Monday, February 09, 2009

Do You Want to Eat Healthier -- For Real?

Last night I taught a private pressure cooking class for a group of runners. The host thought that it would be fun to get her friends interested in pressure cooking because they're all busy and want to eat fast. But do they want to eat healthy? And more importantly, what do they think that even means? And what do you think that it means?

I know that I live in some other reality where I am choosing between red rice or quinoa for breakfast, of all things. Should I eat it with tofu or tempeh? And include nettles or the beautiful purple kale that is new to our farmer's market?

This is a far cry from a bowl of dry cereal with a splash of milk and a banana, which is something I rarely eat. But many people do. So where is healthy on the continuum of life? Does it mean never eating any white products such as pasta or sourdough bread? Only eating organic?

Honestly, I don't know the answers to these questions. I know that the more that I think about it, the more questions I have.

What do you think? What's your best suggestion or tip for "real" healthy eating? I really want to know.

BTW, the menu for the evening was White Bean Soup with Sage, Red Rice with Braised Tofu and Vegetables, Maple Winter Squash Puree, Winter Greens Salad with Beets and Avocado with Blood Orange and Smoked Olive Oil Vinaigrette and Winter Fruit Compote for dessert. All easy, delicious and, dare I say it, healthy.


Darya Pino said...

The epidemiological data suggests that the healthiest diet consists of whole foods and mostly plants. Everything else is just splitting hairs. Sure organic is a little more healthy, but better to eat the non-organic vegetable than leave it out. I also have not seen any evidence that moderate (low) consumption of "unhealthy" foods represents a problem. Some very healthy cultures eat pasta and bread.

Great food for thought :)

neca said...

For me, I would say there have been 3 steps (so far) in my journey to healthier eating. I certainly have progress left to be made, so this isn't the "end", but where I am now in the evolution of my diet.

1. More unprocessed/ minimally processed food.

2. More plant based, less animal based food. (The family won't give up their meat. I cook vegetarian for myself, but we eat the same dinners.)

3. More food bought locally. Not always organic, but grown locally and purchased at the farmer's market.

By implementing #2, #3 hasn't caused my food bill to go up. Even if my local chicken isn't any "healthier" than the chicken I buy at the supermarket (although I believe it is), I do know it's better for the environment. And that counts too.

The Veggie Queen said...

Thanks for your comments. I would love to get more and compile them to see what many more people have to say. There is more than one way to get where you're going but first one needs to figure out where they're going.

I agree that it's not an all or nothing proposition.

Kathy said...

Great questions - I've been thinking about it alot myself lately. As my own food choices keep moving in the direction of increased organic produce and less of the more traditional foods, I need to keep reminding myself that everyone starts with where they are now and work from there. I also like to think of it as a continuum. For some people, just stopping the sodas and getting more veggies is a good starting place (but hopefully not the end of it). I keep asking my clients how they feel when they eat different foods and the more they tune in to it, the better they eat.

Jeff Novick, MS, RD said...

Good question. One would have to define health as for some athletes, they may be more interested in short-term performance vs long life.

I would define "health" as a long and healthy disease and disability free life.

Well, since 1935, studies on virtually ever animal tested to date all show the same thing, a restriction of calories below what one would consume ad libitum, along with achieving all nutrient goals, commonly known as CR-ON (calorie restriction with optimal nutrition).

This is now being studied in non-human primates and now in humans with excellent results. Since calories are being restricted, and optimal nutrition is the goal, the focus has to be on those foods that are the lowest in calorie density and the highest in nutrient density. These, of course, are veggies, starchy veggies, legumes, fruits, intact whole grains.

In addition, there are several l/t running studies on centenarians and long lived populations to see what they all have in common and they share many traits. What matters most is the habits they share and the common denominators and not the differences or the items they may be "getting away" with. This is important, as the media and the food industry like to focus on the differences (as that is good to for marketing).

They are

1) Tobacco free
2) Regular consistent physical activity (which for most of them is obtained during their daily activities and they do not formally exercise)
3) Plant "based" diet (though none of them are exclusively vegetarian or vegan).
4) Social Support/Circles
5) Legumes
6) Minimal amount of processed/refined foods
7) They tend to be thin (BMI 18.5-22)

Interestingly, when the Hawaiian Diet Studies were done (by Dr Shintani), he took Americans eating typical diets and put them on a very low calorie dense, high nutrient dense diet and allowed them to eat freely. Their calorie consumption dropped 40% spontaneously with great improvements in their health markers in just 21 days.

In a world of the unbridled availability and abundance of calorie dense, nutrient poor foods everywhere that are cleverly and heavily marketed, promoted and advertised, truly healthy eating will be difficult for most.

Keep up the great work! :)

Cheryl said...

I take a moderate stance, much like Darya and Kathy. I've begun to source nearly all of my produce locally, but I don't give myself a hard time if the only kiwis I can find are imported. And I bake, a lot, which certainly isn't going to win me many points on the health scale, but it does improve the quality of life of those around me immeasurably.

I do believe that choices I make -- relying MOSTLY on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats -- are helping me to stay healthy and to raise healthy kids. Sure, I could do better, but each of us should strive to do the best we can, rather than to seek nutritional perfection.

The Veggie Queen said...


Since you bake, you might be interested in entering my upcoming contest on Your Best Flax Baking Recipe -- Sweet or Savory. I will be announcing it soon, and it will start on February 24th. I send you a note on FB.

Thanks for the post.

I truly want to know where people stand on this to see where we can all head, hopefully together.

Bonnie P. said...

Hi Jill,
I agree with the other commentators: everything in moderation.

I don't go overboard with every healthy thing I hear about. I eat a variety of healthy foods so I don't stress about it.

The only thing I make very sure I do not eat is the hydrogenated oils - partial or not, and I read the labels to make sure it's not an ingredient.

Do I eat a french fry every now and then : yes. Do I eat them every week or every month : no.

Do I pass on store bought desserts at work or parties? Mostly yes. Do I eat yummy chocolates and delicious home made desserts? Most definitely yes. Is it unhealthy? You tell me. Everything in moderation.

I certainly have changed a few things in my diet, like more whole grains, dried fruit, nuts, green tea, than before. More organics. More products where there is only one ingredient like peanut butter and oatmeal. I try to stay away from products where they spray on the vitamins.

I feel really balanced in what I eat and I truly try to eat healthy and very tasty foods.

Tasty is important, and I find the better tastes come from the locally grown products that I'm lucky enough to buy from the farmers market.

Kate, RD said...

Great discussion. Lately, I've become very aware of the number of ingredients listed on food product labels and I've been making a concerted effort to buy/eat foods as close to their natural state as possible or premade foods that have "clean" labels. I was using bread crumbs the other day and was apalled at the lenghthy list included HFCS and other ingredients I never would have imagined needed to be in bread crumbs!

The Veggie Queen said...


Thanks for posting.

I think that many people would be surprised at what's in their packaged foods. When you avoid packages, there aren't any labels to read.

Real food -- what a concept?