of a Healthy Diet
L. Lapp, MS, RD
past 20 years, the world and science of nutrition has become more informed,
more refined, and more confusing. With the plethora of nutrition and
food-related information out there, how do you know whats valid?
Start by examining the information source. Independent research should
back claims, not do it because I say so reasoning. Look
at whos making the recommendation and their qualifications. Be
wary if a product, like a diet supplement or book, is being sold. Also
consider how the recommendation jives with your intuition and knowledge
of eating a balanced diet. If the diet sounds too good to be true, it
to formulate your own, personalized eating plan, a good place to start
is with the basics of what we know works the facts gleaned from
years of nutrition and health research:
These days a great deal of misinformation exists based on faulty science
or weak anecdotal evidence, particularly when it comes to fad weight-loss
diets. Sure, you can lose weight by eating chicken breasts, carrots,
and cottage cheese all day, but are you getting healthy? The answer
from the public health sector (the people who care more about your health
than your wallet) is a clear and resounding No! Eating well
isnt just about losing weight (although maintaining a healthy
body weight is part of the picture); its about being healthy,
reducing risk for disease, and feeling good.
Diet for You
Despite the current high-protein weight-loss fad, for years weve
known that people who eat less animal-based foods (meat, dairy, creams,
etc.) and more plant foods are healthier. From cancer risk to maintaining
healthier body weights to having improved serum iron levels, healthy-eating
vegetarians have come out ahead. However, you dont need to cut
out animal foods or even meat all together. The American Heart Association
recommends that we consume 6oz of meat or less per day. Limiting red
meat to 4oz per week is also important as is using lean meats and fat-reducing
More Vegetables and Fruits
The annals of nutrition and public health research are packed with study
after study proving the benefits of eating produce. Yet, according to
the Center for Disease Control, less than a quarter of the U.S. population
eats the recommended minimum of five servings per day. The research
solidly shows that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits offers significant
health benefits including strengthened bones, weight loss, and reduced
risks of cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. Poor
intake of produce now exceeds smoking as a risk factor for many cancers.
Veggies are the most nutrient dense category of foods, meaning
they have the most nutrients per calorie of all the food groups. The
vitamins, minerals, and fiber in produce are extremely important, as
are a whole other class of compounds called phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals, the potent antioxidant protectors of the bodys
cells, are naturally occurring compounds that give produce its variety
of colors. The more colors you eat, the more phytochemicals in your
system, and the more protection your bodys cells have from oxidative
damage, the leading contributor to disease and aging. Make vegetables
and fruits the basis of your diet. Try to get a minimum of six cup servings
of a variety of vegetables, some cooked and some raw, and two to three
servings of fruits every day.
Fats Are not Equal
Weve known for decades that the saturated fats, and to a lesser
extent cholesterol, from animal foods are significant contributors to
heart disease. But more recent research reveals theres more to
the story. Were now learning that heart disease and possibly other
health conditions (i.e., diabetes) have inflammatory components. This
inflammatory response appears to be activated by certain dietary fats
called Omega 6 polyunsaturates found in corn oil, sunflower, safflower,
and soybean oils.
Less Processed Food
The Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats are abundant in processed foods. Processed
foods are also high in refined carbohydrates that pack calories and
sodium but contain little valuable nutrition.
Flax, and Filberts for Health
Diets lower in Omega 6 fats but higher in the anti-inflammatory Omega
3 polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are associated with
improved health. Make nuts, non-hydrogenated nut butters, cold-water
fish, olives, olive oil, and pumpkin seeds a regular part of your diet.
Consider using supplemental flax seed and flax or fish oils to up your
intake of Omega 3s.
well doesnt have to be complicated. Make whole, unprocessed foods
your nutritional rule. Emphasize vegetables and fruits.
Use whole grains and plant proteins like nuts, legumes, and seeds on
a daily basis. Cut back or eliminate the refined, prepackaged, artificially
colored and flavored processed foods. Put sweets back where they belong,
in the occasional treat category. Dont just feed your
body, nourish it. That coupled with regular exercise and youre
on your way to feeling good and staying healthy.
L. Lapp, MS, RD, is a Portland-based Registered Dietitian with 13 years
experience in public health and clinical nutrition. She can be contacted
for consultation at julialapp