one small step at a time.

And don’t forget to step into an exercise routine, too. The human body was made for activity and every single part of the body will work better with a little regular exercise. But start small here, too. New federal guidelines urge us to do 150 minutes of exercise a week for improved health. That’s just 21.42857 minutes a day. Or less than 11 minutes in the morning and 11 minutes in the afternoon. Doesn’t really matter what you do. Just move.

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