I have a penchant for short, pithy explanations to things that people – mostly people selling things – try to make complicated. My favorite example is Michael Pollan’s “Eat food, less of it, mostly plants”. There’s a whole lot of health and wisdom wrapped up in those seven words. Along those same lines, I like the advice offered by Runner’s World magazine for The Healthy Runner’s Diet. It lists six rules applicable to anyone interested in health and longevity:
1. Eat seeds or foods made from seeds
2. Eat five different colored fruits and vegetables daily
3. Eat plant foods with their skins intact
4. Drink milk and eat milk products that come from animals
5. Eat foods that come from cold water
6. Eat meat, poultry, or eggs from free-range or grass-fed animals
There are no calculations here and nothing to write down. And you don’t have to be a slave to every word. You won’t sprout hair on your palms if you forget your five colors a day. These are guidelines and not commandments.
I will add another three:
7. There are no forbidden foods. No food will make you die tomorrow. Observe moderation
8. There are no superfoods. No food will impart immediate health and longevity
9. Anyone who tells you to avoid this one food! or to eat this one food! is selling you something
Stay healthy and, as always, please share tips.
Good advice here from Monica Reinagel, The Nutrition Diva
Nothing new under the sun. Then why don’t we do it?
Copyright Dennis Mitton
I admit that I’ve been wrong. I’ve long argued that people know what healthy habits are and that we just don’t do them. So I was shocked, recently, when a friend told me that he traded his cake and candy snacks for a jar of peanuts each day. “I’m trying to eat healthy”, he says. “Huh? You’re eating a jar a day?” “Yeah”, he said. “Better than donuts, right.” Now he was shocked. “Probably not,” I said. “Good gawd. Do you know how many calories are in a jar of peanuts? Probably more calories than you need in an entire day. Dude, you’re going to end up weighing 300 pounds.” He didn’t believe me and grabbed the jar. Sure enough, the suggested serving size was one ounce or ‘about 29 peanuts’. That amount conferred 170 healthy calories. Multiply that by sixteen servings in the jar and you are inviting serious health issues. So don’t imagine that everyone knows the things that Agus writes about. They don’t. And few who do know what healthy means actually live by it.
We need good health advice but where to find it? The fact that my local Barnes and Noble bookstore reserves about fifty feet of shelf space for books offering conflicting advice isn’t a help. So when I find a book offering sane advice consistent with other sane advice, I’m happy to endorse and recommend it. A Short Guide to a Long Life is such a book.
The book isn’t sexy and makes few promises. You will not be a skinny rich movie star pooping golden eggs after reading this book. But, even better, if you choose to do so, you can embark on a path to increased health and longevity. The book is small and short and this bothers some reviewers. I like that the book can be read in a couple hours. It makes it easy to grab from the shelf for a quick reminder o the path you’re on. In it Agus lists sixty-five tidbits under three headings: What to Do, What to Avoid, and Doctor’s Orders. I’m sorry but there is nothing new, novel, or earth-shattering here. No magic pills or secret Chinese bulbs that will keep you in perfect health until age 150. What you will find is very excellent advice in all areas of health and well-being. Advice that is time-tested and accurate. Advice that actually will help you live longer and happier.
There is a good bit of Grandma’s advice here – grow a garden, don’t skip breakfast, have children (!) – but lots of new stuff, too, like scheduling your life on computer or getting a DNA screen. I especially liked the What to Avoid section where he slays a host of health myths: forget juicing (“Does your body really need ten carrots all at once?”), ignore `detoxes’, and no, GMOs are not going to kill you and your children.
I think this is a wonderfully handy little guide that makes a useful reference. Two thumbs way up. Read it all the way through or read a chapter and then work on it for a week. Either way will lead you to better health.
If you think chugging a charcoal milkshake makes sense then just keep on moving (see here). There’s nothing to see. Or if you chase after superfoods and avoid putatively cancer laden staples then you’re probably in the wrong place, too. There are plenty of sites that shill everything from charcoal to fermented who-knows-what that are more exciting and happy to take your money. If you are interested in livable, sensible advice about food and health then we should get along fine.
I try to consciously eat, move, and live in a way that promotes good health and longevity. It’s never glamorous nor is it always easy – I’ve yet to meet a pastry or hot dog that I don’t like and much of the food industry sets itself against me. Like everyone else I am busy and have two girls who will only eat a handful of ‘foods’. I know it’s not the most healthy option for me or for my family but I buy convenience foods and snacks and the kids live on chicken nuggets and noodles. I have no beef with grocery stores or industrial food plants and take lone responsibility for my health.
I have always liked Micheal Pollan’s advice to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I like what he says because he just makes so much sense. He’s not inflammatory. He’s not chasing. He’s not selling the latest and greatest nor is he warning us that eating this will put in the cancer ward in a year. His focus is on good food and from there touches on all things related to it including nutrition, economics, and family. He comes across to me as a wise friend who encourages me to just try something – if I like it great! If not then that’s okay too.
If any of this resounds with you then you might like to watch the documentary In Defense of Food that is showing on PBS right now. It’s a fascinating and thought provoking hour and a half that looks at food from dirt to grocery to plate. They show how urban kids in last chance schools, given a garden and help growing vegetables, learn how to cook and enjoy eating what they grow. The French Paradox is explored: how is it that the French dine on fat, pastry, and wine and are more healthy than we are in the US? (Hint – they eat small meals, don’t snack, and relish fresh food). I was fascinated with the segment where several people were brought in a room for a pasta taste test. They grabbed plates, spooned up portions, and then discovered that the food was only lukewarm. The ‘hosts’ apologized and brought out another pot with new – slightly smaller – plates. The same folks dished up and each one put less on the plate. Sounds easy and self-evident? Then why not try it? In a similar exercise of social engineering a high school sorted food in its cafeteria line from healthier to less so. Kids filled their plates with the healthy first and found less room for less healthy alternatives. In a very short time the school went from needing 25 pounds of carrots a week for carrot sticks to 75. No one complained and no one demanded more space for pizza. This kind of engineering is foisted on us every day by food companies. They spend millions and millions of dollars each year on advertising, packaging, and lobbying to put more and more food in front of us for more profit. Pollan also addresses meat since he’s been beaten up by both vegans and carnivores for the ‘Mostly plants’ part of his healthy mantra. He clarifies that he’s not against eating meat and that meat can be healthy and enjoyable. It’s the amount of meat we eat that is unhealthy. Be sure to watch for the surgeons pulling solidified cholesterol from a clogged artery – that in itself might help change your habits as much as any sage or sane advice.
I haven’t a clue how long the documentary will run but if the brain health or Wayne Dyer shows are any indication if you miss them this time they will be back.
Click on the following for other posts on healthy eating:
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[This is an installment in a series I’m writing on living long and living well. I expect to take about fifty years to write it. Go here to read the introduction. At this point I have no plans for scheduled installments and I’m not following any couch to marathon plan. I write about fitness and food but am also deeply interested in more nuanced things that make life good. If you would like to know when I publish please enter your email address in the follow button at the top right of any page. Thanks!]
In the last Fitness50 post (here) I wrote about how important it is to manage the basics of health and fitness before worrying about more obtuse treatments and activities. It is increasingly clear that food is the primary driver of health and there is hardy any single thing you can do to improve your health and relationship with food that is more valuable than cooking at home. Even foods that aren’t quite as good for you, like the donuts shown here, are better for you if cooked at home.
There is some downside. Cooking at home requires more time to shop and more time for cooking but can be offset by time saved eating out or driving through. Meal planning helps by cutting out time spent wandering through the aisles wondering what to buy. If you lay heavy on expensive meats or fish then cooking at home can be expensive but there are alternatives. Go meatless for a couple of nights each week. Extend meat purchases by not making them the centerpiece of the meal but by adding them to pasta or rice. And you can start slow. If you don’t normally cook at home, don’t know what to cook, or even how to cook then pick one night a week to start. Remember – you’ve spent a lifetime developing the habits and tastes that you have. They won’t change overnight. Feel free to take it slow. Just be sure to get on the train.
Obviously tangible benefits…
1. You know you ingredients
When eating out or when cooking from boxes you’re at the mercy of the restaurant or manufacturer. You hope the restaurant is clean, sanitary, and uses only the most fresh ingredients. My intuition and people sense tells me that this isn’t always true. And Gordon Ramsay makes me feel as comfortable about restaurant pantries as the movie Jaws makes me feel about swimming in the ocean. I’m even less confident about boxed foods. I know what’s in there and not much of it is food. Learn to enjoy the farmer’s market and stick to the outer rim of the grocer’s where they usually keep real food. Wander into the inner aisles at risk.
2. You can control portions
I’m not lying. I went to a restaurant recently and ordered a hamburger. What came out to me was a plate sized hunk of beef stuck between two huge pieces of bread. Every liquid condiment known to man was slapped on to this behemoth. I ate about a quarter of it and tossed the rest. Then fasted for the rest of the day. You can avoid this at home. Of course you can always go back for more but that’s another issue. A rule of thumb is that a ‘portion’ is about the size of your palm.
3. You can control nutrients
You don’t have to become a nutritionist but learn how to jumble the mix of carbs, proteins, and fats that you want. It’s not that difficult with real food. Work on reducing processed wheats and sugars.
4. You can address allergies and sensitivities
I have a daughter with nut allergies and a sensitivity to dairy. When peanut butter touches her tongue whatever is in her stomach immediately comes up. If she eats more than a few bits of cheese or drinks milk we know that within a couple of hours – when the bacteria in her large intestine start feasting on undigested lactose – she will be swollen and hurting. We are able to control all of this by cooking and eating at home. It’s not always convenient but neither is cleaning up vomit. (Read my post here on lactose intolerance.)
5. It can save money
There is a constant battle about whether or not healthy eating cost more or less than providing the average American diet. It’s a case where it’s essential to look at what is being purchased. We eat lots of rice and throw in a lot of vegetables. We go two or three days a week without meat. We skimp on chips and snacks and no one drinks soda. When we do buy meat, though, it’s high qaulity and often more expensive. We love fish and buy fresh cuts of cold water fish – more expensive where we live. And when we want a dessert even a bag of chocolate chips for baking cookies costs three bucks – Oreos are probably cheaper. My guess is that we spend a little less than the average American family with kids. But we are both willing to spend a little more for a more healthy diet. Even for fish and expensive meats, though, I find that by eating less at one sitting and spreading that pound sized fillet over a couple of nights you can extend your expense.
A little less tangible…
6. It’s easy and less expensive to try new things.
How many times have you been out to eat and passed on trying something different because if you don’t like it you will be hungry and poor? So try it at home. Substitute parsnips for carrots. We’ve learned to love mashed sweet potatoes. Give quinoa a try (it’s great.) One piece of advice I found somewhere was that I can cut sugars in half when cooking and still get the sweetness so on those times when I make desserts they can at least be a little more healthy.
7. Family time
Remember that intangibles are as important for health as more obvious choices. Include the family in cooking and in eating together. My girls love to help and the mess and clean up is worth the time together. Take time to teach the family what healthy food looks like. Get them on board. If you are older – like me – then help them to recognize early how important health is so they don’t have to start over when they are your age.
8. But be careful…
Cooking at home – while healthier in almost every aspect – is not carteblanche permission to gorge on healthy chocolate chip cookies. This is a trap that I willingly fall into thinking that since I just ran five miles, well, those cookies are made with honey instead of sugar, certainly a handful won’t hurt… Yes, they might be healthier than store bought cookies moderation is still the key.
Written this last spring around the time when we figure out that our New Year’s resolutions aren’t coming true.
And…kind of along these lines, here is a podcast by Chalene Johnson of fitness fame called One Step Goal Mastery. It’s pretty good – check it out.
We’ve had a solid six weeks since revving up with our New Year’s resolutions to be better, stronger, smarter, and weigh less. For many of us, the tides of change have been something more akin to a leaking faucet. Why? There are lots of reasons. One is that you’ve been doing what you do for a long time. Every single time you repeat the activity or behavior or thought you entrain that habit deeper into your psyche. It takes time to undo a lifetime of training. Even bad training. Be patient with yourself and if you trip up then start over from where your tripped.
Another reason change is hard is that you’ve set your life to certain patterns. You want to start cooking your meals but all you’ve every done is microwaved box dinners. You’ll need to stock your panty with real food, make sure you have the right utensils, and plan on the time it takes to cook. If your life includes running from one activity to the next it will be hard to slow down to cook. Maybe start with the weekends and cook enough for a couple of nights? Or start with just a couple recipes that you really enjoy. Learn to cook those well and keep supplies on hand. Tidy up the rest of your pantry with healthy snacks and fruits.
One other change is difficult is because we simply take too much on and it’s impossible or unreasonable to maintain. This has been a complaint of specialty diets since diets were invented. Sure bacon and eggs sounds great for breakfast. By the third day of eating only meat you’re getting a little weary of it. Two weeks out and you hope to never see another piece of bacon as long as you live. There is wisdom in doing something good for you that you can sustain rather than doing something perfect that is impossible to maintain.
Keep a steady pace with your eye on the goal. Don’t try too much at once. Go for small wins and build to larger ones. Remember – in health and fitness – all those small gains add up.
Every stat I have ever seen about New Year’s resolutions shows that our resolve wanes and then plateaus around the end of January and by June we are all fat and laughing and asking Huh? Why is it so darned hard to do what we know is best for us? I didn’t make any health resolutions except to keep doing what I’ve been doing – trying to eat a more healthy diet based on Micheal Pollan’s mantra to “Eat food, less of it, mostly plants” and to keep moving. By moving I mean exercise – I love to run – but I also mean doing yoga, stretching when I watch TV, and playing with the kids. All of these activities add up to increased health. And if you haven’t heard then please read up on new research showing that lack of activity is twice as deadly as obesity. Just walking for twenty minutes daily can save your life – how’s that for easy? Here is a good write up in the Telegraph. For more intrepid souls here is the paper in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It is being offered as a free pdf.
I try to make health easy. I plan my runs around the family’s schedule and if I don’t get to run I can do stretches with the kids. They get a kick out of it and ol’ dad feels better. Hopefully we will see better weather soon and can start playing tennis and going on hikes. All good stuff that builds the body and relationships. We try to minimize sweets around the house. I never think of them unless I know they’re in the pantry. Then it’s as if they scream at me each time a pass.
So if you’ve dropped your resolutions pick them up again. What’s special about New Years? It’s just an arbitrary day we’ve picked off the calendar. If losing five pounds or learning French or washing the car once a week was your goal then it’s a good goal now.
To ‘re-up’ with your resolutions here is a good post from WebMD on how to develop and stick with goals – here.
Here’s good site called Mind Tools with all kinds of information to help you keep moving in whatever direction you decide.
If you exercise or count calories you know that you need to burn about 3500 calories to lose a pound. So you eat a little less (200 calories a day) and work out for forty minutes at night (300 calories) and, after a week, have lost a pound. In a month you weigh four pounds less, and in a year you’ve dropped fifty pounds! Except that you don’t. The math never quite works out.
Tucked into the footnotes of Yoni Freedhoff’s sane book The Diet Fix (See my review here.) is a reference to an interesting study. Researchers monitored about two hundred unfit people aged forty to seventy for a year. Half were men and half were women. Some were recommended by MDs and some responded to calls for research subjects. The subjects performed home or gym based moderate to vigorous aerobic work outs for sixty minutes a day, six days a week under the care of fitness trainers. Only six dropped out and all kept detailed records.
How much weight could you lose on such an aggressive regimen? Twenty pounds? Forty? Enough to model for the local surf shop? The average weight loss for women was 3.1 pounds. 3.1! For men? 4.0! Hardy stellar. (Though the weight loss was low it was shown that those who worked more lost more and the study appears to have been conducted superbly.)
So what’s up?
Freedhoff uses this study to argue for the primacy of food and eating in weight loss. Eat right in reasonable portions and you will likely lose as much or more weight than when working out. (Thought he stresses that daily exercise is essential for health in ways other than weight loss.)
Your machine or monitor dramatically overestimates the calories you burn. I have about three different monitors that all give different figures for calories burned. And to my knowledge none of them back out the 100 calories an hour I burn just sleeping. This means that I probably…
Eat the calories back. Wow! I just burned a thousand calories! Surely I can have two brownies right? Well, I only burned four hundred calories and just scarfed six hundred. Not the kind of math that adds up to weight loss.
We don’t eat as healthy as we think. Especially if you eat packaged foods even if they purport to be healthy.
As much as that five hundred calorie burn feels good unless you do it every day you are likely over eating for the week or month. Calories are cumulative and one day of working out and low cal meals won’t make up for three days of snacks.
Though you get tired from exercising you might not be getting enough good sleep. If you’re amped up from exercise you might have a hard time relaxing. If I’m up late I’m probably snacking on something.
You’re chasing a fad. They’re fun and sometimes crazy but never really work in the long run. Stick to eating real food that you cook yourself. The best advice that I know of is to eat real food, less of it, mostly plants.
So what to do? Keep exercising! But exercise with more of an eye on cardiovascular health and muscle and bone maintenance. If you want to lose weight learn to watch your eating habits, real caloric intake, and focus on real food.
Unless you’re French and believe that the primary purpose of food is pleasure there are two needs that food fulfills but only one is ever talked about. If you read anything about food you know that carbs, proteins, and fats all power your body. Fight it out however you want. Dietary science continues to uphold the fuzzy logic that humans are resilient when it comes to food, that there are no foods that will kill you and none that are super foods. Eat lots of different foods, avoid processed when possible, and eat lots of plants. You’ll be fine.
What you will very rarely hear about is the role of food in providing nutrition. While every cell of your body requires fuel for cellular functions they also require other chemicals. (Yes, nutrients are chemicals!) Many chemicals – minerals and vitamins – are cell, function, or organ specific while others are needed throughout the body. Many are needed in very small amounts and their use is complex and interconnected with other processes making their requirements difficult to understand. A lot of research goes into figuring out just what each person needs but the advice to eat as many different kinds of whole foods in as natural a state as possible is a good.
So when you’re sorting out just what kind of protein drink you need after your HIIT workout or whether or not you should pour turbinado or stevia into your morning tea take a little time to think about the chemicals you need to perform all day long and how our fuel choices provide the chemicals you need. Carbs, fats, and proteins are only half the story.
See the USDA good nutrition and meal prep page here. Recent post about nutritional silly business – downing charcoal.
My post with guidelines for avoiding food hucksters here.
I have twin seven year-old girls. One girl eats – or will at least taste – most foods. She’s a pastanista, loves hot dogs, and happily munches on broccoli. The other girl is much more picky. She has just recently expanded her repertoire of whole wheat waffles or pancakes with jam to include whole wheat bread and jam. She loves mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, certain yogurts, couscous, and milk. That pretty much sums it up. Is she on a path that leads to clinical anxiety and depression? New research says possibly. But I’m not worried.
I’ve never bothered much with any of my kid’s eating habits. I’ve taken a firm stance to never take a firm stance. Children grow up to be normally eating adults and I have just never understood the “Dammit! I put in on your plate and now you’re going to eat it!” mentality. I’ve always thought that kids will eat when they are hungry and I simply refuse to fight about it. While my feelings are entirely anecdotal, Dr. Nancy Zucker, of Duke University, has recently published research (here) that says that I’m missing an important nuance. While generally upholding my sense that picky eating is normal, she finds that for a small group of children this picky or selective eating (SE) can lead to more serious behavioral concerns.
She defines selective eaters as people who:
Restrict eating of certain food
Have strong food preferences
Are unwilling to try new foods
Eat a limited amount
If you think this describes you or your child then you’ve noted one question I have about her findings. The definition is just so broad. But she adds that selective eaters can have difficulty in eating with others. Not because they don’t get along with others but because they eat such a limited menu. In more extreme cases selective eaters find it difficult to remain at the table with certain foods, so strong is their repulsion.
She begins her assessment with a group of just over 900 children, aged 24-71 months, screened out of a population of about 4,500 who attend the Duke Children’s Pediatric Primary Care Clinics. After initial selection a questionnaire for each child was completed and then followed by in-home parent interviews. Children were scored according to their level of voluntary selective eating. Children with no restricted intake other than foods like broccoli that almost all children hate, were coded with a “0”. Those who only ate foods ‘within the range of his/her preferred foods’ scored a “1”. And those for whom ‘eating with others was difficult because of the extreme limited range’ [of food preference] were scored a “2”. “0” correlates to normal, “1” to having moderate SE, “2” to severe SE. Truth be told I’ve met about three kids in my life who didn’t care about what they ate. Moderate SE seems much more normal to me.
About 20% of the children screened exhibited moderate SE. Only 3% showed severe SE. Parental behaviors were noted as well: mothers of children with moderate SE were more likely to have sought psychiatric treatment for themselves than mothers of children with severe SE. Both moderate and severe SE children had mothers with ‘high maternal anxiety’. Children with moderate SE were more likely to have mothers with a history of drug use and children with severe SE were more likely to be female. Children exhibiting either moderate or severe SE had a higher correlation with depression, anxiety, and A.D.H.D. than normal eaters. There is statistical evidence that many kids with moderate or severe SE will grow out of it as part of normal eating and growth patterns.
Parents of these children are often accused by friends and even by health officials of being overly accommodating to their children’s petulant demands but Zucker argues that this isn’t a power play on the part of the child. She writes that while causative links between SE and anxiety disorders are unknown it’s possible that there is a correlation between a heightened food or taste awareness and a heightened awareness of surroundings causing anxiety. This anxiety about surroundings could exhibit in a child’s desire to control the sameness of their environment to the extent possible.
Follow-up studies show that children with moderate or severe SE are 1.7 times likely to exhibit anxiety disorders as they age. Zucker suggests that we should drop the dismissive label of a child as a picky eater and recognize that food avoidance can be a true physiological disorder.
I have my normal concerns over this research just as I do about anything from the social sciences¹. The numbers tend to be fuzzy. The results would be difficult to reproduce and generally impossible to falsify. The old research saw that if humans are involved then you’ve got problem is a concern. But Zucker makes a strong case and the statistics show clear significance. She is not investigating causal mechanisms but, per the abstract, is hoping to understand SE enough ‘to guide health care providers to recognize when SE is a problem worthy of intervention’. She argues well that further investigation can be warranted for both child and family when food choices block normal development and normal interactions.
So should you force your kids to eat those tomatoes? No. The number of children who exhibit severe SE is low – three percent of those observed in this study. Most children are food averse to a degree and most do grow out of it as they grow up, hang out with friends, and change physically. But her research argues that for a few children for whom eating is a true challenge then early behavioral intervention might very well be helpful. So if your four year-old can’t even be in the same room as a sliced tomato? Might be time to consider talking to someone.
What do you think? Do you have experience with picky eaters? Do you have hint to help other parents cope?