I am surrounded by many people who are trying to get back to healthier eating patterns as summer sets in. I am too.
I am surprised by how much dietary information, the basics, just does not change. We know what to do:
--eat more plant-based foods
--limit processed foods
--stay away from traditional fast food--by which I mean anything fried in those industrial vats
--in restaurants, also stay away from those fried and crispy offerings
--stay hydrated, which can include more than water: tea, coffee, moderate amounts of wine!
--eat ever more plant-based foods
With all the information that's out there, I'm surprised by how much a lot of people don't know. It's not enough to know the calorie content of food; the carb content is less important than many people think. We should think in terms of nutritional value--what foods give us the most nutrients for the calories?
We can have a salad made of iceberg lettuce or a salad made of romaine lettuce. Iceberg gives us no nutrients. The romaine salad will give us at least half of the vitamin A that we need in a day.
Several weeks ago, I made a pumpkin pudding--that's pumpkin pie filling baked in a pie pan without a crust. It's delicious and packed with vitamin A and has some protein and the sugar content is moderate. I told a friend about it, and she said, "I just think of food in terms of the category."
I said, "So you'd classify what I made as dessert and not eat it?"
She nodded. And depending on what else she eats during the day, that approach might work. But there are lots of desserts in that category that would be worth the calories--like a berry crumble, made with oats.
I have nutrition on the brain too, because NPR has been covering the Blue Zones research. The Blue Zones are places where people live to be a healthy old age. Here, too, the news does not surprise me. But it is interesting how some of these foods have been in and out of favor through the years. For example, the research suggests that eating 2 oz. of nuts each day might add 2-4 years to a healthy life. I remember years when many people were avoiding nuts because of their fat.
Likewise, I've had people tell me I shouldn't eat carrots because they've got too much sugar. They may have more sugar than broccoli. But that's fine with me, because they also have lots of vitamin A and fiber.
One suggestion from the Blue Zone coverage was to eat a half a cup of beans each day: I can't find the quote, but one researcher said that most of the nutrients that you need for the day are contained in that half cup of beans. I tried doing that with lots of success back around 1996. I wonder if I could do it again . . .
When I first considered it, two decades ago, I worried that I couldn't find many ways to enjoy beans. But all I need is one or two ways. I ate a lot of veggie stews with beans. And I cooked a pot of barley and a pot of lentils and combined them with a bit of olive oil, feta cheese, and rosemary/basil/oregano/any spices which appeal. For awhile, I had a berry smoothie in the morning, a scoop of lentils and barley for lunch, and a sensible dinner. At that time, I wasn't drinking alcohol, but I was worried about my sweet tea consumption--ah, my wayward youth!
It will not surprise you that I was at my lowest weight of my adult life during that time period.
So here's my summer sensible eating plan. I will eat my plain yogurt/thawed frozen raspberry/oats/pecans mix once a day. I will eat a scoop of barley and lentils or some other half cup of beans each day or some other mix that will give me roughly half a cup of beans (you can find good recipes here and here). I will cut up a cantaloupe and a small watermelon each week and eat as much as I want each day. If I can do that, I suspect the rest will take care of itself.
But when we get to Bastille Day, I'll reassess. Stay tuned!
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