FEATURE – Nutrition dates back to the beginning of time. In 400 B.C., Hippocrates said: “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”
My favorite early account of nutrition is found in the Bible. Daniel 1 tells of Daniel and his friends choosing not to eat the king’s meat and alcohol. Instead, they ate grains, vegetables and water for 10 days. At the end of the 10 days, they appeared healthier than all the king’s men. Unfortunately, food as medicine is not used today as it should be. Our society runs on trends and fads rather than sound nutritional recommendations. This is regrettable, given the large amount of evidence-based research on what constitutes a healthy diet. No matter how many fads come and go, there are basic principles that have stood the test of time.
Plants are best
Research shows that it is impossible to overeat on four basic food groups: fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates (starchy vegetables and whole intact grains – no flours) and beans/legumes. The amount of fiber and volume prevents overeating. When you chew your food, it goes to your stomach, where stretch receptors send hormones to your brain signaling fullness.
Without volume, you don’t feel full. Research shows that most people eat the same volume of food every day – roughly 4 pounds, give or take your size. Most Americans power-pack by eating the most amount of calories in the smallest volume possible (fast food, packaged foods, animal products, oils, nuts, et cetera). We want to do the opposite: high-volume but calorie-dilute. The added benefit to this is that calorie-dilute usually means nutrient-dense, which is really what we are after. Lots of nutrition in little calories. The best part? No need to count calories. Focus on quality, rather than quantity.
Potato chips have 10 grams of fat per serving. Peanut butter has 15 grams per serving. If you only care about quantity, you might choose the potato chips. But fats, and calories for that matter, are not created equal. Quality fats include avocado, nuts, seeds, olives and (small amounts of) fatty fish.
And oils? Don’t believe the hype. There is a romanticism of oils currently that is dangerous and unwarranted. Oils are liquid fat with no nutritional value. If you use oils for cooking or baking, that’s one thing. But using any of them because you think they are healthy isn’t wise. In addition, even healthy fats should be limited for weight control. Sugar, salt and fat (even healthy fats) are addicting. They activate reward centers in our brain that push us to continue eating. This is how the food industry keeps us coming back for more.
When people quit eating “carbs,” they lose weight. But let’s take a look at what they give up: deep dish pizza, cookies, breads, cake – and we wonder why they lose weight? It’s not a matter of carbs, they just quit eating junk. Potatoes are not a problem, it’s what you put on the potato that’s the problem.
At the end of the day, your health problems did not come from eating too many plain potatoes or too many bananas or too much quinoa. If it comes from the ground, it’s free game.
Lastly, use common sense when sorting through nutrition misinformation. When considering nutritional plans watch for red flags; see if they do any of the following:
- Promise miracles
- Require large investments of money
- Do not require exercise or changes in eating habits
- Make recommendations based on a single study or studies funded by the company selling the product
- Give personal testimonials
- Require fasting, cleansing or other possibly harmful self-treatment options
What’s right isn’t always popular, and what’s popular isn’t always right. Let’s get back to basics. A healthy lifestyle needs to be a priority and will take effort. But it shouldn’t be expensive, confusing or unattainable. Armed with common sense and principles that last, you will get there!
Written by Emily Fonnesbeck, R.D., C.D., C.L.T., for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.
Fonnesbeck is a registered dietitian and received her degree at Brigham Young University. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and belongs to the practice groups of Integrated/Functional Nutrition, Weight Management and Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition. She has a certificate in Adult Weight Management and is a certified LEAP therapist.
As a member of the research team at Chrysalis Clinical Research, she also counsels diabetic patients. Formerly, she worked at The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge in Ivins where she taught lectures, led private consultations, managed meal plans and traveled to speak for corporate wellness programs. She has had the pleasure of assisting many resort guests and former Biggest Loser contestants in finding what nutritional meal plan works for them.
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