Food For Thought

I remember my teenage years when dinner “on the run” meant stopping at the local convenience store for a package of Ho-Ho’s. I was all of 118 pounds then, and squeezed into size 9 Calvin Klein jeans very nicely.

Let’s face it – now that we’re older (and hopefully wiser), we can’t live off of Ho-Ho’s and Doritos for dinner anymore – unless we’re willing to accept a host of health problems.

Every time you pick up a magazine, you can read about the latest dieting fad – the grapefruit diet, the latest celebrity diet, the liquid diet, diet pills. However, the only safe and effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to exercise and eat “right.” Just what does eating “right” mean?

The Food Guide Pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day based on the Dietary Guidelines. It’s not a rigid prescription, but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet. It calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need, and the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight.

The Food Guide Pyramid shows to eat 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta each day. For example, one serving in this category would be one slice of bread, 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta. Since white bread, rice and pasta give minimal nutrients, it is better to eat whole-wheat products.

The next food group is vegetables, which we need to eat 3-5 servings of each day. This would include one cup of raw leafy vegetables, ½ cup of other cooked or chopped vegetables, or ¾ cup of vegetable juice.

We also need 2-4 servings of fruit each day. One medium apple, banana or orange counts as one serving, as well as ½ cup of chopped or cooked fruit, or ¾ cup of fruit juice. Researchers have found that canned and frozen fruits (and vegetables) have almost equal the fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium of fresh. “Fresh produce is often picked before it’s ripe, then shipped hundreds of miles,” explains Dr. Dean Edell, author of “Eat, Drink and Be Merry,” “but canned and frozen produce is picked closer to ripeness and then sealed, locking in the nutrients.”

As far as meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts go – we only need 2-3 servings a day. That would mean 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish (the size of the palm of your hand), or ½ cup of cooked dry beans, two tablespoons of peanut butter, or one egg. A study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” tracked more than 100,000 people for 14 years and found that one egg a day isn’t so bad after all. “If your diet is balanced you don’t have to avoid eggs, and can even include them in your diet,” said Frank Hu, lead author of the study.

With the milk, yogurt and cheese group, we also only need 2-3 servings per day. That’s one cup of milk (keep it no fat or low fat) or yogurt, 1 ½ oz. of natural cheese, or 2 oz. of process cheese.

Lastly, use fats, oils and sweets sparingly. That would include butter, margarine, and oils for fats. Instead of adding butter to your mashed potatoes, use a bit of chicken broth instead. Spray pans with cooking spray to sauté food, instead of using oil or butter. Standard American dietary guidelines suggest that your total fat intake should not exceed 30 percent of the day’s total food intake, though some doctors and other experts strongly believe it should be lower – between 20 and 25 percent.

When it comes to eating before or after exercise, some people can wake up in the morning and go for a walk on an empty stomach. Others may feel weak and lightheaded if they don’t eat before exercising. According to Michelle Stanten, Fitness Editor for “Prevention” magazine, the most important points to remember when it comes to eating before working out are:

Don’t eat a full meal. Wait at least 30 minutes to begin exercising after you eat. After eating, your heart pumps more blood to the stomach to aid in digestion. When you’re exercising, the arm and leg muscles you’re working need blood. If you eat too close to exercising, your heart ends up working harder than it should, trying to pump blood to both your digestive organs and your muscles.

Good choices would be small snacks that are easy to digest, such as fresh or dried fruit, a bagel with a little peanut butter, raw veggies and low-fat dip, or low-fat cheese and crackers – not Ho-Ho’s or Doritos.