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For the Most Part, One Size Does Fit All

Often times, the pail of cold water that gets dumped on a fiery nutrition debate is the “one size does not fit all!” mantra. That is to say, one particular manner of eating can make person A feel great but person B feel sluggish and tired, and both experiences are legitimate. To a certain degree, I co-sign on this. Some individuals are grazers, others are “three square meals” types; some people like to eat breakfast right upon waking, some don’t really feel hungry until an hour after. Fine with me.

Approaching nutrition from a completely individualist lens, however, takes away from the fact that there are certain truths that apply to everyone, and should be strongly recommended across the board:

1. Eat more whole fruits and vegetables: An obvious one, yes, but undoubtedly something everyone can benefit from. I list it, though, because some low-carb camps are weary of whole fruits and equate a banana with a handful of Skittles. Vitamins, minerals, and fiber aside, each fruit and vegetable provides its own unique blend of health-promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants, some of which have yet to fully be studied. PS: This group includes sea vegetables as well, which I believe are criminally underrated and underrepresented in mainstream nutrition circles.

2. Consume fermented foods: If the population of Gut Flora City is undernourished or dwindling, it takes a toll on your health (think impaired mineral absorption and lowered immunity). Consistent intake of fermented foods helps maintain a thriving gut flora community. Although yogurt is the first thing that comes to mind, many foods and beverages fit the bill: sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir (dairy or vegan), rejuvelac (a sprouted grain beverage), kombucha, and miso. These foods must be consumed in a raw state (or, if pasteurized, must have cultures added on after pasteurization).

3. Eat unprocessed fats: It pains me that we live in a world where coconuts are branded as evil because of their saturated fat content (ignoring the fact that its main fat, lauric acid, increases HDL cholesterol) while corn oil is presented as the heart-health savior (even though it offers an absurd amount of omega-6 fatty acids). When it comes to fats, it’s best to consume them in unprocessed form. This means getting them mostly from whole foods, rather than oils. In the case of oils, though, cold-pressed, unfiltered choices are best. My general rule for oils: choose ones that come from foods naturally high in fat.  Otherwise, best to avoid.  Oils with modifiers like ‘interesterified’, ‘hydrogenated’, ‘modified’, ‘partially hydrogenated’, or ‘refined’ cause much damage to our arteries and cells.

4. Eat enough fiber, and eat it from real food: What’s “enough”? 25 – 35 grams a day. Food companies know consumers are looking to get more of it and have resorted to the cheap trick of adding isolated fibers to many non whole-grain products. Whole grains offer many more advantages besides fiber, so choose them over fiber-enhanced processed foods, even if they offer fewer fiber grams per serving. And, of course, get fiber from fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. PS: My blood pressure rises a little whenever I come across packets of Splenda with Fiber.

5. Was it around 100 years ago? Artificial dyes, artificial sweeteners, and many preservatives (like BHA and BHT) all come with their share of legitimate concerns, especially regarding their long-term consumption. Artificial sweeteners don’t appear to trigger “food reward pathways” in the brain and some appear to have carcinogenic ties, while BHA and BHT are banned on the other side of the Atlantic for a variety of reasons.

As far as I’m concerned, the principles of good nutrition are universal.  Sure, the nutrition field is dynamic in that new discoveries are made, but emerging research usually gives more of a reason to eat close to nature and avoid man-made creations.  Here are the “one size fits all” Cliffs Notes: keep it real, keep it fresh, and keep it simple (and, whenever possible, local and/or organic).

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22 Comments

  1. Ken Leebow said on July 22nd, 2011

    Andy,

    Re: Eat more whole fruits and vegetables

    When it comes to health, that phrase has become as ubiquitous as “Eat Less, Exercise More”. It’s stated so frequently that it results in very little meaning.

    If I had a dollar every time someone, said to me: “I know how to eat healthy”, I’d be as rich as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet combined (slight exaggeration).

    They seem to know, but fail at execution.

    I have found by providing a few examples of incredibly simple, easy-to-make, and powerful tasting dishes, people are well on their way to eating more fruits, veggies, fiber, and protein.

    Ken Leebow
    http://www.LifewithoutLipitor.com

    P.S. Eat Less, Exercise More is a myth that needs to be busted … but that’s for another day.

    P.P.S. Thanks for the recommendation of Uncle Sam cereal … nice addition to my pantry.

  2. Norma said on July 22nd, 2011

    The phrase “eat more fruits and vegetables” may be ubiquitous but at least it is unambiguous (unlike the other phrases Andy mentioned recently, “everything in moderation” and the glib “eat less, exercise more”). So few people eat enough fruits/veggies and even those of us who make a concerted effort to incorporate them into our meals and snacks probably don’t get enough every day. Reminding/encouraging people to choose an apple or banana (instead of a gooey candy-like “energy” or “protein” bar when they make a quick stop in a convenience store, to pop a sliced sweet potato in the oven (or even the toaster oven) to bake (I nuke mine, I admit) for a side dish, etc. is never a bad thing. The point is that it’s pretty much impossible to overdo it on fruits/vegs and they are the best choice we can make…there’s nothing complicated or debatable about that phrase. I’m stunned on a daily basis by my intelligent, educated adult friends who know little or nothing about the nutritional values of foods, who insist they don’t have time to shop/prepare/eat whole foods, who complain that whole foods are too expensive (but think nothing of dropping $100 on a bar tab on Saturday night) and then ask me why they aren’t losing weight by eating Special K and drinking diet cokes….

  3. Marsha said on July 22nd, 2011

    One of my favorite dishes is a simple, baked filet of salmon with a thin miso spread. Yum!

  4. Marianne said on July 22nd, 2011

    So true – the very basic nutrition principles do fit for everyone, and still give you pretty much infinite possibilities to customize your own eating plan to your own tastes, beliefs, and lifestyle. Eat more fruits and vegetables doesn’t mean you have to eat the ones you hate – just increase consumption of the ones you enjoy, and give new ones a fair shake (because tastes can change). Same can be said about pretty much everything else you listed there.

  5. Brandon said on July 22nd, 2011

    In 2011 people still consider corn oil to be heart-healthy? Strange. I haven’t heard that in my nutrition circles.

    What I have been hearing about a lot is your point #2. I’m still skeptical on how important that really is. Shouldn’t eating the right food (your point #1,3,4, and 5) promote a correctly nourished and thriving gut flora city? I get that it doesn’t hurt to eat those foods, but I don’t think its necessary or required, unless I just took antibiotics or something similar.

  6. Andy Bellatti said on July 22nd, 2011

    Brandon,

    Many mainstream nutritionists go by the “all plant oils are healthful” mantra, and will include corn oil in list of heart-healthy oils. I see this very frequently.

    Our gut flora is vulnerable to other things beside poor nutrition (ie: pollutants in air, pharmaceuticals other than antibiotics, etc). Sure, prebiotic foods are key, but it is also advisable to consume probiotic foods regularly (It’s not as if once you eat a yogurt with live and active cultures, you have a year’s worth of probiotic bacteria and no longer need to concern yourself with it).

  7. Andy Bellatti said on July 22nd, 2011

    Ken,

    I agree with Norma in regards to your “eat more fruits and vegetables” critique. Its ubiquity does not make it a meaningless message; it very directly advices people to add more fruits and vegetables to their diets. What you are referring to (people saying “I know how to eat healthy” but not really demonstrating that) has more to do with confusing messages in mainstream media coupled with advertsing (ie: a sugar-laden rice cake is “healthy” because it is low-calorie, or a Zone Bar is healthy because it has “the right proportion” of fats/protein/carbs) than the “eat more fruits and vegetables” message being meaningless (as “everything in moderation!” is).

    Glad you enjoy Uncle Sam Cereal. They also have an unflavored quick-cooking oatmeal (which comes in packets), if that sort of thing interests you.

  8. Dave said on July 22nd, 2011

    I’m concerned over your usage of “man-made”. Essential all fruits and vegetables are man-made. It’s also unfair to demonize technology so generally. I understand these are general rules of thumb but let’s not perpetuate the false dichotomy between humans and nature.

  9. Andy Bellatti said on July 22nd, 2011

    Dave,

    “Man-made” is simply meant to imply something that is made in a laboratory or factory and does not occur in nature (think partially hydrogenated oils, artificial dyes). Froot Loops are man-made, blueberries are not. Coca-cola is man-made; coconut water naturally exists inside a coconut. Sure, there are some exceptions (seltzer water is man-made but is not a concern from a health standpoint), but it’s a term that I believe delivers the intended message effectively.

  10. nora said on July 23rd, 2011

    Another great post. I’d like to read more about the fermented foods. Fresh kimchi doesn’t qualify, I assume. How do you know if cultures are added post-pasteurization?

  11. Andy Bellatti said on July 23rd, 2011

    Nora,

    Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the post. One good way to be guaranteed live cultures in pasteurized products is to look the “Live & Active Cultures” Seal (read more about it here: http://smallbites.andybellatti.com/?p=2807)

    Mind you, that seal belongs to a third party, so its absence does not mean a yogurt does not contain live and active cultures. One thing you can also do is take a peek at the ingredient list: “cultured pasteurized milk” refers to cultures added post-pasteurization, whereas “yogurt, heat-treated after culturing” means all beneficial bacteria have been obliterated.

  12. Vegan in Vegas said on July 23rd, 2011

    #5 just about sums it all up. One almost needs a PhD in chemistry to figure out mainstream food industry ingredients.

    When my child was younger and wanted something packaged from the grocery store, I read the ingredients to him and asked him if he knew what they were (IF I could pronounce them!). If he didn’t, it didn’t go into the cart. Now he’s in high school and just reads the labels on his own. It’s wonderful to watch him put back the junk without even asking me.

    Hopefully, this will stay with him for the rest of his (very healthy) life.

  13. Lauren Slayton said on July 25th, 2011

    I think we could systematically knock down all prevailing dietary “truths”. I couldn’t resist going after the “there are no bad foods” statement today (did you read recent Jane Brody article, you’d love it). I’m so with you on fermented foods. I think what your advice includes other that sense and logic is specificity. I think people need ideas: what fruits and vegetables are seasonal, what fats are “good” (or bad) and what fermented foods are. I have faith that when people learn of chia seed and nori and kombucha and have access to them, they will eat them. People saw Food Inc and made changes, they just need the information from a passionate, convincing source.

  14. G said on July 25th, 2011

    Great blog post. I was nodding vigorously at each of your points. I would love to know what oils/fats are in your pantry and how you use them. We use olive oil–probably too much of it–and recently started using coconut oil We also eat butter or ghee.

  15. Andy Bellatti said on July 25th, 2011

    Hi G,

    This post touches on the oils I use, and in what ways: http://smallbites.andybellatti.com/?p=6639

  16. Andy Bellatti said on July 25th, 2011

    Lauren,

    I liked how the Jane Brody article and liked how it put issues in perspective. Very good point about specificity: people need direction, which is why the whole “everyone is different!” becomes watered down and so meaningless. No, not everyone is different. Trans fats aren’t good for one person or bad for another. Everyone needs dietary fiber. Etc, etc. And, yes, it has been my experience that when people realize they can buy hemp seeds and put them on oatmeal, they are at the very least willing to try it. Thanks for commenting!

  17. Vincci said on July 27th, 2011

    Great post! I like your “Did it exist 100 years ago?” alternative to Michael Pollan’s “Would your great-great grandmother recognize it?” because the latter does not take into account cultural differences in food intake.

    I definitely do not vilify coconut oil anymore, but to me, fat is fat, and I don’t buy the claims that coconut oil is some miracle “fat burning, immune boosting” food either. Thoughts?

  18. Andy Bellatti said on July 27th, 2011

    Vincci,

    Thank you. I certainly agree with you on coconut oil. I am against its demonization, but the hyped-up claims are just as irritating to me. I prefer people get the bulk of their fats from food and not oils, no matter how healthful!

  19. Lorrie RD said on July 29th, 2011

    Andy,

    I like your posts and how passionate you are about nutrition. I worry though that you’re a little out of touch with the reality of the type of eating that most people do these days. If I recommended chia seeds to my patients, they would nod very politely and walk out the door and never come back. If I recommended them to a fellow dietitian they would think it’s the greatest idea since sliced bread. For example, I have a stack of recipes in my office (mostly fish ones since almost every person says they like it but just don’t know how to cook it) and the ingredients to me are fairly normal, but a bit different from the standard my patients use…such as: arugula, fresh herbs, capers, sundried tomatoes…etc. My coworkers looked through the recipes and said they would never make them because the ingridients are too weird (these are health care professionals). A dietitian friend came in and looked through the recipes and took a stack home with her because they looked so great.

    If you end up working in private practice you’ll be fine…these are the types of recommendations that people who are really interested in nutrition will love. For the general population, it’s always good to stick to the basics….like, let’s cut that pop down from 2 cans a day to 1 can a day and i’ll see you again in 2 weeks. S.M.A.R.T., patient-centered goals are almost always more effective.

    I think this was a bit of a tangent from your actual post, but the comments got me thinking along this line.

  20. Andy Bellatti said on July 29th, 2011

    Lorrie,

    Thank you for your comment. I can tell you my experience has been very different. The clients who I have worked with privately have all been open to my ideas of adding things like chia seeds, hemp seeds, arame, amaranth, and millet to their diets Not only have they been receptive, they also tried some of my suggestions and now eat them regularly.

    When I did my outpatient rotation during my Dietetic Internship, I counseled approximately 80 people over a 5-week period. I told a 65 year old patient with high cholesterol about ground flax. She had no idea what it was. I told her where she could purchase it. “Sure, I can try that. I’ll look for it at the store” she said. These were not “foodies” or people “interested in nutrition” (most of them were there because they were referred by a doctor).

    Even when I counseled patients at the hospital (who I would never see again), I would tell them about these foods (say, if I was talking to someone who had high cholesterol). Everyone was at least receptive.

    Why would a patient “nod politely and walk out the door” if you mention a chia seed? After all, it’s only a suggestion (it is not you telling them “unless you buy chia seeds, we can’t continue working together.”). Additionally, I think it is key, when mentioning these foods, to let patients know how to prepare them/work with them. I don’t just tell someone “try chia seeds”. Instead, I tell them how these can be added to things they are currently eating. I have experienced very little pushback when I bring up new/different foods. I’ve certainly experienced surprise (“you mean like the chia pet? You can eat those?”). And, hey, even if they don’t end up buying them right away, I still think it is crucial to let patients know about these foods.

    This comes back to the earlier post I wrote (“5 Ways Which the Nutrition Field Hinders Itself”). I think we often trap ourselves by “be realistic!” thinking, believing “well, fast food will always be around!”, so why not ‘just tell someone to choose the small fries when they go to Arby’s and send them on their way’? If anything, I have found people are very thankful when you show them, gradually, the breadth of changes that can be made.

  21. Kat said on August 8th, 2011

    Andy, your response to Lorrie’s comment is briliant. And makes me think, perhaps you should be teaching RD’s how to get away from being “realistic”. We need that! Or write a book? Just some thoughts :-)

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