Foods to Limit or Avoid – Part I

 [typography font=”Myriad Pro” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”#c7022a”]Foods to Limit or Avoid Altogether – Part I[/typography]

The last post discussed foods you should be eating in order to stay as healthy as possible. In this post, we will discuss just the opposite – foods you should eat in limited amounts or avoid altogether. We will name the foods to limit or avoid, give you the reason for such action, and suggest alternatives.

The primary purpose of this series of articles was to inform, encourage, and help you eat more nutritious foods. A companion strategy is to eat limited amounts of foods that do not offer a variety of nutritional components and eliminate completely foods that contain zero nutrients. The ultimate goal is to always eat foods that are filled with nutrients and reap the rewards from doing so. The more nutrients you get, the better you will feel.

[typography font=”Myriad Pro” size=”18″ size_format=”px” color=”#c7022a”]Processed Foods of All Kinds[/typography]

Frozen Food Label
Image by Rusty Gillespie

Our society is filled with busy people who are continuously searching for easier, faster, and more convenient ways of doing things – including convenience foods. As a result, processed, packaged foods have become the heart of the standard diet. In fact, it is so much the norm that people no longer think about the nutritional value of the food they eat, or consider if what they are eating is good for them, or not.

If you were to take the time to read the labels on frozen dinners and pre-packaged dishes, you would quickly recognize that the food value is minimal. They are made up of overly processed foods and filled with additives. Breakfast cereals and crackers (two foods that are regularly fed to growing children), plus white flour, white rice, chips and cookies all contain processed foods that are treated to make you crave fat, sugar, and salt.

You may be thinking – WOW! You just listed some of my favorite foods. How can I possibly give them up?  Don’t panic, there are choices that can fill in the gaps – healthy foods that you will also enjoy.

Alternatives: All tasty treats do not have to be unhealthy, but you will have to learn to make your own – and possibly adjust your taste buds. With the Internet you can find many recipes for healthy, nutritious and delicious snacks. If making your own doesn’t have much appeal for you, shop in stores that provide healthy alternatives. For example, Whole Foods is starting to stock their shelves with more nutritious snacks.  However, the reality is that the very best alternatives are fresh fruits and crunchy vegetables served with healthy dips like hummus, guacamole, and date dip.

Nutrition Tips: Make your own salt and vinegar chips without the additives. Use a mandoline slicer to slice potatoes extra thin. Then, soak in vinegar, pat dry and sprinkle with sea salt. Lay slices on parchment paper and microwave on high for two or three minutes at a time – until crisp.

If your eating habits include large quantities of processed foods, deleting them from your diet can be a serious challenge. In fact, you may believe it will be impossible, but it is not.  Of course, you have to be committed to the process, and be patient with yourself.  Your habits have developed over a lifetime and it will take time to change them. I am sure you have heard that it takes 21 days to develop a habit. That may seem like a very long time – 3 weeks – but look at it from the positive slant. In less than a month processed foods will be out of your life and you will be on the road to a much healthier diet and a healthier body

If your diet is entirely made up of processed convenience foods, you may want to take it in steps – three weeks at a time. Begin with eliminating fast foods (McDonalds, Jack-in-the-Box, Wendy’s); then, stop eating frozen dinners and prepackaged meals. Next, get rid of foods that are common to the American diet, but filled with additives such as hot dogs (change to Hebrew National), packaged sandwich meat (change to sliced deli meat, particularly Black Forest), etc.  Then go for the tough one – unhealthy snacks (crackers, chips, Cheetos, packaged cookies, etc.)  You get the idea, I am sure.

[typography font=”Myriad Pro” size=”18″ size_format=”px” color=”#c7022a”]Ordinary Table Salt[/typography]

Standard table salt that most of us use – in the round blue container – comes from underground mines and processed until there is nothing left other than sodium and chloride.  To make matters even worse, they treat it with aluminum to prevent clumping. The result is that when ingested it becomes acidic and can create heart burn, high blood pressure and stroke – which is not news. We have known for a long time that salt can affect blood pressure and lead to stroke.

Alternatives: Doctors tells patients regularly to cut down on salt (or even eliminate it completely from their diets). Yes, everyone should stop using ordinary table salt. Sodium can be added in the form of non-iodized sea salt and dried celery. It is best to add them at the end of the cooking cycle. Our bodies need some sodium, just be careful to choose a healthy type of sodium.

Nutrition Tips: In addition to using non-iodized sea salt and dried celery, it is important to note that there are foods which have naturally high sodium content. These foods are a good source of sodium and do not need to be regulated unless instructed by your physician for health reasons. Try adding seeds, strawberries, raisins, coconut, lentils, barley, kale, cabbage, celery and carrots to some of your dishes to increase the salty flavor. Another tip is to trick your taste buds into thinking there is salt on your salad by drizzling it with lemon juice.

If you know that you have any condition such as thyroid issues that may be affected by certain types of salt, please, talk to your doctor about the best choices for you. There is also the question of iodine. If you give up table salt, you may have to take an iodine supplement – another question for your doctor. Do not take the supplement on your own; it could put your health in danger. It is always wise to check with your doctor before taking supplements of any kind.

[typography font=”Myriad Pro” size=”18″ size_format=”px” color=”#c7022a”]Processed Sugar[/typography]

Processed sugar is at the top of the list of foods to avoid – it has no nutritional value whatsoever. Brown sugar is also processed and nutritionally no better than white sugar.  In fact, it is white sugar with molasses added, which changes the color, flavor and texture – not the nutritional value. It is not a healthier choice than white sugar.

There are a number of good alternatives, but even those should be eaten in small quantities because of their high caloric content and limited nutrients.

Alternatives: Agave is OK and certainly better than white sugar because it does not affect insulin levels as much, but has no real nutritional value. Your best choices are: dates, coconut sugar, real maple syrup, and honey.

Nutrition Tips:  Many people enjoy honey and lemon in their tea, but be careful because honey is high in calories. Although it is a natural sweetener and a good alternative to sugar, the only health benefit that I know of is the use of fresh local honey to combat allergies. Be careful . . . honey fed to children under three-years-old can cause botulism. As a tasty breakfast treat, use a small serving of real maple syrup topped with fresh fruit. You may like sugar on your oatmeal, but try using a little coconut sugar and chopped dates instead.

Dates are wonderfully versatile and nutritious – rich in minerals (iron, potassium, calcium, manganese, magnesium, copper, and calcium), fiber, tannins, vitamin A, B-carotene and carotenoids. Use them freely as a natural sweetener – add some to your smoothies and make a scrumptious dip for apples by soaking them in water and blending to a smooth puree.

[typography font=”Myriad Pro” size=”18″ size_format=”px” color=”#c7022a”]Fatty Foods[/typography]

There are “studies” to support every opinion regarding fat in the diet and all they do is confuse us. The conclusions range from advice on the “good fats” we should include in our diet to others that say “no fat” is the only way to go and then there are those who proclaim that “you can eat all the fat you want.”

The basic facts are: There are saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats raise the level of cholesterol in your blood increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke – the major food culprits are fatty meats, cream, butter and cheese – delicious, but not good for your health and should be avoided. This is particularly important if you have high cholesterol.

You do need some fat in your diet, which should come from unsaturated sources: nuts, avocado, olive oil, canola oil, and fish are good choices – but don’t overdo it. Fats are fats!

Alternatives: The truth is that fats make things taste good and it is easy to get carried away with the amount of fat in your diet – almost without realizing it. Pay attention and incorporate good (unsaturated fats) into your diet. Cook with olive oil, bake with coconut oil, and try the less common grape seed oil. But even with these unsaturated fats, use a light hand.

It is better to get the necessary amount of fat in your diet through fatty plants: avocados (YUM), olives, bananas, nuts and seeds. These are a much better source of healthy fats because they are also nutritionally rich. So, even though they are high in calories, they are worth it because of the health benefits.

Nutrition Tips: Start cutting down on fat when making soups, chili, and casseroles. Eliminating the fat will not change the flavor. If you feel compelled to include fats in your cooking, stay with the unsaturated choices – and use a measuring spoon!  If you love to drizzle your roasted vegetables with olive oil, try this: roast the veggies, place in a warm serving bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon oil (that is all you need for a lot of veggies). Add the herbs and they are ready to serve. When you drizzle from the bottle, you will always use too much.

When you roast or bake anything – vegetables, pizza, biscuits, etc. line the pan with parchment paper instead of coating it with oil or butter. You will be surprised at the result – crisp and delicious, without the fat. And . . . the pan is practically clean – no muss, no fuss.

Avoid all “fat free” products. They are loaded with sugar to compensate for the loss of flavor that results when the fats are removed. You are trading one evil for another. Both are very bad for your health. Your mantra should be, stay as close to nature as possible when choosing the foods you eat.

[typography font=”Myriad Pro” size=”18″ size_format=”px” color=”#c7022a”]Alcohol[/typography]

Regardless of the “new studies” that show the benefits of wine, the fact is that alcohol in any form is not good for you and should be avoided, or at the very least ingested in very limited quantities. If you must have your glass of red wine with dinner, go for it. The actual benefits are questionable, but probably will not hurt you, either.  However, other types of alcohol have ABSOLUTELY NO BENEFITS.

Alternatives: Search the Internet – there are recipe books for non-alcoholic cocktails, a recent release, Zero Proof Cocktails by Liz Scott is one possibility. She explains how to use nectars, syrups, herbs and spices, fresh juices and even more uses of seltzers. Learn to make you own healthy, delicious non-alcoholic drinks for parties and holidays and avoid the after effects and problems that come from alcohol.

Nutrition Tips: (BYOFB) Bring Your Own Faux Booze to parties. Try making a “Virgin Mary” by juicing fresh tomatoes and carrots, add a little jalapeno or Tabasco Sauce if you like, and garnish with a slice of lemon and celery stick. Enjoy the festivities with no headache or hangover the next morning.

Two or three times a year you may choose to go to a party and enjoy a drink or two (more is never a good idea). But, recognize that drinking is NOT good for you, no matter how much you like it. If you find yourself struggling to avoid alcohol or stop with one glass of wine with dinner, you may want to get help. For most people, giving up alcohol may be slightly difficult in the beginning, but they soon realize that there can live happy lives full of fun without alcohol – and after a while they don’t miss it at all.  

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