Tag Archives: Eating Healthy

2014 Diet Trends – Recommended Diets

You may be wondering why I am writing a post on 2014 Diet Trends when it is already May. I know that most people start their diets at the beginning of the year. BUT . . . that does not mean you can’t start now – or any time for that matter.  The right time to diet is when you are ready and willing to fully commit to the process.

Start Diet Today (Scales)
Image by Alan Cleaver

It is on my mind at the moment because I just started a diet a couple of weeks ago and found a lot of good information that I wanted to share with you.  The post will be in two parts.  Part I – Recommended Diets; and Part II – Diets to Avoid.

When choosing the best diet for you, make sure that it is one that incorporates whole body health.  Those are the types of diets that are more likely to be successful because they are developed with the intent to take care of the whole you – with consideration for any specific health problems you may be having.

For example, if you are suffering with arthritis, it would be wise to choose a diet that is geared toward helping people with that specific condition.  When you find one, you are doubling the benefits – losing weight to help you look and feel better and weight loss for pain relief.

A well-structured plan makes it easier to stay on the diet.  A plan that outlines what you should eat and also includes a good exercise regimen based on your health needs will help you succeed.

Some people lose weight more easily that others and some diets are better for certain medical conditions, than others.  For that reason, it is important to find a diet that suits your needs. It is about your health, not just about the size you want to wear or your ideal weight.

With that perspective in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most popular and safe diet plans for 2014.

Primary rule of dieting – avoid all fad diets and extreme diets that have the potential of damaging your health.  There are a multitude of plans available – some are safe and some are risky.  It is up to you as the consumer to do your research and make an informed decision.  So, let’s begin . . .

DASH DIET – This diet is touted as a good choice for people with high blood pressure who need to lose weight for health reasons. It was originally developed for people with hypertension and prehypertension. It is safe, effective, and highly recommended – including the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic. The National Institutes of Health has given the DASH DIET a stamp of approval. US News & World Report selected the DASH diet as the best diet for the 4th year in a row (3 January 2014).

Since it is based on a well-balanced diet of real food, it is not only a good diet for people with specific health problems, it is also a solid weight loss program for anyone. Studies have shown that is works particularly well for people who are carrying excess weight around the middle, who have type 2 diabetes, PCOS, or postmenopausal weight gain.

MEDITERRANEAN DIET is considered a lifestyle change rather than a diet.  This is due to the fact that it is based on the natural diet of Greece, Spain, and Italy. It is a heart healthy diet – great for anti-aging and long life.

This is an excellent choice if your goal is not only to lose weight, but to get fit and to change your eating habits for a life time. You will learn to eat a healthy diet of primarily plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts) plus fish and poultry.

An important component of the diet is to learn to cook with heart healthy fats that also contribute to weight loss. Another component that many people consider a plus is that unlike most diets rather than excluding all alcohol, the Mediterranean Diet recommends the inclusion of red wine because of the antioxidants it contains, plus other benefits that are good for the heart.

PALEO DIET (AKA the Caveman Diet).  That is a nickname which comes from the fact that the diet is based on pure, natural foods – “eating like the caveman.” The diet is composed of natural plant- and animal-based foods. It is important to eliminate all processed foods, plus foods that are at odds with good health (grains, legumes, and dairy). In addition it calls for an increase of foods that provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (lean protein, fruits, and vegetables).It also limits dairy and alcohol and excludes salt and most drinks.

The diet contributes not only to weight loss, but is said to also improve blood pressure, clear-up acne, help to create healthier blood glucose, fight inflammation, aid in more restful sleep and higher energy levels,  and help with establishing healthier eating habits.

WEIGHT WATCHERS has been around for a long time and has an impressive track record among the general population and celebrities alike who have lost weight and kept it off.

The emphasis of Weight Watchers is on food choices, healthy eating and exercise.  For people who need a support group to help them lose weight – this is a good system.

They offer both Online programs as well as live meetings for support.  If you can’t make a meeting, you can still track your goals and progress Online and access peer support. Many participants swear that one of the most powerful parts of the program is the support they receive at meetings.  They feel that is what keeps them focused and helps them to lose weight. The company also has mobile apps that allow people on the go to keep up with their points.

The Weight Watchers program is based on a Food Points’ System.  When you initially enroll, you will be assigned a number of points that you can accrue each day through the foods you choose to eat. No foods are off limits. It isn’t the foods that you eat, it is the number of points that you use.  However, the goal is to learn to make better, healthier food choices and to exercise.

It is a very robust system with recipe suggestions, exercise tips, and even guidelines for using the point system when eating out (real life). It is a good system that works for men, women, and even children who need to shed a few pounds.

JENNY CRAIG’s system is based on portion control, which is frequently one of the challenges for people who are carrying extra weight.  Jenny Craig offers packaged healthy meals based on portion control.

Food is a very social thing – all the good times in life are celebrated with food – even in the worst of times.  Many of us (like me) are stress eaters. When I am frustrated, disappointed, worried, or stressed for any reason, I think about food and usually indulge – often with foods that I should not eat.  In fact, when I am really stressed, portion control goes out the window.  Have you ever eaten an entire pint of ice cream by yourself in one sitting?  Or – half a pound of See’s Candy?  I have.

If you are among the number of people who struggle with food addictions and portion control, Jenny Craig could be a good choice for you.  The food choices are healthy, well-balanced, tasty, and come in a wide variety – everything from hamburgers to stew, plus breakfast foods and desserts. The choices are so numerous that boredom is not likely (as with some diets).

Because the meals are packaged for you, there is little chance you will eat too much at one sitting.  When you register for the system, you will be assigned a consultant who will guide you in choosing the best meal plan for you based on your lifestyle.  For example, weight and the amount of exercise that you get each day, plus other issues such as emotional eating are all factored into the selection.

Jenny Craig has been able to help diabetics control their glucose through healthy eating and also help those with a family history of diabetes to learn healthy eating habits that will possibly prevent them from developing the condition.

The downside of this diet is that it can be expensive.  If you are under budgetary constraints, I do not recommend Jenny Craig.  It does work, but it requires an investment.  For example it is not unusual to spend $140 a week for just one person. So, take that into consideration when making your decision.

VEGETARIAN DIETS – You may be under the assumption that vegetarian diets are strictly for people who want to make a lifestyle change – and eat only plant-based foods.  For the most part that is accurate; however, a good vegetarian diet can help with a number of health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes – and, it can also help you lose weight.

A true VEGAN DIET excludes all animal-based foods. However there are variations. For example – a Lacto-Vegetarian excludes meats and eggs; but, allows other dairy products.

Another type of vegetarian diet is called FLEXITARIAN, which does allow meat on occasion.  The diet is primarily whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, plus dairy and meat when you really want it.  The premise of this diet is about “listening to your body.” If your body is craving something you would not normally eat, then you should eat it.  It is also a heart healthy diet if done correctly. You will lose weight on this diet and it may also help lower cholesterol, lessen the risk of diabetes and some cancers – plus, give you more energy.

As you have probably guessed, I am not a vegetarian and far from an expert on the subject. If eating vegetarian appeals to you, there is a great deal of information available both in books and on the Internet – and good explanations of the different types of vegetarian diet choices.  If you decide to go this way, be sure to do your homework and follow a guide from a reputable source to be sure you are getting all the nutrients you need.

I am not a doctor or nutritionist, and it is always recommended the you discuss any diet with your physician before embarking on a weight loss program. This is particularly important if you have any health concerns or issues.

That does it for the recommended diets.  Join us next time (on Thursday) for Diets to Be Avoided.

Moderation or Abstinence?

 

McDonalds Big Mac and Fries
Image by Simon Miller

Moderation or abstinence is always a valid question when it comes to foods that are not particularly healthy, such as fast foods. It has been suggested that fast foods should not even be referred to as food – at least not in the nutritional sense.

You may tell yourself that fast foods every once in a while can’t possibly hurt you. But, you are wrong. The fact is they have no nutritional value, they are filled with empty calories and additives – and they are addictive. Would you indulge in heroine occasionally if someone told you that once in a while wouldn’t hurt you . . . of course not! Use the same good judgment when it comes to fast foods.

Because they are addictive, it is almost impossible to eat fast foods in moderation; In other words, the only thing that works is abstinence. If you think you can control the addiction (as most addicts believe about their drug of choice), you will continue to eat large amounts of junk food and suffer the dire consequences for the rest of your “much-shorter-than-necessary” life.

On the opposite end of the spectrum – raw fruits and vegetables can be eaten in abundance – no limits. It is basically impossible to eat too many, except for the popular high-fat fruits we discussed in the previous post: avocadoes, bananas, olives, and coconut, which should be eaten in moderation. But, even eating the high-fat fruits in large amounts is far healthier than stuffing yourself with donuts and potato chips on a regular basis.

It is difficult to over eat high-water content foods because they fill you up so fast. This includes some fruits and vegetables. For example, watermelon and strawberries are about 92 percent water. Other fruits with high water content are grapefruit, cantaloupe, peaches and bananas. High-water content vegetables include lettuce and cucumbers. As a result these foods have a built-in moderation factor.

Moderation is important when eating heavier, higher-calorie foods such as rice, beans, grains and nuts – especially if you are struggling with being overweight.

If you can commit to a healthier diet and start doing a little research, you will find there are many, many combinations of healthy foods that are not only nutritious, but also delicious. When you start feeding your body well and eliminate empty-calorie snacks from your diet, there is a very good chance that you will not miss the bad foods. I know it may take a little time, but the health dividends are well worth it.

Nature offers abundance, not deprivation. So, focus on natural foods as much as possible. Trying changing up your diet – for example, rather than eating a slice of caramel apple pie, slice your favorite apple very thinly and eat it with a yummy dip made from dates, cinnamon and a little ice water – pureed in a high-speed blender. It is a sweet and delicious treat that will quell your cravings and help you forget about the empty-calorie, sugar-fat-salt laden treats you were addicted to.

I know I have used some extreme comparisons and donuts or fast foods are not the equivalent to heroine (but I hope I made my point). You may decide that your health is just fine and you see no problem with having an occasional donut or McDonald’s Big Mac. All I ask is that you recognize that neither of those can be called real food and offer absolutely NO nutritional value whatsoever, and do more harm to your body than good.  Also – define your terms. Indulging in your “drug of choice” occasionally should mean: partaking very small amounts – once or twice a year – possible on your birthday or anniversary – even that carries the risk of your falling back into old habits, as with any addiction.

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Foods to Limit or Avoid Altogether – Part II

[typography font=”Myriad Pro” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”#d10707″]Foods to Limit or Avoid Altogether[/typography]

The last post covered the biggest food culprits that harm your health, and yet are eaten in great quantities in most Westernized countries.  Part II covers other foods that are not always bad for you, but may not be good choices for you depending on your health, physical condition, and the quantities in which you choose to eat them. 

Nuts

This is one of my favorite foods, which is a very good thing because they are filled with nutrients. However, you must consider your current state of health in making wise choices regarding the quantity of nuts you should eat.

Your weight is one consideration.

  • Underweight – Raw or roasted unsalted nuts and seeds are a good choice.
  • Overweight – Because of the high caloric count and fat content, it would be wise to avoid them completely. I would say to eat them in small quantities, but it is far too easy to eat too many once you get started.
  • Normal weight – There are no particular limitations unless you have heart-related health problems. In that case, avoid them – primarily because of the fat content and also many nuts are salted.

Alternatives: As a general rule seeds have a lower fat content than nuts, so if you like the crunch, but should eliminate nuts from your diet, try seeds instead. Frozen grapes are another tasty crunchy treat, as well as sliced apples, carrots, and celery strips served with hummus.

Nutrition Tips: Raw nuts are by far the best choice. Buy them in the shell. When you have to crack and pick the meat out of the shells, you are forced to work at getting to the edible part of the nuts, which slows you down and limits the quantity you will eat.

When I was a growing up, you could only buy nuts in the shell. My mom always kept a bowl of whole nuts (and a nutcracker) on the table. It was one of my favorite snacks – try it with your family.

Fruits

Some fruits are definitely higher in sugar than others and as a result there have been recent warnings about the high-sugar content of fruits – even warnings to avoid eating them altogether because of that. The reality is that fruits are full of nutrients and are good for you. In fact, unless you are diabetic or trying to lose weight, the natural sugar found in whole ripe fruit should not be a problem

There are a few high-fat fruits that should be eaten in small quantities if you are trying to lose weight – or have other health concerns connected with high-fat intake. The most common ones to watch are: avocadoes, bananas, plantains, olives, coconut, and durian.

Alternatives: This is pretty simple. Because of the wide variety of fruits available year round – for alternatives, all you have to do is pick a different fruit that is not high-fat and enjoy.

Nutrition Tips:  As noted above, both bananas and avocados are high in fat, but they are also loaded with nutrients. From a nutritional standpoint, you may want to consider using banana as a replacement for other forms of fat in your baked goods. When you make that wonderful dish, guacamole, use one avocado and an equal amount of pureed organic canned peas (be sure to drain them first). By using this inventive mix, you will be sustaining the nutrient level and lowering the fat content – and the taste will not change very much.

Our society seems to love food fads. A new one appears at least every year or so and usually someone tries to take it to the extreme and convince you that you should eat whatever it is in large quantities. You probably remember that very thing happening when soy first became popular, and more recently, I am sure you have read all the hype about coconut oil. Personally, I have found that coconut oil works very well in cookies and other baked goods, but using it in my coffee?  No, thank you!

Banana diets currently seem to be the “in” thing. Yes, they are nutritious and provide a good daily dose of potassium, which we all need, but one or two bananas a day is adequate – and remember, they are high in fat.

The bottom line is that most people at normal weight should eat fruits in their natural state and in reasonable amounts.

Meat

When cultures were more clearly defined and not Americanized as many are today, there were long-term studies done in cultures that limited their red meat consumption. The results showed that they were generally healthier because of their diet.

Sliced Red Meat
Image by The Busy Brain

Heavy consumption of red meat is absolutely unnecessary and basically not good for you. The only nutrients in red meat are protein and small amounts of B12. In addition to that, most red meats are so heavily processed today that they are even unhealthier than before and should be eliminated or eaten very rarely.

You can get most of your protein through plant-based sources, but you do not have to become vegan or a vegetarian. There other healthy sources of protein.  In the June issue of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch they named six good alternatives:

  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Whole grains

Replacing one serving a day of red meat with one of these options reduced mortality in a recent study by 7% to 19%.

I know that this posting has suggested eliminating or limiting some of those six foods depending on your weight and health conditions, so you must consider the needs of your own body and make wise decisions regarding your diet.

Alternatives: Many Americans love their red meat and are very attached to the flavors associated with meat. Keep in mind that many of the flavors that are connected with meat come from seasonings. Try using some of the same seasonings on beans, legumes and eggplant, which are excellent substitutions for meat when making casseroles. Another healthy protein alternative is organic non-GMO tofu; it captures the meat seasoning flavors very well.

Nutrition Tips: Rather than using meat as the main course, change your mind set and serve it as a condiment for salads, roasted vegetables, or stir-fry. To give casseroles a meatier, heartier texture, add shredded vegetables, spaghetti, beans, and lots of mushrooms.

If you cannot bear the thought of eliminating red meat from your diet, the healthiest choice to buy is lean, organic, grass-fed meat. According to Harvard Medical School, the absolute maximum amount of red meat you should have is four ounces of red meat twice a week.

It would be wise to educate yourself on the consequences of meat in the diet and its impact on your body, nutrition and the environment.  A good one to start with is a book by T. Colin Campbell, The China Study.

Fish

I am sorry that I must recommend limiting fish in your diet because I love fish. In addition to being a source of Omega 3 and protein, it also provides B12 and other nutrients.

The biggest challenge is to balance the importance of your heart health (for which Omega 3 is important) and the mercury levels and pollutants in the oceans; plus the issues with bad practices found in the farmed fish industry. As a result of those problems, during pregnancy it should be avoided completely and everyone should limit fish consumption to once or twice a week.

Alternatives: The alternatives for fish are the same as for meat. For tuna sandwich lovers (I am included in that number), try replacing tuna with canned chickpeas (chopped finely or mashed), it is surprisingly good.

Nutrition Tips: Pay attention to your food sources. Buy fish from reputable businesses that ensure that the fish they are selling are caught or come from farms that are committed to sustainable practices. You may want to take a few minutes and learn more about unsustainable fishing.

Dairy

In spite of what the commercial milk industry tells you, milk DOES NOT necessarily “do the body good.” Yes, it tastes great, especially with cookies or chocolate cake and is a source of calcium; but, it also causes problems – especially for adults – such as acne, phlegm, mucus, and heart burn. In addition to those problems, because of the acidity in milk, it is difficult for your body to absorb the calcium. No other animal drinks milk after infancy, and neither should we. It may be causing more problems than you think. As a beverage it should be limited or avoided.

Alternatives: Lucky for us, today there are many choices for milk alternatives (not so much in the past). For example: you can buy almond, rice, coconut, and soy milks. The first two are tasty, healthy alternatives.  Some people have allergies to soy, so pay attention to how your body reacts to soy milk – and personally, I don’t like the taste.

If you are really into healthy eating, learn to juice and include at least three ounces of kale daily for calcium. You will be getting more calcium than you would by drinking a full glass of milk with no adverse effects.

Another thing you should try is making your own rice milk – it is more nutritious and has a better flavor than the packaged grocery store rice milk. (I learned this secret when my son was a baby and did not tolerate milk-based formula.)

Nutrition Tips: Kale is only one plant source of calcium. All leafy green vegetables, oatmeal, oranges and sesame seeds are also good choices. (1 ounce sesame seeds = 280 mg of calcium.)

Most adults need 1000 mg of calcium each day; but, pregnant women, adolescents, and the elderly should have 1500 mg. If you eat a well-balanced diet that includes calcium-rich plant foods, you should be able to get the calcium you need with no problem.

According to Save Our Bones, “Many scientific studies have shown an assortment of detrimental health effects directly linked to milk consumption. And the most surprising link is that not only do we barely absorb the calcium in cow’s milk (especially if pasteurized), but to make matters worse, it actually increases calcium loss from the bones.”

A 12-year-long Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that those who consumed the most calcium from dairy foods broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk. This is a broad study based on 77,761 women aged 34 through 59 years of age.

Final Note

Cravings for high calorie foods may indicate that you are not getting enough nutrients. Our bodies are truly miraculous. When we do not feed them properly, they let us know. The problem is that we have deadened that sensory perception by overeating and filling our bodies with unhealthy foods that have messed up the natural hunger process.

Check online to find out exactly how many calories you should consume each day to maintain a normal, healthy weight for your height and gender. Remember you should be eating foods that have high nutritional value as well as the necessary calories.

When trying to change your eating habits and sustain a healthy diet, you should avoid restaurants for the most part. Going out for dinner once in a while is fine, but STOP eating at fast food restaurants! Restaurants in general are the worst when it comes to healthy foods. One of the main reasons the food tastes so good and is so bad for you at the same time is they capitalize on the “Holy Trinity of Food” – Sugar, Salt, and Fat.

If you must eat out, stay as close to nature as possible when you order – choose salads without the fatty dressing – use vinegars, a little olive oil, onions, and peppers for seasonings. If you must order an entrée, either share with someone or eat only a portion and take the remainder in a doggy bag. It will make a great lunch for the next two days. Except in very high-end restaurants, most entrées are large enough to feed three people.

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