A New Look at Food

You Are What You Eat

If you are at the point along your path where you are ready to permanently change unhealthy eating habits but have previously had difficulty breaking years of conditioning, I would like to recommend the following tips for what I like to call the transition stage. During the transition stage, you can begin gradually changing your eating habits by reducing fat, sugar, salt, and chemical additives and replacing unhealthy favorites with more nutritious substitutes.

 

If you have already passed through this stage, congratulations! You have discovered that proper nutrition truly is an essential component of your personal voyage of pure health with its own unique benefits and rewards.


If you have always eaten a traditional fat filled diet, but are ready to make some changes, you do not have to go cold turkey in order to reduce your dietary fat intake.  You can gradually wean yourself from eating excessive amounts of dietary fat, if you wish. It can take up to three months for your taste buds to adapt to dietary fat changes, so allow sufficient time for the transition to take place.


It is much easier to give up the fatty foods that you may currently crave when you have a replacement for them. You may find it more effective to replace your high fat food items a little at a time. On your next trip to the grocery store, make it a point to exchange at least one item for a replacement low fat item.  


Continue until you have replaced all the high fat foods in your pantry and refrigerator. When you are ready, you may want to start exchanging lower fat items with fat free versions.


Be careful, however, not to get too comfortable at this point in the transition stage. Do not fool yourself by assuming that simply because your kitchen is full of low fat, processed food products, that you are eating as well as you possibly can. Devil’s food cookies and fudge brownies are not health promoting foods, no matter how attractively they are marketed.


Depending on the overall nutritional content, low fat or fat free products are not necessarily the end result of your nutritional journey.  In many cases, they are simply temporary crutches that help you to permanently say goodbye to an unhealthy, high fat diet.

 

In some cases, such as switching from whole to skim milk, the main nutritional difference is a reduced fat content. In other products, however, more sugar or salt are added to low fat or fat free food products than the original high fat version.  This is why that during this stage, it is important to keep reading your labels, not only for fat content, but also for sodium, sugars, additives, and preservatives.


Compare different brands and manufacturers. Spend a little time in the health food aisle of your grocery store, or better yet, in a health food store.  Instead of wasting time trying to make sense of the latest fad diet book, simply be completely honest with yourself about the types and amounts of foods that make up the majority of your diet. Concentrate on what you instinctively know are your weak areas.


Rather than trying to follow a complicated diet plan or program that does not work in real life, strengthen your resolve to give up the empty calorie foods, binges, or fast foods that may be at the root of your unhealthy eating habits.


If you have never stepped foot in your local health food store, but recognize many of the faces at your favorite fast food drive up window, it is time to be adventurous and veer off of your familiar path, or in this case, comfortable rut.


Health food stores are not the mystical, mysterious, or even strange places that some people may have perceived them to be in the past.  Not everyone who shops at health food stores wears tie-dye clothing and smells of incense.  Although some health food stores are notoriously expensive, we have found a few close to our home that are reasonably priced and offer a good selection of organic produce and products.


Today, it is much easier to find organic products that are also low in fat than it was a few years ago. Remember to read your labels for fat content, even in the health food store. It is usually less expensive to buy foods such as grains and legumes in bulk.


I like experimenting with new foods and have actually come to enjoy the taste of  foods such as organic rice milk and lentil soup. Frozen organic veggie burgers and soy dogs taste much better than they sound and only take a few minutes to prepare.


I do not believe, however, that it is necessary to spend your whole paycheck at the health food store in order to provide your body with quality fuel for your journey. With a little research, comparison-shopping, and experimentation, however, you can increase the quality and amount of pure energy foods in your diet by shopping at these alternative markets more often. I also urge you to further explore different trails along your new path by experimenting with recipes from the multitude of healthy cookbooks that are currently available.


 Ask friends and family about their time saving, fat-reducing secrets. The amount of valuable, practical information that you can obtain by steering the conversation in the right direction may surprise you.  Encourage your friends and family to join you on your new adventure--the more the merrier.


While continuing your exploration and research, you may choose to take advantage of the toll free numbers listed on most products. A few years ago, I discovered some very interesting facts about fat and food labeling by making a few simple phone calls to satisfy my own curiosity. 


It all began when I was reading labels in the cooking oil aisle at the grocery store.   I discovered that every type of oil I picked up had fourteen grams of fat per tablespoon. While looking at the label of the fat free cooking spray that I sometimes use, I noticed that it contains safflower oil.


I wondered how it could be classified as fat free since it contained oil.

One day, out of curiosity, I called the toll free number listed on the can and found that the answer was in the serving size. For this product, one serving was considered as one third of a second of spray, which in my experience does not cover a very large surface.


Another phone call, this time to the F.D.A., verified that if a product contains less than .05 gram of fat per serving, which is considered a trivial amount, it can be labeled as fat free.  In actuality, in the 744 servings contained in this one can, there was a total of approximately 185 grams of fat.


What this little lesson taught me was this; for manufacturers to be able to label their products fat free, they may reduce the serving size to ensure that it stays below the FDA’s parameters--yet another reason to pay special attention to serving sizes while reading labels.


I also learned that the words high, rich in, or an excellent source of, in connection with any nutrient mean that the product must contain at least 20 percent of the recommended daily value for that nutrient per serving. To be labeled as a good source of a certain nutrient, one serving must contain ten to nineteen percent of the daily value for that particular nutrient. Also, the words 95% fat free on a label means that the food contains five grams or less of fat per one hundred grams of the food.


Although reducing dietary fat is crucial in the fight against cardiovascular disease and obesity, it is important to be aware that many low fat and fat free foods still contain high levels of simple sugars and salt. Remember, fat free does not mean calorie free, and is not always synonymous with guilt free.


As you venture along your exciting new nutritional path, gaining energizing momentum by researching, substituting, and experimenting, you may discover a challenging spot in the form of one of America’s favorite pastimes—eating out.

Making the right nutritional decisions when you are eating out at a restaurant takes some practical knowledge and quite a bit of healthy discipline.


One trick that I have found helpful is to eat a small piece of fruit or other healthy snack before I leave the house. That way, your stomach is not growling by the time your food arrives, and dessert is not quite so tempting.  Also, do not be afraid to ask the waiter for low fat suggestions.   Most restaurants are finally starting to see the lite and offer more heart smart choices. Also, when ordering from a menu, avoid anything with the dirty word fried. 


You are usually better off with something that is broiled, baked, roasted, or grilled.  Some other no-no’s are gravy, cheese, creamed, parmigiana, white sauce, crispy, au gratin, batter dipped, breaded, and flaky. Chicken and fish are  usually a better choice than beef. Make sure that they are skinless and not fried, however.


When ordering pasta, veer away from the creamy white sauces such as fettucine alfredo, which can have more than sixty grams of fat and one thousand calories in a three cup serving. Stick to the red marinara type sauces. Ask your server to hold or go light on the cheese. Again, pay special attention to serving sizes.


Bread, especially if it is a dark, hearty whole grain, when eaten in moderation, is not as fattening as you may think. It is the butter you put on it that can be your downfall. Be aware that soup and salad is not always a low calorie or low fat choice, especially if the soup is a fat-filled, creamy bisque or chowder and if the salad is drenched in heavy, oily dressing.


Do not be afraid to ask if the restaurant offers any low fat or fat free dressings. Always ask for the salad dressing on the side and use it sparingly, or try a little virgin olive oil and vinegar or light vinegarette dressing. Be aware that croutons, bacon bits, avocado, sunflower seeds, and cheese are high in fat.


It is also extremely important to avoid eating too much in the evening. Many people with weight problems eat the majority of their calories after 5 PM, when their bodies need the energy the least. I highly recommend eating the bulk of your calories earlier in the day. That way, they are more likely to be used as pure energy rather than stored as excess bodyfat. 


Remember this fact the next time you are staring into the refrigerator wondering what to have for a late night snack.

Also, remember that your body functions most efficiently when you spread your calories throughout the day. By eating many mini meals, you will keep your blood sugar at a more consistent level and positively affect your metabolic rate.

 

Do not wait until you are shaky and weak to eat. Usually, by the time you get to this point, you are more concerned with what you can eat the quickest, not with what choice has the most nutritional value. Plan ahead and supply your body with quality fuel for your high quality, high energy, Pura Vida lifestyle.


Regardless of exactly where you are on your nutritional path, I hope that you are taking time to practice what you have learned on a daily basis and incorporating the changes into your changing lifestyle.  Wherever you are, take time to enjoy the view, and step back a little in order to see the whole picture. Always keeps in mind that listening to your inner voice and nourishing your soul are just as important as nourishing your body with high quality food.