OT: Catalyst for change: 10 ways to eat healthier

Christina Loguidice's picture

Editor's Note: We at Armchair Arcade sometimes like to give voice to the occasional off-topic feature. With that in mind we present Christina Loguidice's "Catalyst for change: 10 ways to eat healthier", which was originally meant as an article for magazines like Women's World Weekly, and for which my wife has adapted for use here. We thank you for checking out this diversion from our regularly scheduled programming and both we and the author would love to hear your comments. So, read on and enjoy! -Bill

Catalyst for change: 10 ways to eat healthier

My quest to live healthier started with an EMS call. It was not your typical call, unless you have a very curious toddler who is prone to getting into trouble. While at my parent’s house, our daughter, Olivia, managed to pull her sister Amelie’s potty seat over her head and we could not remove it for fear of exerting too much pressure and injuring her. While we consoled her and waited for help to arrive, we did what any other parent would do—we took some pictures for the baby book. Seeing those pictures made me realize I needed to lose some weight and get serious about my diet. Interestingly, shortly thereafter, Bill told me about a study published in Obesity that suggests 100% of Americans could be obese (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher) by 2040. While the study has a myriad of flaws, there is no doubt that there are a lot of people out there struggling with weight issues. The World Health Organization reports that 1 billion people worldwide are currently overweight (BMI between 25 and 29.9), of which 300 million are obese. While some people can be overweight yet fit and healthy, many become prone to developing health problems, such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. These conditions are even being observed in overweight children, which is incredibly disconcerting. Because children learn by example, I wanted ours to see us eating healthy, nutrient-dense food, even if it is not always possible to get them to do the same.

Here are the top 10 things we’ve learned to do to ensure we eat healthfully, and the logic behind these choices:

(1) Read labels—This can’t be stressed enough. It is especially important to determine serving size and look at fat, sodium, and sugar content. Foods high in saturated and trans fats should be avoided as much as possible. Even a low-calorie small frozen meal will pack a lot of sodium, some with half or more of the recommended daily allowance. I was shocked to discover that even a slice of bread may have up to 10% of the daily recommended sodium allowance, mainly to preserve its shelf-life. This is not something I had previously considered because bread generally does not taste “salty.”

(2) Avoid sugar and especially artificial sweeteners —Artificial sweeteners have been shown to be detrimental in animal studies, causing everything from weight gain to bladder cancer. Even if they are considered “safe” in humans, why use something artificial when many healthy sweet alternatives are readily available? Honey is a great option that is packed with antioxidants and comes in an abundance of varieties. I prefer to buy darker honeys, such as buckwheat honey, as they are more nutrient dense. Honey has almost as many calories as sugar, at about 60 calories a tablespoon, so, if a calorie-free alternative is being sought, stevia (also known as sweet leaf) is a great natural option. Currently, stevia can be sold only as a supplement in the United States; however, Coca-Cola is looking to change that and has partnered with an agribusiness called Cargill to develop a stevia-based sweetener. Stevia is said to be 30 times sweeter than sugar and can be obtained as an extract or in little packets in most health food stores. Interestingly, stevia has shown promise in medical research for treating obesity and hypertension. This herb has a negligible effect on blood sugar levels, even enhancing glucose tolerance. A drawback for some is a slight licorice aftertaste at higher concentrations, but some manufacturers have produced versions with little to no stevioside, the property responsible for the aftertaste. I’ve also recently discovered dried cactus honey powder. It is healthy, delicious, can be used just like sugar, and has fewer calories than liquid honey, with about 54.8 calories for 0.5 oz.

(3) Eliminate sodas, even diet versions, as much as possible —This seems to be the biggest culprit to weight gain. One can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar. While it seems prudent to switch to diet soda, some studies indicate that even diet soda may lead to weight gain and the eventual development of metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. The reason for this is unclear, but theories abound. One of the researchers from the Framingham Heart Study theorized that the caramel coloring in diet soda may promote inflammation of the pancreas and insulin resistance. Another theory is that people who drink diet soda may be less likely to pay attention to what else they’re eating and therefore tend to eat more. Regardless, you are putting something artificial in your body, and while soda won’t remove the paint from your car, it will rob your bones of precious calcium by leading to higher phosphate levels in the blood. Milk, water, diluted juice (most juices have a lot of added sugar), and unsweetened iced tea are much healthier alternatives. We prefer to make our own iced tea, which allows greater variation. We simply brew the desired tea for the allocated time, usually 3 to 5 minutes, and then pour it into ice-filled glass pitchers; ours are made of a durable glass that can handle the variation in temperature without shattering. Tea has lots of antioxidants, and the flavonoids it contains are very good at combating free radicals, which cause cell damage that can lead to disease.

(4) Eat more fruits and vegetables—This should be a no-brainer, yet most individuals are lucky to eat 1 serving per day. Many people seem to have an aversion to vegetables, and I think this often results from not knowing how to prepare them properly. I always had a tough time knowing how to prepare vegetables in a healthful way that also tasted great. I was so used to eating boiled frozen vegetables growing up, and Bill, the often dully colored and limp canned variety, and while tolerable, it was never pleasurable. We found the trick to eating more vegetables is having fun with recipes and preparing them in unconventional ways. You don’t need a special cookbook to do this, as there are many Web sites out there (eg, allrecipes.com, foodnetwork.com) that allow you to freely search for recipes using a particular ingredient. These sites have the added benefit of allowing you to read consumer reviews, which often provide great ideas for healthful substitutions. We also buy our vegetables fresh or frozen, never canned, and steam or bake them so that we don’t boil the vital nutrients out of them. We try to buy as much organic produce as possible or buy from our local farmer’s market or farm stands; tomatoes, peaches, you name it, taste so much better when they are freshly picked rather than having ripened on a crate that has been transported hundreds or even thousands of miles before reaching the supermarket. We recently saw tomatoes from New Zealand in our New Jersey supermarket!

(5) Buy organic milk and dairy products, if possible—There is increased expense here, with organic milk costing almost $4 per half gallon in our area, but I don’t like the idea of consuming growth hormones (rBGH) or antibiotics, even if the USDA and FDA claim it is safe. Use of rBGH increases insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), resulting in greater milk production. Although IGF-1 occurs naturally in humans and bovines alike, higher concentrations have been linked to breast and prostate cancers. Treated cows suffer higher rates of mastitis (infection of utters) than nontreated cows, requiring greater administration of antibiotics. Increased exposure to antibiotics have been thought to result in super infections, so why be exposed if you don’t need to be, even if the traces are said to be minimal? Furthermore, children seem to be reaching sexual maturity much sooner than in the past, and pediatricians are increasingly encountering toddlers who are sprouting pubic hair! This seems to be especially prevalent in children who consume a lot of dairy. Because Amelie and Olivia drink milk like it is going out of style, I feel much better buying organic dairy products or those that come from farms that pledge to be hormone-free, even if they are not certified organic.

(6) Eat red meat sparingly, and buy antibiotic-free chicken—Colon cancer has been linked to eating lots of red and processed meats. Furthermore, most beef is treated with synthetic hormones, which can cause hormonal imbalances by increasing natural hormone levels. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, “No dietary levels of hormones are safe and a dime-sized piece of meat contains-billions of millions of molecules.” Again, why take any chances, especially when hormone-free options are available. When we buy beef, we tend to buy lean hormone-free beef, which is available at all of our local supermarkets. As an alternative, we sometimes buy ostrich meat. “Yucky,” you say? Don’t dismiss it unless you’ve tried it! Bill and I are no super tasters, but it actually reminds us a lot of beef and is very lean. Another fantastic option is bison. Like ostrich, this can be hard to find, but well worth the effort. The meat is delicious, guaranteed hormone-free, and very lean.

(7) Boost consumption of omega fatty acids—This can be done by eating more heart-healthy fish, such as herring, sardines, salmon, mackerel, trout, and tuna, which have the added benefit of containing very little saturated fat. While there are some concerns about mercury levels in fish, and studies on how much fish should be consumed are conflicting, especially by pregnant women, many Americans do not eat enough fish or opt for unhealthy processed fish sticks and patties that are devoid of nutrients. I think a lot of this stems from not knowing how to prepare fish properly or thinking the process is very involved. Fish doesn’t need to be breaded and fried to be delicious or require a lot of work to prepare, as perusing the countless recipe sites for healthy fish dishes will demonstrate. If you are not a fish connoisseur, another way to boost consumption of omega-fatty acids is to buy omega-3 enriched eggs or orange juice, which taste no different than the non-fortified variety and are also readily available at most supermarkets.

(8) Use healthy oils for frying and cooking, and use sparingly—Olive oil (including extra-virgin olive oil) and canola oil are the best options, as they are high in monounsaturated fat and lowest in saturated fat. Monosaturates have the most beneficial effect on blood lipid levels, protecting against cardiovascular disease. I prefer to use olive oil because it is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed right after it is pressed, whereas other oils, including canola oil, require processing to remove toxic chemicals and are also stripped of antioxidants in the process. In baking recipes, I often cut down on fat by substituting some applesauce or fat free yogurt for all or a portion of the oil or butter. I’ve found that this healthful substitution does not compromise taste or texture, and no one ever complains.

(9) Learn portion control and eat smaller meals more frequently—The adage of “everything in moderation” holds true, especially when it comes to food. Our portions are far from moderate these days; order a meal at any restaurant and you’ll likely receive enough food for 3 or 4 meals, if not more. One serving of meat is only 2 to 3 ounces, so that 12 ounce steak on the menu is at least 4 servings. Because most of us do not carry a scale in our back pocket, we must visually determine what constitutes a proper portion. Generally, 1 serving of meat would be roughly the size of a deck of cards or bar of soap. One serving of pasta is 1 cup cooked, yet some restaurants serve dishes that contain up to 6 cups. Along with eating proper portions, smaller meals eaten more frequently help keep blood sugar levels steady, boosting metabolism and preventing muscle loss. If you require 2000 calories daily to maintain your weight, splitting those calories between 5 or 6 smaller meals, instead of 2 or 3 larger meals, may prove beneficial according to numerous studies. While this may seem complicated or time-consuming, it really isn’t, but it does require some planning. There are lots of online and print resources that help with planning such meals, and once you develop some understanding of the caloric and nutritional content of food, it becomes much easier.

(10) Don’t let yourself feel deprived—If you have an overwhelming desire to eat that donut or chunk of cheese that has your name on it, go ahead. The key is not to do it on a daily basis or give in every time that urge hits. I find when I eat smaller meals throughout the day, I am also considerably less likely to have such cravings. Eating clean is important, but it will be most effective if such habits can be sustained, and sometimes that may mean making allowances. The point of eating clean is to eat as healthfully as possible and to keep portions in check as much as possible.

The term “diet” is synonymous with “deprivation” to many people, and there are countless gimmicks out there that have banked on this. While such plans, methods, or pills may work for some individuals, the gains are generally short-term and may do more harm than good; one need only recall the ban on ephedra-based diet pills that occurred after the ill effects of ephedra came to light. The key to keeping weight in check and living healthier is to eat cleaner by being cognizant of what is being consumed. If more of us did this, there is no doubt in my mind that we’d have a fitter and healthier America.

Comments

Rowdy Rob
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Some questions...

Thank you, Christina, for an informative, thought-provoking post! You guys must eat very well at your house; I'm envious!

Personally, I consume lots of salmon, olive oil (extra virgin!), vegetables (not necessarily organic, but I'll buy the organic over "processed" when available), and a variety of juices and herbal teas (I'm going through a "pomegranite juice" phase right now). I don't snack (except an occasional bowl of plain popcorn when I'm watching a movie), consume a fair amount of honey (raw, or if I can find it, Manuka), and do crazy things like drink a water/apple cider vinegar/honey concoction I make (allegedly, there's significant health benefits there). On top of that, I take Omega-3 and vitamin supplements. I used to eat 6 smaller meals a day, but now am down to three (which is bad according to my diet plan). I never drink milk, organic or otherwise (except Soy milk), simply because I don't like it, and rarely eat bread (and when I do, whole wheat or rye).

All that having been said, I'm not immune to consuming heavily sugared coffee, colas, packaged "ramen" noodles, or canned chili... :-( And if I'm eating out, all bets are off!

One concern I have about eating "healthy" is the fact that eating "healthy" and eating "frugally" are mutually exclusive. I can afford it now (to some extent), but in my younger days, eating healthy was not an option. Juices vs. soda: soda is much cheaper. "Organics" vs. "processed:" no comparison. Ostrich meat??? Not an option, even if you can find it (I've never heard of it in my area). It's no wonder America is obese: Americans can't afford to be thin!

Some thoughts:

1) Trans fats. I'm not really that concerned about "trans fats," but it seems to me that many products that are advertised as "trans fat free" replace the trans fats with interesterified fats, which sounds like a scientific "cure that's worse than the disease" situation.

2) How many meals a day do you consume? Just curious.

3) Do you take supplements? Or do you derive all your nutrients from the foods you eat? (Theoretically, food nutrients should be enough, but I take supplements just in case!).

Okay, I can go on an on, but that's all for now. :-)

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Christina Loguidice
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Thank you for your very

Thank you for your very thoughtful response. :o) I was really surprised when Bill suggested posting this to Armchair Arcade, but I'm glad he did.

We try to eat as healthfully as possible, but of course we do make exceptions, especially if we are going out to eat or to visit family. You are right, eating healthy can be expensive, but we noticed that our grocery bill actually went down quite a bit when we stopped buying frozen dinners and prepared foods. Fortunately, we recently found a farm here where we can get organic milk super cheap--about $1.40 for a 1/2 gallon. We also have pretty large farmer's market nearby, which has relatively inexpensive produce. We've never had soda in the house, simply because neither of us like it--just causes our stomachs to feel like balloons. I would actually like to eat more salmon, but we don't eat it too often because Bill does not really care for it. So, to ensure we get our omega-3s, we tend to buy enriched orange juice and eggs. Your water/apple cider vinegar/honey concoction sounds very interesting. Is that like a colon cleanse? How often do you drink it?

I generally try to eat at least 4 meals a day, but it does not always work out. It is easier for me to eat better and more frequently when I am working at home. The days I go to the office, I tend to go out for lunch (I generally try to make healthier selections) and then don't eat again until dinner.

I basically just take a multivitamin and I've started to take some calcium. My mom has osteoporisis, so I know it is important for me to start getting more calcium and vitamin D. My grandmother had it as well, so I know the risk is definitely there.

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Mark Vergeer
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Salmon
Rowdy Rob wrote:

.....Personally, I consume lots of salmon, olive oil (extra virgin!).....

Salmon is a fatty fish, it contains relatively more 'wrong' fats than other types of fish. The amount unhealthy fats in Salmon is hugely influenced by the type of food they ingest. There is a huge difference between healthy open-ocean/river salmon and farm raised salmon. Salmon farmers are trying to grow big salmon using cheap food that negatively influences the amount of good omega-3-fatty acids and the actual health of the animals. So there is a huge variation in the actual health of the salmon and the health benefits people get by eating salmon.

Advise: be picky about what salmon you eat! Sadly they are not all as healthy for you as they could be.



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Mark Vergeer
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Good stuff!

Those are some very intelligent and responsible things you say about nutrition Christina. Great information. Elise and I are also trying this approach. I am going to laminate a copy and have it in the kitchen. It is great to see a young mother taking such good care of her kids and family. If just all people would be able to do that there would be far less disease. A large portion of the health-care consumption seems to be so preventable. This kind of thing cannot be stressed enough I say.

The majority of people out there have a hard time reading those labels because they have no clue about sodium and the good and bad fats out there. It is vital that comprehensible information gets out there. It's often the folk in lower social economic circumstances who are at a higher risk of getting all sorts of diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity and often they are the ones buying the cheap highly processed foods - often because they can't afford the healthy food or they don't comprehend the fatty acids, poly unsaturated and saturated fats business.
In a lot of educated western societies the average level of comprehension and reading abilities lies somewhere around the age of 12, no kidding. And that is exactly why health care organizations that try to do preventive health care in the general population have such a hard time communicating something is complex as healthy eating.

This is my 19th year working in the health care industry and from what I've seen I can add that apart from good comprehensible public information / education it is vital that all those fake foods - and the US is the world leader when it comes to that - become more expensive than the healthy foods. Especially at times when the money is tight people tend to resort to cheaper unhealthy food more quickly. With this recession thing looming over our heads a new wave of health-problems is to be expected.



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Mark Vergeer
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Soy Milk - not all good?

Soy contains high levels of isoflavones (also known as phytoestrogens) which may have unwanted side effects as it can mimic the effects of the human hormone estrogen. Most people associate estrogen with women as it is known as the female gender hormone. But it is a fact that both men and women produce estrogen and testosterone. Although each gender produces different quantities.
Those phytoestogens appear to regulate natural levels of estrogen in humans - it seems to act as estrogen when estrogen levels are low and it can act as an anti-estrogen when estrogen levels are high.
There are studies that have shown that sperm count has gone down in males consuming Soy compared to non-Soy consuming adult males. But there are also studies contradicting this. Also some studies have shown in increased occurrence of impotence in Soy-consumers and again there are studies contradicting this find. There are studies that have shown a reduction in male pattern baldness in males consuming Soy, but also numerous studies showing no effect.
The fact that there is an apparent dual modality of the phytoestrogens either acting as or counteracting as estrogen - depending on the occurring levels of estrogen in the blood - might explain the contradictory findings in the above mentioned studies.

Word of advice? If you want a full head of hair - go drink Soy! Well if the latter were the case I guess half of half of the world populatation (50% of males have some form of male pattern baldness) would be addicted to Soy....



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Matt Barton
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Wow, great article,

Wow, great article, Christina!

I have never been fat, but have been working on tightening up my stomach. I think that I could easily gain a spare tire around my gut if I just gave up on dieting and exercise. My weight tends to vary between 155-160. My scale also gives other info (BMI, body fat, etc.) but I don't really understand what it means.

I drink little soda, but my problem tends to be the P.M. drinks. During the day I drink mostly water, tea, and coffee. The problem is night. I don't always just want water, but decaf tea and coffee sucks. I do drink lots of herbal teas, and enjoy them, but sometimes you want a little kick or something cold. It's at this time that I yearn for either a decaf Pepsi or beer. I'd naturally like to eliminate both, but need a viable alternative!

I am unfortunately far too poor to eat healthy all the time. The "healthy" aisle at the grocery store seems to assume you have a 60K+ income. I would love to be able to afford those items, but am stuck with the cheap stuff. The only concession I make is for the soy milk. If I drink regular milk, you don't want to be within a 5 mile radius of me. The same goes for cheese! The funny thing is, I get bad results even with the lactose-free milk; only soy milk doesn't do it to me. I heard that my grandma used to feed my dad goat milk when he was a baby, so I'm assuming this must be something in our genes. I hadn't heard anything about sperm counts going down, but I'd hate to end up with boobs!!

I don't eat out much, but do enjoy a nice smoothie at least twice a week. I also drink protein shakes with a few strawberries tossed in if I get up to doing a workout DVD. I'm also taking a karate class this semester that meets twice a week, so I get some exercise in there. I also love to take walks and ride bikes, but it's too cold for that now.

I unfortunately eat too much junk, like beef sticks, spam, pork rinds, canned chili or corned beef hash, chips of various sorts, and frozen burger patties. For lunch I usually just eat a sandwich, but evening meals are usually some sort of pasta dish. Elizabeth only seems to know how to cook pasta dishes. I eat lots of red meat in the form of burgers, but also chicken, turkey sausage or meatballs, etc. I love steak, baked potatoes, and pretty much anything with gravy on top of it.

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Mark Vergeer
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Oh you're beyond help Matt!

Oh you're beyond help Matt! No but seriously.

Here in the Netherlands, and a lof of other European countries there's weekly markets where you can get your fruit and veg at really good prices. The same goes for the US, these fresh fruit and veg markets aren't only old-world posh European experiences. When I lived in St.Louis MI there was a fruit and veg market every week near Washington University where we used to go buy our fruits and vegs. Dead cheap too, and often biologically grown. You've to venture outside your comfortable grocery store where everything is ready at hand and you'll be able to get cheaper and healthier foods.



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Matt Barton
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That could be. I'm not

That could be. I'm not really the type of guy that'd be hanging around a farmer's market, though. We don't have a Whole Foods or anything like that here, but some people talk about a "co-op," whatever the heck that is. I'm happy enough to shop at the local big grocery stores. I love hot and spicy food, fried chicken, corn on the cob, etc. When I get pizza I like to get light sauce, since I hate tomatoes (though I can tolerate them mixed in with other things, such as salsa).

The problem is that, say, a carton of orange juice is about three times as expensive as a six-pack of Pepsi. Plus, the acid in the orange juice makes me feel nauseous. Same with grapefruit juice. I was just arguing with a loved one about whether I'd be better off drinking a glass of apple cider rather than a Pepsi. She insisted the Pepsi would have fewer calories and the cheap, over-processed apple juice wouldn't have any nutritional value anyway. What are your thoughts on this? I've heard that fruit juices are "wasted calories," but they've always seemed like a healthy choice to me.

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Bill Loguidice
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Juice

100% fruit juice actually has a very similar nutritional profile to fruit itself, most notably just with less fiber.

You can try the low acid orange juice varieties if you find you're having problems with regular orange juice.

Regardless, soda is never the answer... I'm not saying you should be a nut like me, who hasn't had any soda since my last sip about 18 years ago, but it's definitely a beverage best consumed in moderation...

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Mark Vergeer
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Fruit Juice and sugar - Matt you are beyond help :-(

The sugars levels in fruit juices are often high and are very bad for your teeth too. The sugars in the juices often are processed and not really comparable to the real fructose sugars. There's a lot of fake juices out there that seem like the real thing but upon closer inspection are nothing more than processed sugars in water with some sort of colouring.
Especially in young kids drinking fruit juice this is something to take into consideration when dental hygiene is concerned.
Also milk contains quite a large amount of milk-sugars including lactose that can increase the risk of caries without prudent dental hygiene.



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