Mindful awareness

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Making Healthy Food Choices a Little Easier

I know that most people try their best to treat their bodies well and to serve their families healthful foods. Few things make me happier because I would like everyone to feel the exuberance that results from being fit. I’m not referring to beauty as synonymous with being thin or having swimsuit-lovely figures but to the energy and joy experienced from having a healthy heart. Being fit means more than being one’s optimal weight. Being fit means being able to briskly walk across a parking lot without feeling out of breath, keeping up with one’s kids as they bicycle around the neighborhood, and feeling the heart pump with exercise but not like it feels as though it will explode.

Creating a healthy heart requires aerobic exercise by sustaining an increased heart rate. But I’ve blogged about that previously and I will again. A healthy heart also requires a diet rich in wholesome foods. And that is what I will blog about today.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help anyone maintain a healthy weight and healthy lipid and cholesterol levels. The result is a healthy heart and elastic arteries so that blood is less likely to clot, blood remains a healthy viscosity, and arteries can accommodate blood pumped by the heart.

But recognizing healthful foods can be challenged by the way foods are packaged and marketed. A food product labeled “low fat” is not necessarily healthy. It probably means that the version labeled “low fat” has fewer fat grams than the “regular” option but it could still contain more fat than the minimum daily requirements recommend. Food engineers also probably replaced the fat with added sugar and salt to replace taste lost by reducing fat. Similarly, foods labeled as “diet” or “low calorie” may have fewer fat grams and fewer calories than non-diet options but they still offer too little nutritional value to make the calories worth ingesting.

Even vegetarians can choose unhealthy options. Potato chips, soda, and cheese pizza are all vegetarian options, after all, and I don’t think anyone would be fooled to think that would be a healthy diet. Fake meat products made with soy, such as lunchmeat replacements, turkey alternatives and sausage substitutes often contain more chemicals, sodium and fat than lean beef, pork and poultry. Beans, nuts, and legumes are healthier protein options.
Many people are surprised to learn that the foods they eat are not as healthy as they thought. They had the right intentions when they replaced foods with low fat options and meat substitutes. But marketing food products is big business and food companies are motivated to present their products in a way that is often confusing, perhaps even deceiving.

Figuring out how to eat well doesn’t need to be difficult, however. Wholesome foods will be the best option. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and lean meats (if one decides to eat meat) will always be healthier choices than produced and packaged foods. I think Michael Pollan’s advice was concise and accurate when he suggested a few recommendations. He recommends selecting foods with no more than 5 ingredients. That is an easy way to read a food label! More than 5 ingredients indicates that the food probably has been so processed that it has little in common with the original food item. Pollan also has said that if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, then it isn’t. All food options were whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats before food manufacturing became big business. Another of Pollan’s recommendations is to shop only around the periphery of a grocery store, where produce, dairy, and meats are shelved. Interior and frozen food aisles contain mostly packaged and processed foods with more than 5 ingredients and less likely to be recognized by Grandma as food.

Food manufacturers are motivated to make selecting healthy foods more confusing than it really is. The exuberance of being fit can be achieved by exercising and choosing wholesome foods and making those choices feels great!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent advice and timely reminder(s). Thank you!!