Good Health Through Nutrition
The holidays are upon us and yet again there will be the temptation to overindulge. A piece of your favorite candy from a coworker? I’ll eat it this one time, you say. Besides, it's only a small piece of candy - it can’t hurt that much, right? Soon it turns out that everyone is bringing something every day. A slice of cake for Sandy’s birthday? Such a delectable cake only comes around rarely so it's a must-have! Right? Calories in and calories out, you sheepishly convince yourself. You can work off the cake later.
Only later never comes or it comes the following year, as summer rolls around and reminds you how much weight you gained over the holidays.
One way to overcome the winter indulgence and resultant weight gain is to learn and reinforce good habits. Good habits go a long way in maintaining good health. And good habits are not very complicated to learn; they’re just difficult to maintain.
One good habit is to eat a balanced diet. Of course we all know this. Many of us can recite elements of a good diet: proteins, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and fats. Some of us can even remember the recommended percentage of each macronutrient in our daily diet. But why is it that so many of us fail to adhere to diets, even simple-sounding ones? Is it because we have picked up too many pieces of information from various sources and it’s all too confusing to remember? Is it that all the sources differ in what they recommend? For example, the USDA states that 90% of Americans do not get sufficient Dairy into their diet, yet the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Plate wants us to limit Dairy to 1-2 servings per day. So, which is it? Which source should I pick to guide me?
There is no right answer to this question because we are individuals and recommendations are for the “average” person. Also, knowledge is continually evolving so a recommendation twenty years ago may be outdated now. The decision to follow any specific diet recommendation may boil down to convenience, cost, practicality, availability of ingredients, your body’s tolerance, among numerous other factors. We personally like the Healthy Eating Plate. It’s simple (and easy to remember), generalizable, and convenient. If you read the Healthy Eating Plate website (check it out), there is good rationale offered for each of the recommendations made.
So, what is the Healthy Eating Plate? It is a visual representation of what constitutes a balanced diet. Check out the image below:
Your plate should look like the diagram above. As the diagram shows, half of the plate should be vegetables and fruits. A quarter of the plate should be whole grains - and a variety of whole grains at that (try barley, quinoa, and oats). Then lastly, a quarter of the plate should be healthy protein. Protein does not have to come from animal products; it can come from nuts and beans. In fact, limiting red meat and cheese is recommended. Choosing fish over red meat is the way to go, it says. And then lastly, surround your plate with healthy oils (eg, olive oil) and a good amount of water.
Of course there will be some variability for each person based on specific diseases or dietary intolerances but in a nutshell, the Healthy Eating Plate is a good place to start. Remarkably, it is very similar to the diet recommendations from the Blue Zone food guidelines. Blue Zones, popularized in a recent Netflix documentary, are areas scattered all around the world with a high concentration of older and remarkably well-functioning people with low incidence of chronic disease.
Compare for yourself how the Eating Healthy Plate and Blue Zone Food Guidelines are similar and in what ways they differ. Something that caught our attention was plant-based proteins and the recommendation to avoid animal-based proteins entirely (not just red meat) and even limiting fish consumption to three times per week.You can check out those guidelines by clicking here.
Thanks for reading and we hope to celebrate your efforts in learning about and maintaining good eating habits. Having read this piece, this holiday season, your body might just say a big thank you.