Made from Actual Food

January 5, 2011 in Health, Mediterranean, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Mark Bittman who writes clever articles for the New York Times, published his article Chop, Fry, Boil: Eating for One, or 6 Billion on December 31, 2010; beginning with this sentence: “Revolutionary” diet books flood the market this time of year, promising a life changed permanently and for the better — yes, in just 10 to 30 days! — but, as everyone knows, the key to eating better begins with a diet of real food.” One of Bittman’s clever observations is when he counters the old saw that modern Americans don’t have time to cook. He cites the Nielsen statistics for television watching (35 hours a week, but no time to cook??) and adds the witty observation that increasingly, “they’re watching other people cook." He says that if a person learned to make three basic recipes (which he contends can be learned on one lesson) they could eat nutritionally sound and environmentally friendly meals. These three basic meals are chopped salads, stir fries, and variations of beans and rice. We have written much on these three as well. [See: ‘How to’ for Salads; Dr. G Stir Fries; Dr. G recipes for beans and rice, or wheat berries.]  One of Bittman’s proposals sings truth to my heart. It is that the cook could vary these three recipes in countless ways. There are two really good reasons to take a few minutes to read his article: One, you like reading a work written with an excellent sense of humor; Two, his article holds some of the keys to taking steps toward the end of dieting – that is, making permanent changes that support health and a healthy weight. He gives you a bonus as well. He correctly ties the environment to the endeavor of healthful eating and food prep.

I don’t frequently laugh out loud when reading from my monitor, but Bittman ‘set me off’ with his, “Each is produced from basic building blocks that contain no additives, preservatives, trans fats, artificial flavorings or ingredients of any kind, or outrageous calorie counts; they are, in other words, made from actual food.” Maybe it’s just that I’m a dietitian/nutritionist, but the words “made from actual food” hijacked my laugh center and there was lots of LOL going on at my desk. I’ve been teaching, talking and writing about this for years, but it was seldom this simple (and, of course funny!) Oh my gosh, when I got to the paragraph about KFC’s Chicken Pot Pie, his phrase “chicken pot pie flavor” as an additive put me into another short bout of hysteria. I’m sure it must be my dietitian gene, but Bittman makes my day. If I were still teaching, I’d make this a ‘must read’ article.  Nowadays, all you have to do is click on the link – which is certainly worth your effort.

Early each year there is lots of chat about weight loss and weight management most of it not nearly the fun read of Bittman’s Chop, Fry, Boil; that chat is often joined with more chat about New Year’s Resolutions. If your healthy eating skills are well developed and there is no room for improvement, you may be really bored with all the yak. But if you or your family have been touched by the century’s greatest public health threat – Obesity, you may be joining us in the quest in maintaining a healthy weight in order to reduce the health consequences of obesity (type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, some cancers, hypertension, dyslipidemia, stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, reproductive complications, and the psychological distress caused by obesity).

The reality is that about two-thirds of adults and a third of children are currently overweight or obese. There seems to be a prevalence of body size misperception; so if you are not sure where you stand you can start by using a standard BMI calculator for adults and/or children. Of course the BMI calculator is just a place to start; if you have a very small frame, you may discover that you fall into the normal range, but know when you look into the mirror that you are heavier that you should be. Or the reverse works too; if you have a very athletic or large frame and/or lots of muscle mass, your BMI may need a little adjustment; but having said that the range is fairly liberal and will work for the vast majority; fine-tuning can be accomplished with sensible self-observation.

Sometimes I feel the need to pump ‘psychological iron’ to get my energies in a position of readiness for the needs of the New Year’s attack on healthy weight management. I know that few want to believe that cutting calories and increasing physical activity is part of the answer. The masses seem to be looking for answers that are: fast, fast, fast; unique; complex but reportedly easy; and especially for a new method (think: colonic cleansing; fasting; diet pills; packaged meals; detox diets; professor junk food diet; satiety sprinkles; HCG; low carbs, fat, protein; high carbs, fat, protein; and on and on and on). In addition, as a public health educator, I’m discouraged with the difficulty in helping the public realize that one of the very most important principles should be the sustainability of whatever the plan is. For example, do you want to permanently take some substance from a pill? Will you be able to eat ‘gluten free’ permanently? Will you miss ever eating carbohydrates (protein, fat, or whatever the weird diet suggests) again? Do you want to buy your food in a little paper box forever? Can you afford it, or will you tire of it? Do you really believe you will learn to eat differently by taking HCG and starving your body for the short term? Can you safely live on junk food for the rest of your life? Or can you realistically live on any of the myriad of unbalanced eating plans and be healthy?

If the mirror and the BMI calculator have stimulated your desire to lose some weight, or if you just want to keep improving your “bag of tricks” – that is, skills for maintaining health and a healthy weight; then you may want to consider the information available at Dr. Grandma’s. To begin, we at Dr. Grandma’s believe that eating real food is one of the foundational tenets of eating a healthy diet. We encourage you to reject highly processed, fake, fattening ‘fudes.’ We are proponents of a Mediterranean-style of eating (lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, extra virgin olive oil; moderately high intake of seafood; moderate intake of non-fat dairy; and using red meat sparingly. The Mediterranean-style of eating is a plant-based diet, and as Bittman writes, is not only a benefit to the human body, but in addition, is much kinder to our planet Earth.

Among the reasons that we at Dr. Grandma’s have embraced the Mediterranean-style of eating are: it offers a huge variety of options for millions of different appetites, and variety so individuals don’t get bored with a narrow pallet of choices; it is supported by nutritional science as a healthy way of eating (beginning with Ancel Keys to present day studies); it focuses on what you CAN eat – real food, an Earth-friendly plant-based diet; it supports painless weight management; it can be sustained – a permanent way of nourishing your body and maintaining health and a healthy weight.

If you want to move toward a Mediterranean-style of eating that will support weight-loss or management of a healthy weight and are wondering where to start the following are some ideas:

  • Make sure your ‘thinking’ is getting you to where you want to go and to where you want to stay.
  • Start where you are – don’t target a perfect end, in one step – it can be overwhelming; recognize that it’s a process of gaining skills and techniques. Remember the adage, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Choose your beginning steps and the time frame for adding the next step. For example, write down “I will make the next goal each Sunday or each first of the month,” or something else, depending upon your individual needs.

    Adjust your expectations – Did you gain the weight in 30 days? Take it off slowly, by cutting 200 to 500 calories a day. Dr. Brian Wansink’s research has shown that you can cut 200 calories a day and your body ‘will not notice.’ This means it will not send the uncomfortable strong hunger pangs.

    Focus on the new habit and less on the old habit. For example, “I’m going to eat two large servings of vegetables with my meal,” rather than focusing on eating a smaller serving of meat than you’re used to eating.

    Consider breaking your goal of pounds of weight loss into segments; then focus on the short term goals that will get you to the final goals. For example, if you presently drink 48 ounces of sweetened soda a day, maybe make the first week 24 ounce per day (use diet soda or another calorie-free alternative). Continue resetting your goal each week, to a lower number. You can use this technique in both increasing and decreasing intake. (Increase healthy foods that fill you up, enabling you to decrease foods that don’t benefit your weight or health).

  • Make your plans as specific as feasible.
  • Make plans that you know are possible to keep. E.g., “I will have an apple and 6 cashews as my afternoon snack;” or consider making a list of 5 different snacks that you have on hand, each of which will support your goal. Be able to say: “I know I can do this.” Instead of a vague plan to eat fewer calories in the day.
  • Don’t make your plan an absolute. For example, I’ll never taste ice cream again. This is a potential one bite set up for long-term failure. Those of you who have tried one weight loss plan, after another know the horrible de-motivating toll of failure – so set yourself up for success.
  • If you want to start by cutting “empty calories.” (They aren’t nourishing your body or adding to your health), then a good place to start is by decreasing simple sugars, white processed flour products, processed foods, processed meats, and solid fats (butter and shortening).
  • Give up or decrease sugary beverages.  Use Dr. Grandma’s all-natural, zero-calorie Delight or another zero-calorie sweetener; make your own lemonade or iced herb tea.
  • Begin curtailing excessive cheese and red meats. Substitute small servings of poultry, or better yet, seafood, for your usual serving of red meat. Use cheese as a flavor enhancer; try stronger cheese varieties, grated and sprinkled sparingly on a dish for flavor.
  • Double or triple your vegetable servings, and decrease the animal protein to 3 ounces or less.
  • Just eating fewer processed and restaurant foods will help you take the first giant step in cutting sodium; and often fat and sweeteners too.
  • Remember that without controlling your food environment, it’s just about impossible to eat healthily.  Environment adjustment – foods that support health (weight management) bring them into your environment; foods that don’t – take them out of your environment.
  • Stock the refrigerator, freezer and pantry shelves with vegetables, fruit and whole grain products.
  • If you’ve already begun some of the steps above, you may want to discover foods and recipes that you enjoy that emphasize vegetables, beans, legumes, fruits, whole grains, seafood, fat-free dairy products, nuts and seeds. Use poultry, lean meat, hard cheeses, in moderation.
  • Portion control at home – a possible starting point is to decrease the servings of starch, and animal protein by a fourth or a third; but increase the vegetables by double or triple.
  • Consider packing a piece of fruit when leaving home – a safety net to use when getting near the office donut box, the candy at the checkout lane, or other sinister highwaymen lurking to attack you.
  • Exercise portion control in restaurants:
    • Divide plate contents when served; take home or leave the extra.
    • Ask the server to bring half the meal already in a take home container.
    • Consider a child’s menu or an appetizer and soup or salad
    • Share with a companion
    • Half of a giant potato is more than enough for many of us
    • Consider skipping the bread, especially if you are also served rice, pasta, or potato
    • An appropriate meat serving is about the size of a deck of cards – cut it to that size so you won’t nibble away more than you need.

So after your laughter dies down from Bittman’s Chop, Fry, Boil begin a serious pursuit to improve your eating, maintenance of health, and a healthy weight. Make this year, a year to begin a permanent change in eating and exercising – an end of your perennial quest for quick (but unsustainable) weight-loss. Start your cooking experience with Bittman’s suggestion: a salad, a stir-fry and a beans and rice dish – made with actual food. It won’t be long before you recognize that actual food, cooked at home, delivers satiety and great taste; improved health; reduced risk for disease; and a lower weight – great goals for any time of the year.