Recently my sister, who is an accountant, and I were discussing a statistic she had read from the International Food Information Council Foundation that in 2012 of 1,000 Americans surveyed, 52% thought it was easier to do their own taxes than it is to figure out how to eat healthy. With all the varying messages the media conveys, it’s no wonder the public is confused. Luckily, although there have been thousands of studies, the results can be summed up into a few guiding principles: Eat the better fats, carbs, and proteins.
So what are the “better” macronutrients? The better fats are the unsaturated ones, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated rather than saturated or trans fats. Thebetter carbs are whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits rather than refined carbs such as sugar, white bread, white rice, and white flour products. The better proteins are the leaner choices such as fish, shellfish, poultry, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, eggs (unless you have a cholesterol problem), wild game, whole soy foods, and low-fat dairy products rather than red meats (beef, pork, lamb), whole dairy products, and processed meats (bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats).
First and foremost, eating the better fats is of chief importance. For years, we were told eat low fat. Now, we know we should be eating the right fats –not trying to cut them out all together. Nonetheless, it is important to note, all foods contain a mixture of various nutrients including fats, which is why you may have noted beans are listed as both a good carb and a good protein and whole dairy products are listed as both a protein and fat that should be limited. For example, with fats in particular, olive oil is 72% monounsaturated, 8% polyunsaturated, and 13% saturated fat. Not eating this oil because it contains some “bad” or saturated fat would be a mistake. Thus, choosing which fats to eat could be summed up simply by stating, limit saturated fat, avoid trans fats, and aim to consume mainly unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). The “–un” being the key.
So where can we find the good fats and what makes them a better choice? Unsaturated fats improve blood cholesterol levels, decrease inflammation, and play a whole host of other beneficial roles in our bodies. Monounsaturated fats can be found in foods such as olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats, one of which is the now famous, omega-3’s, can be found in foods such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines) walnuts, omega-3 fortified eggs, flax seeds, canola oil, wheat germ, and whole soy foods. While there are no definitive healthy fat consumption guidelines, the AHA has stated 8-10% of total calorie intake should be obtained from polyunsaturated fats. However, in reality, no one eats using percentages, so my rule of thumb is to replace as many saturated and trans fats in my diet with unsaturated fats. For example, when I’m baking I always use canola oil in place of shortening or butter. I opt for poultry over red meats most of the time, and I choose low fat or fat free options rather than whole when it comes to dairy products.
In terms of trans and saturated fats, saturated fat is like driving one’s car a few miles over the speed limit (let’s face it, most of us probably do this daily) while trans fats are akin to purposely driving one’s vehicle into a building. (Yes, in my book, trans fats are that bad!) Luckily, since the trans fat labels law passed in 1999, much of the trans fats have been removed from our food supply. I once heard a medical doctor refer to trans fats as the food equivalent of tobacco and I’d have to agree, as they provoke a quadruple blow on our arteries increasing bad cholesterol and triglycerides, decreasing good cholesterol, and inciting inflammation. This chemically altered fat can still be found in shortening, stick margarines, and some processed foods such as crackers, cookies, and fried foods. You can determine if a product has trans fats by looking for partially hydrogenated in the ingredients list. Even if the product states 0g of trans fats, labeling laws still permit the item to contain a small amount of trans fats. Therefore, I always scan the ingredients list and if I see hydrogenated, I put the item back –no exceptions.
Saturated fats, on the other hand, should be limited, not eliminated. Saturated fats can be found mainly in our four-legged friends: cows, pigs, lambs and food that are derived from these –think full fat dairy products such as whole milk, cheese, and ice cream. Note: our two-legged friends such as turkeys and chickens or water friends such as fish, shrimp, scallops, oysters, clams, and lobsters don’t have as much saturated fat and are for this reason are better choices. Accordingly, red meats should be limited to twice a week or less and when chosen, leaner cuts should be selected. We’ll save the topic of protein for another day though.
The featured recipe is one of my family’s favorites that I call my “Omega-3 Bread”(see below). If you have any “healthified” recipes you’d like to share for future e-newsletters, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll chat next time about carbohydrates and protein. Until then, try replacing as many saturated and trans fats as possible with unsaturated fats. Your heart and blood vessels will thank you!
Jennifer Smith holds a master’s degree in exercise science and health promotion, a bachelor’s degree in Sports Medicine with a concentration in nutrition and a minor in education, and is a nationally certified personal trainer, group exercise instructor, speed coach, and tobacco cessation helper.
3/4 cup flaxseed meal
2 mashed ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large omega-3 fortified eggs
1 1/2 cups whole white wheat flour
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
½ – 1 cup chopped pitted dates
• Preheat oven to 325°.
• Beat the banana, sugar, oil, and eggs at medium speed of a mixer until well blended.
• Add flaxseed meal, walnuts, and dates mixing well.
•Add baking powder, baking soda, flour, and salt, mixing just until blended.
•Pour batter into two round Pyrex dishes coated with cooking spray.
•Bake bread at 325° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.