Making the Right Food Choices Could Save Your Life
You are what you eat (definitely what you eat too much of). A Kaiser nutritionist tells employees how to eat better, live longer.
Although the types of diets out there number in the zillions and it seems like every other day there’s a new food to either cut out or eat like crazy, the principles of good nutrition are really pretty simple.
After all is said and done, a healthy diet involves a combination of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins. It’s a formula that many Americans appear to be ignoring.
“A lot of us eat too much and exercise too little,” said Elvira Garay, a Kaiser Permanente health educator who spoke to District 7 employees at a one-hour nutrition seminar on July 8. “The result is that one third of all adults in the U.S. are obese.”
Yikes! To be part of the non-obese two-thirds, Kaiser recommends you follow a Mediterranean-type diet with a predominance of fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry. Some carbohydrates are good for you and should be included in the form of whole grains.
Garay offered a neat tip: when shopping for whole grain products, such as breads, pastas, etc., look for the whole grain to be listed as the first ingredient; otherwise, it could comprise as little as one percent of the product.
Meat lovers will be dismayed to hear that Kaiser recommends eating it only twice a month, and in portions no bigger than a playing card. Eating eggs is encouraged but no more than four yolks a week are recommended.
The main differences between the American and Mediterranean diets are the sources of protein (meat vs. fish) and fat (butter vs. oils). Solid fats, such as those which derive from animal products, elevate cholesterol levels, contributing to the risk of heart disease. Healthy fats are liquid and come from vegetables, nuts, fish, avocados and seeds, Garay said. “We want you to eat fats; we just want you to eat healthy fats.” On average, fats should comprise 20 to-35 percent of your total daily calories.
To provide a better idea of how many calories we actually consume, Garay took the group on a tour of a food label. The most important thing to consider is the serving size and the number of servings per container. The nutritional information is listed per serving, so if a package contains two servings and you eat the whole thing, you are consuming twice the calories – and fats, sodium, carbohydrates, etc. – listed.
Also, watch out for saturated fats and trans fats, as both are linked to a higher risk of heart disease. And look for the “% of daily values” on the far right of the label. Clearly, if an item contains 80 percent of a daily allotment of sodium, for example, it might be something to avoid eating.
And here’s a clue about those “low-calorie” snacks: to be considered truly low, they have to be less than 40 calories per serving, Garay said. One hundred calories per serving is merely moderate while 400 calories and above is high. Again, pay attention to serving sizes. While a serving of crackers touted as “reduced calorie” may sound low, a serving could be two crackers.
Kaiser recommends a daily intake of 6 ounces of grains; 2 ½ cups of vegetables; 2 cups of fruit; 3 cups of milk and 5 ½ ounces of protein. Fat should not exceed 65 grams per day and cholesterol should be under 300 mgs. Then there is a daily allotment of vitamins and minerals that should be consumed, which can’t just come from a multi-vitamin, Garay said. “Supplements do not make up for a poor diet.”
Curiously, there is no Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for sugar, Garay added, but the guideline is a limit of 40 grams per day, which is equivalent to about 10 teaspoons. “One soda can take you past that,” she said.
Numerous flyers with healthy eating tips and nutritional information were handed out at the seminar, which Kaiser members can obtain from their provider. Those not belonging to Kaiser can find volumes of information online from hundreds of sources. One source to try would be the American Dietetic Association, www.eatright.org.
Nutrition is a serious issue in this country, Garay stressed, however a lack of food is definitely not the problem. “People here are not dying because of starvation,” she said. “They are dying because of eating too much.”