Mindful awareness

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Few Absolutes

True confession – I, the vegan of nearly 30 years, ate a marshmallow the other night. I didn’t plan to. I’d thought I’d just eat a graham cracker as my treat when everyone else ate s’mores. But I actually ate a marshmallow inside the graham cracker for the first time in decades. Marshmallows have more sugar and corn syrup than anything I ever eat, and gelatin which I “never” eat. It tasted ok; it tasted like nostalgia for childhood. It isn’t something I’ll do again for decades, but it was a fun evening and the marshmallow was part of the fun. Following up on my last blog, my choice wasn’t too much or too little, it was just right for the time.

Few food choices should be absolute. Most people know how they should eat but when they eat without being mindful of their choices their diets don’t reflect what they know. A little extra sugar at a party is fine as long as one makes the choice to eat that cake and ice cream mindfully, enjoying each bite, because it isn’t a daily indulgence. Less healthy options can be part of a healthy lifestyle and treats should be included in one’s diet as special, not regular food items.

Healthy diets need balance and moderation. It isn’t accurate to classify foods as either “good” or “bad” with two exceptions. No person should ever consume trans fats or processed meats. The former is indisputably related to heart disease and the latter to cancers of the pancreas, stomach, colon, breast and prostate. Those are two absolutes that should undeniably be avoided. But other food products are not as absolute, certainly not the way fad diets suggest. (Tobacco products are a third absolute as they are irrefutably related to oral and lung cancers and heart disease but it they aren’t food products.)

If it were easy to select healthy foods to maintain a healthy diet, then diet programs and products wouldn’t be a billion-dollar business. Still, informed consumers can make choices and will know to be skeptical about any diet plan that relies completely on absolutes. A program that requires “only” eating their packaged foods is as much a red flag as a program that requires completely cutting out an entire food group such as carbohydrates or eating only raw foods.

A diet that cuts out carbohydrates cannot be sustained so these dieters regain the weight they may have lost when they begin the program. Carbohydrates do not make people fat, in fact, they are necessary for a healthy diet. People gain weight by eating too many calories. People that are overweight tend to eat more carbohydrate calories than are necessary mostly because they are prominent in prepared foods and chain and fast food restaurants because they are inexpensive and easy to produce. Carbs are not bad! They just need to be eaten in moderation as a part of a balanced diet.

Non-fat diets are a fallacy. It is impossible to completely cut fats. Nor should one want to. Fats are necessary to metabolize vitamins. In fact, vitamins in tomatoes are unavailable without added fat. Although trans fats are not good choices, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in the forms of canola and olive oils, nuts, and fish are healthy and even reduce risk for cardio vascular disease. Saturated fats in the form of beef and dairy are no more caloric than the healthier fat options but are less healthful and increase cardiovascular risk so should be eaten more sparingly.  

Raw diets are not all good! Many vegetables need to be cooked for the nutrients to be available to humans. Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage are among the vegetables that offer little nutrition when eaten raw. Raw diets aren’t necessarily all bad, but the diets need to be considered part of an overall nutritious diet, including healthy foods that are cooked to make them nutritious.

With few exceptions, foods aren’t all good or all bad. Most are just right and even less healthful options can be part of a healthy diet when eaten sparingly as treats. Consider a few of your indulgences and plan on fitting them into a healthy lifestyle without remorse.

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