We have access to more nutritional information today than ever before, from magazines to the Internet to newspapers and television. When you add to the mix the hype about fad diets, the resulting information overload creates more confusion than clarity.
Many people are still unclear about what they should eat and think they end up believing that good nutrition is complicated!
Throughout the year, we will demystify the essentials of smart nutrition. First, we will identify the nine most critical nutritional issues that affect the way we eat. And we've put together information from the top nutrition, public health, culinary, and food marketing authorities to help guide us in translating complex science into real-world information that you can use. We're going to share their strategies to bring smart nutrition to your plate. Here's a preview of the nine topics we're going to cover:
#1: Eat smart, be fit, live longer.
Eat a predominantly plant-based diet that provides a healthy fat balance; a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants; and high-quality protein sources low in saturated fat. And finally, exercise daily. Activity balances the calories consumed, helping to keep your weight in check.
#2: Choose the carbs that satisfy you and utilize them to your advantage
A great deal of confusion surrounds the issue of carbohydrates, thanks to fad diets that promote fat and protein over carbs. But, "as with fats, it is the type of carbohydrate that is most important," says Walter Willett, MD, Ph.D., Chairman of the Food Department at Harvard School of Public Health. Eventually, all carbohydrates in our bodies turn to sugar. These sugars give us the energy needed to perform the tasks—from breathing to bicep curls.
Some carbohydrates, however, convert more quickly to sugar than others. For this reason, the dietary recommendations for carbohydrates focus on complex carbohydrates, the more slowly digested type found in whole grains, legumes, and vegetables (such as quinoa, kidney beans, and winter squash). They help you feel full and satisfied after a meal and keep your blood sugar levels on a keel, reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Whole grains, in particular, are the best carbohydrate choice. Women who consume two to three servings of whole-grain per day have a 30 percent reduced risk of heart attack and type 2 diabetes compared to women who consume less than one serving per week, according to the Nurses' Health Study. These findings prompted the USDA to recommend three servings per day (for example, two 100 percent whole-grain bread slices and one-half cup cooked brown rice) in the current Dietary Guidelines.
Athletes or performance trainers that are mainly active on most days can utilize Carb cycling.
Carb cycling is a dietary strategy in which you alternate carb intake daily, weekly or monthly. It is commonly used to lose fat, control physical performance while dieting, or overcome a weight loss plateau. Some people alter their carb intake day-to-day, while others may do more extended periods of low, moderate, and high-carb diets. In short, carb cycling aims to time carbohydrate intake to when it provides maximum benefit and eliminate carbs when they’re not needed.
#3: Improve your nutrient power.
We recommend and have a term for foods inherently rich in vitamins, minerals and beneficial nutrients without additional calories: "nutrient-dense" or "rich nutrient." The idea is to choose the foods that offer the most nutrient density. I.e. skim milk: you get all the same nutrients—protein, calcium, vitamins A and D—in a package of lower calories than whole milk.
If you understand the basic principle of choosing nutrient-rich foods, you can start applying them. Salads are another prime example of nutrient-rich foods. Start with low-calorie greens and add fruit, vegetables, and other foods that increase the nutrient profile.
#4: Save room for dessert.
Any way of eating that does not allow for occasional indulgence is not sustainable. Even the current version of the USDA Dietary Guidelines will enable goodies. It is all about sustainability.
The key is to make nutritionally sound choices. Enjoy nuts (which offer protein, fibre, and beneficial fats) as a snack or hot chocolate with unsweetened cocoa, a touch of raw sugar, and fat-free milk or non-dairy for added protein, calcium, and vitamin D.
#5: Season with sea salt.
Sodium plays a crucial role in muscle function and maintains the body's fluid balance, but it's easy to consume too much. Over time, excess sodium can increase blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The USDA recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day for adults under the age of 50—the amount in one teaspoon of salt—but most Americans consume an extra 2,000 to 4,000 mg of sodium per day, mainly from processed and prepared foods. Reducing the intake to reach the 2,300mg target is essential for everyone. Still, it is crucial for those predisposed to developing high blood pressure, especially African Americans, overweight people, or those with a family history of the condition.
It is also essential to adjust the sodium intake with age. Systolic blood pressure (the highest blood pressure reading) increases by an average of four points per decade. (The USDA recommends no more than 1,500 mg per day for those over 50 and no more than 1,200 mg per day for those over 70.)
Clients often ask how to make food taste good without using a salt shaker. First, focus on fresh, whole food. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and meats may naturally contain sodium, but this is hardly the same amount of sodium found in many processed foods. When using processed foods, look for no-or reduced-sodium versions to avoid adding extra sodium to your dish, as with the less-sodium chicken broth. Finally, make use of herbs and spices to improve the taste of food without added salt. It will liven dishes with savoury salt-free seasonings. (check out our blog post “flavour enhancer” for more tips)
#6 Eat food that is good for you—and the planet.
Sustainability has become a buzzword in the culinary world, as chefs and home cooks seek ways to minimize their impact on the planet. It's easy to get bogged down in the many issues that deal with how food affects the environment, and choosing between them can be confusing. Are you supposed to consume all organic food? Just eat local food? Avoid food containing hormones or antibiotics?
Many nutrition experts agree that consuming a diet rich in a wide variety of plant foods is a smart first step towards sustainability. The simple reason is that fruits, vegetables, and grains require fewer resources to be produced. According to researchers in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology, shifting less than one day per week of calories to a vegetable-based diet can reduce the greenhouse gas equivalent produced by driving 1,160 miles. The health benefits of eating this way are also well documented.
Place as much emphasis on plant-based side dishes as on meat intakes.
#7: Watch out for portion distortion.
We've all seen what appears to be a single-serve packaged snack, only to discover the label indicates that it produces two servings. This could lead to overeating. When faced with more significant portions, people naturally eat more, according to researcher Brian Wansink, Ph.D., Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, who has led several groundbreaking studies examining the psychological cues that can lead people to over-consume.
Portion control is easy to practice in your own kitchen. When ordering food at the restaurant, ask the waiter or waitress to cut 6-ounce portions—no more, no less. When cooking with ingredients that are not already portioned or finished dishes, pay close attention to the measurements. Use tools like measuring cups or kitchen scales to help you identify the correct quantity. Practice will make perfect; over time, you will begin to recognize the right portion automatically.
#8: Choose the premium protein you want.
Whether it's meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, nuts, or beans, protein helps you feel fuller longer. This is good news when it comes to managing your appetite. However, protein sources differ in their nutritional make-up. You also need to factor in fat to consider protein choices.
For most meals, choose a protein that provides the most nutrient for the least saturated fat. Plant-based proteins, such as black beans, lentils, or navy beans, come with little fat and abundant vitamins and minerals. They're always the right choice. Nuts are usually rich in beneficial unsaturated fats. Animal proteins have varying levels and types of fats. For example, beef tenderloin is inherently lean, while ribeye contains almost twice as much saturated fat—more than 5 grams per 3-ounce serving. However, the two servings have approximately the same protein content: 24 grams for the ribeye and 25 grams for the tenderloin.
#9: Sort the latest fat facts.
Studies have shown that the type of fat is more important to heart health than the specific dietary calorie ratio of fat, and the OmniHeart Study, which supports this recommendation suggests replacing a portion of total calories with unsaturated fats (the good fats) —such as sautéing vegetables.
There is no scientific basis for setting a percentage of fat in the overall diet. It is the type of fat that is important to health. However, we should avoid trans fat, and saturated fat should be kept relatively low and unsaturated fats accentuated.
Here's an example that illustrates the point: Salmon contains 45 percent of fat calories, most of which are beneficial. Removing the 30% calorie limit from the fat in a serving allows you to reap the benefits of Salmon's healthy unsaturated fats.
Look beyond the total fat in the food. If the food has a nutrition label, check the amount of mono-and polyunsaturated fats it contains. Figures for these healthy unsaturated fats should be higher than those for saturated and trans fats associated with heart disease. (No nutrient numbers on the food you are considering? Just subtract the amount of saturated and trans fat from the total fat to estimate the amount of unsaturated fat.) For foods that are high in unsaturated fats, make adjustments to your diet to help keep your overall daily calories balanced.