Monday, February 9, 2009
Eating Healthy - Part 3: Taste the Rainbow
I chose this as one of my first topics because there really is no disagreement on the idea that if we want to eat healthy then we should be eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Isn't it wonderful how God gave us so many different fruits and vegetables to enjoy! (I know that hybridization and domestication of these plants has taken place since when they were created by God. But, still, I am thankful that we have so many different colorful and tasty fruits and vegetables available. He could have just given us something like manna, you know?)...
Red - Apples, Strawberries, Red Peppers, Pomegranates, Watermelon, Tomatoes, Raspberries
Orange - Squash, Oranges, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin, Carrots, Peaches
Yellow - Bananas, Lemons, Grapefruit (well, I guess they are more pink), Pears, Pineapple
White - Cauliflower, Mushrooms, Onions, Leeks, Potatoes
Green - Broccoli, Green Peppers, Asparagus, Spinach, Lettuce, Green Beans
Purple/Blue - Eggplant, Red Cabbage, Blueberries, Blackberries, Grapes, Plums
...just to name a few. I like this article here(except when they start talking about supplements and drink mixes)because it lists the different nutrients that are found in each color of fruits and vegetables.I am guessing that most all of us should be eating more fruits and vegetables. The CDC, National Cancer Institute, USDA, and American Cancer Society (along with some other agencies) teamed up in 1991 to promote an awareness campaign called "Five a Day." The idea is that we should consume at least 5 fruits or vegetables a day.
The USDA's food pyramid is much more specific and separates fruits and vegetables. (Check out the food pyramid here.) The food pyramid also classifies vegetables into the following groups: Dark greens, Orange Vegetables, Beans, Starchy Vegetables, and Other. You can see the recommended amounts based on age and gender on a chart on their site. This is very similar to the recommendations from the November 2008 issue of Prevention magazine (p. 177) which you can read here, which say to aim for 14 cups of vegetables a week...Dark Greens: 2 cups per week, Orange Vegetables: 1 1/2 cups per week, Beans: 2 1/2 cups per week, Starchy Vegetables: 2 1/2 cups per week, Other: 5 1/2 cups per week.
Because vegetables contain so few calories (except starchy vegetables and beans you'll want to keep track of those), there almost is no upper limit to the rest. I have yet to meet someone who eats too many vegetables!
Fruits are counted separately. The food pyramid recommends 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit a day for adults. Note that servings vary for whole fruits and 1/4 cup dried fruit counts as 1/2 cup fruit. Fruits are a little more calorie-dense and contain natural sugars, so we can't say that the sky is the limit. 100% juice is good, but it is still pretty concentrated in calories and contains natural sugar, so watch how much you or your children are drinking and dilute it with water if they are big juice drinkers. Try squeezing an orange to make fresh orange juice and see how little you get compared to just pouring it out of a carton. Be careful that juice is not being used as the predominant and unlimited fluid in the diet - it should not be a substitute for water.
So, what about "superfoods"? A "superfood" is one that is claimed to have especially high nutritious health benefits, such as blueberries, for example. The problem is that this term is not clearly defined and almost implies that if you eat it daily, then you will be free from disease. Although, the foods that have been named as "superfoods" have been shown to be very nutritious, the principle of variety applies here. Eating a variety of these nutrient-dense "superfoods" ensures that you will get a balance of vitamins and anti-oxidants - that's why I like the classifications on the food pyramid.
One final word of caution related to fruits and vegetables which I need to be sure to state - and this applies to anyone with a medical condition or who takes medications...Never change your diet or medications or supplements without first talking to your doctor!!! Although fruits and vegetables are clearly "good" "healthy" foods, certain ones do interact with some medications or medical conditions...A good example is anyone on Coumadin should carefully watch their vitamin K intake. Large amounts of vitamin K are found in foods such as liver, broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, Swiss chard, coriander, collards, cabbage, and other green leafy vegetables. Do not change the amount of these foods in your diet without first talking to your doctor. Also anyone on Coumadin should avoid eating cranberries, drinking cranberry juice, or taking cranberry herbal products. Another example is someone with kidney disease. They will be probably be advised by the doctor to follow a strict diet which includes a fluid restriction and does not allow foods like peas or beans, just to name a few.
So, today's principle is (unless you have been advised by a physician to follow a strict diet): Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and aim for variety!. (If this is overwhelming because it sounds like a lot of fruits and vegetables, start by choosing at least 1 fruit or vegetable from each color group during your next grocery trip and then start adding a fruit or vegetable to each meal. I'll talk more about ideas on how to "sneak" fruits and vegetables into your meals on another post since this one is getting a little long (hmmm, I wonder what ever made me research that??)