What I Learned from Joan

Guest Blogger: Rob Szalapski

§ Why am I writing this?

I’m not a dietitian, but I have lived with one for many years. I have always been concerned with healthy eating, but Joan has really helped me to improve. I have seen her help so many people who were struggling with a variety of dietary challenges. Some surprisingly simple ideas capture so much!

§ Summary

“Protein, carbs and healthy fat at every single meal and snack!” I won’t even attempt to estimate the number of times that I have heard that phrase, but I will say that it captures the foundation of healthy eating. Protein, carbohydrates and fat are your macronutrients, and you want to be getting appropriate quantities at every feeding. This is important for having a good energy level, feeling satisfied rather than always feeling hungry and being generally healthy. You have probably heard a lot about micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and amino acids. I’m not really going to say anything about micronutrients except that if you are varying your sources of macronutrients prepared from fresh unprocessed sources, then most likely you are well on your way to getting it right. Your dietitian can help you make adjustments towards the ideal.

§ Healthy Fat

Fat is really important especially for brain health. Fat is also a good source of energy, and if I don’t have some fat in my diet, then I am insatiably hungry! There was a long-term trend to villainize fat, and that led to all sorts of problems including, ironically, excess weight gain. The fat in the olive oil in your salad dressing helps you to absorb all of the important fat-soluble micronutrients in your salad, and you will miss out on many of those healthy benefits if you choose a fat-free dressing. (With a lot of background in chemistry I simply cannot resist that factoid!)

So what are sources of healthy fat? Olives and olive oil, avocados, salmon and nuts and seeds are all excellent sources. Egg yolks were maligned for a long time, but it turns out that they are pretty healthy. With regard to meats, stick with lean choices. Prime rib isn’t the type of fat that you want to actively seek. A healthy diet is largely plant based, so consider focusing on those plant-based sources of healthy fat.

§ Protein

The primary activity of the cells in your body is the production of proteins. Proteins are built out of amino acids, and those amino acids come from the protein sources you eat. If you’re not eating protein, then you will not feel satisfied after eating, and worse, your cells cannot perform their vital functions. (My background in science is just irrepressible!)

Meat, fish and eggs are popular sources of protein. I like to have an egg or two as a part of my breakfast every day; the egg white gives me protein, and the egg yolk gives me needed fat. While most people are aware of these animal-based protein sources, not everybody is as well informed about the plant-based forms. Nuts contain protein. Additional important sources include your legumes such as lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and pinto, kidney, black and red beans, etcetera. Remember the importance of eating a plant-based diet. Always consider ways to replace a bit of meat with something plant based. I like adding more beans to my chili while reducing the meat. I love Indian food which has many choices that include legumes.

§ Carbohydrates

Let’s go with the simple definition here. If it’s a plant, then it’s a carbohydrate, and it’s an energy source. You especially want to go with the choices that don’t contain a lot of starch and sugar. Non-starchy/non-sugary choices include things like lettuce and leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini and such. For breakfast I like to stuff omelettes with spinach, broccoli, mushrooms and peppers to make sure I am getting healthy plant sources without a lot of empty calories. At lunch and dinner I like to eat salads with plenty of romaine lettuce which is nutrient rich, but again it doesn’t have a lot of calories.

When eating grains, go for whole grains. I love the taste of pretty much all of the grains, but I have Celiac Disease, so I need to avoid wheat, rye and barley. I like brown rice, and my favorite grain is quinoa. Joan really likes kañiwa. With the grains it is important to consider portions, between one-half cup and a cup cooked. Processed grains should be minimized. Bread, pasta and cereals metabolize much too fast, and they promote carbohydrate craving rather than satiety. For myself it’s dangerous to eat a corn chip because I am likely to eat the whole bag!

Next we come to the starchy carbohydrates including such things as carrots and squash. These are good in moderation. With potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes are the better choice. While it’s a good idea to minimize white potatoes, at least eat the skin. French fries are popular, but they really aren’t the best choice. Most of your fruit choices will contain a lot of sugar. Fruit is on nature’s dessert menu. I like to enjoy some, especially when it is in season locally. Berries are among the better choices for a variety of reasons. Eat the whole fruit and avoid juices.

In this section I have been progressing from the better choices towards the better avoided. The worst choices include added sugar, artificial sweeteners, juices and corn syrup. Notice how many good choices are available. I should also mention that milk contains sugar, and so it contains all three macronutrients.

§ What Else?

Lifestyle matters. If you are getting good sleep and are regularly active, then you have a good start. A high-stress and low-sleep lifestyle is where things fall apart for many people. Taking the time to prepare a meal at home and sitting down to eat with family and friends is a great place to start. Joan can help you with taking steps towards a healthier you.

If you are cooking with simple foods that you could get directly from a farmer, then you are on the right track. When shopping in the grocery store, look for those simple plain ingredients. When purchasing grains, get whole grains and slow-cooking varieties, not the fast-cooking and instant varieties. Avoid the prepared foods and ready-to-eat meals. Healthy eating in restaurants is very challenging.