Eat your way to good health

Sound Consumer | January 2002

by Colleen Foye Bollen

Eat all day long
Rather than attempting to turn over a new dietary leaf by depriving yourself of food, satisfy your hunger pains with several small servings of healthy foods throughout each day. This approach to good health is often called "the grazing theory." Instead of consuming three large meals a day, grazers eat many smaller meals.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate several small meals daily showed lower LDL cholesterol levels and lower amounts of insulin in their bloodstreams. Maintaining low LDL cholesterol levels — also called "bad" cholesterol — can reduce the risk of heart disease. While everyone needs insulin to keep blood sugar levels from rising too high, preliminary studies show high levels of insulin in the bloodstream may lead to an increased risk for diabetes.

Nutritionists and personal trainers agree, saying smaller, more frequent meals can help build muscle, reduce body fat and keep energy levels high. Once a body becomes accustomed to being fed more often, it burns calories more efficiently, knowing feeding time will roll around again soon. "The theory is if you eat a lot of food at once you are stressing your body's system," says Mark Kestin, Ph.D., chair of the nutrition program at Bastyr University. "Over the long term it is easier for the body to deal with small meals."

Be a wise snacker
Whether you graze or eat three meals a day, listen to your body. When it sends out hunger signals, eat. When you restrict food intake by skipping meals — the body can't differentiate between a diet and a famine — nerve impulses and a powerful brain chemical called neuropeptide Y automatically signal the brain to increase your appetite. Ignoring hunger pangs can actually increase your chances of overeating later.

Kathleen Putnam M.S., R.D., nutrition educator with NutritionWorks, a nutrition consulting service, has seen what happens when people skip meals. "I have many clients who have a latte for breakfast and a small bowl of soup for lunch," she says. "Then in the late afternoon or evening, they are famished and overeat or make poor food choices they wouldn't otherwise make."

While nibbling between meals can be beneficial, be warned: Not all snack foods are created equal. Some are high in salt content. Others, including some "high energy" bars, have a high caloric content along with their advertised vitamins. Read product labels before making any food purchases.

Liquid intake also affects one's diet. Kestin urges people to think before they drink juice or soda. "A cup of apple juice is equal to the calories in about four apples." Explains Kestin. "Think how much fuller you would be if you ate four apples rather than drinking the juice."

Beverages such as a 24-ounce Coca-Cola contain too much of the real thing: sugar. "In order to get an equal amount of sugar from a natural source you'd have to eat five oranges," says Kestin.

Quick fixes — such as sugar- and caffeine-laden drinks or enticing candy bars — provide only a short burst of energy, then hunger returns. "This sets up a craving pattern that can be broken by eating small snacks containing carbohydrates, and tiny amounts of fat and protein," says Putnam. Eat snacks with high fiber that will expand in your stomach and make you feel full, such as carrots, nuts, dried fruit and popcorn, Putnam suggests. Fruits and vegetables are also good choices.

New grazers should remember two fundamental points. First, the amount of food you would normally consume in three square meals needs to be spread out over the entire day, without adding in extra calories. Four to six small meals or snacks are usually sufficient. Second, eat nutritionally fit foods.

As with the three-meal-a-day plan, each of your four to six smaller meals should contain fats, carbohydrates and protein. "Ideally you do want all three at each meal or snack, as that provides the most satisfaction and staying power," says Jennifer Enich, M.S., R.D., C.D., a nutritionist who runs Good Life Nutrition, a nutrition counseling service. "If you just eat an apple or carrots — all carbohydrates with lots of fiber — you're likely to get hungry pretty soon after. But if you eat an apple with some peanut butter, cheese, yogurt, nuts or beans — all of which have fat and protein — you're going to feel better longer."

The standard serving sizes for each small meal or snack are one cup for pasta, half a cup for vegetables and three ounces for cooked meat. "I think the easiest way to make sure you get your little package of nutrients each time you eat is to think about what you'd like to eat, and then figure out what is missing — fat, carbohydrate, or protein," says Enich. She also suggests adding a fruit or vegetable to each meal since everyone needs five to six servings of these daily.

Make friends with your refrigerator
One way to prevent junk food snacking is by setting up a nutritionally pleasing refrigerator. As Kestin points out, "When people are hungry they don't want to spend 20 minutes making a salad." Avoid this dilemma by having healthy, ready-to-eat-food at the front of your refrigerator. Store peeled carrots and sliced celery in a container of water. Have plenty of fruits easily accessible. Prepare whole grains such as brown rice, millet and quinoa in large batches on the weekend, and then break each batch into smaller servings in your refrigerator. Line its shelves with yogurt, low-fat cheeses, soy milk, tofu and bean spreads. Stop by PCC and pick up some nutrient-dense snacks, such as soy nuts, whole-wheat cookies, bulk nuts or dried fruit.

Putnam recommends stocking partially prepared foods to make your kitchen a kinder place, health-wise. "Try to have three or four things you can throw together quickly, like spaghetti sauce, refried beans, canned beans and soups, as well as a supply of fresh, frozen and canned vegetables," says Putnam. "Then when you walk in the house you always have a few reserves for fixing a healthy meal, instead of going out for fast food." Other quick dinner options are healthy frozen entrées by Seeds of Change and Amy's. "If you don't trust yourself with certain foods," adds Putnam, "don't bring them into the house." Instead of keeping a whole box of cookies on your pantry shelf — a hard-to-resist temptation for late-night binges — buy one scrumptious cookie at the market bakery.

Water pitcher

Quench your thirst
Choose water over drinks full of empty calories, including soft drinks, coffee and fruit juices. This calorie-free liquid is an essential nutrient for your body. Water plays many vital roles in the body, from regulating body temperature to carrying waste products out of your system. Drink eight glasses of water — that's 64 ounces — daily. "By the time you feel thirsty it is already too late," says Kestin. If you feel parched, you are already dehydrated.

Brain signals regarding thirst and hunger are often misinterpreted, causing people to eat when their bodies are really just thirsty. Instead of immediately reaching for food, try drinking a glass of water first.

In a similar fashion, remember to drink water at mealtime. Americans tend to wolf down their food. Since it takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes for the message of satiation to travel from your stomach to your brain, consuming quickly can lead to overeating. Put your fork down occasionally and take a sip of water to slow down your meal.

Shop smart
An unfruitful trip to the grocery store encourages bad eating habits. Here's how to keep a handle on food shopping: Keep a running list of items you need to purchase; avoid impulse buying by eating before you shop; and peruse the perimeter of the store first. The market's periphery is home to fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and milk. "Fill the basket so it is representative of how you want to be eating the majority of your calories," says Putnam. Purchase new items, from fruits and vegetables to nut mixes, to ensure variety in your diet.

When buying crackers or bread make sure the first ingredient listed on the package is a whole grain, such as whole wheat, not enriched or refined grains. Manufacturers can color the flour, add seasoning and nuts and make the products look healthy, but they still won't have the nutrients of whole grain, which means you'll be consuming empty calories.

One of the advantages of shopping at PCC is that the purchasing department pays close attention to each item on its shelves. Elin Smith, PCC Assistant Grocery Merchandiser, and the merchandising team research each product before it lands in any PCC market. "We get a sample of the product, taste test the product, read the label and ask the manufacturers questions about their business practices," says Smith. The result is a wide variety of healthy products for shoppers to choose from.

Fill your cart with healthy foods to make eating more often and consuming nutrient-rich foods an attainable resolution for 2002. By becoming a grazer or by adopting healthier eating practices, you might even drop a few pounds along with your old habits.

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