“It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.” Bob Dylan.
I feel like that sometimes. Heck, what do I eat?
In the last blog I told my readers that “low fat” dieting was dead. Low fat dieting doesn’t help you lose weight or improve your health.
So, of course that raised the question, “If not low fat, then what?” What is a healthy diet? In the not-so-recent past, our health authorities got it wrong:
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong
- Eat margarine/trans fats – they are “heart healthy.”
- Low or non-fat is good for you.
- Eggs are bad for you; they raise cholesterol.
- Red meat is bad for you: it’s bad for the heart and too much protein is bad for bones.
- All foods, including sodas and junk foods, are okay in a balanced diet.
- Eat lots of carbs.
- Avoid tropical oils like coconut oil.
After a lot of research, here are my personal conclusions on what to eat for maximum pleasure and health. And really, don’t forget the pleasure. Our enzymes and brain chemistry start to react in a good way when we see beautiful, well-prepared, colorful food. Taking the time to enjoy is part of the healthy experience of eating.
Eat the Right Amount of High Quality Protein
This is especially important for people over 60. Older people need to eat 20 – 30 grams of protein three times a day to prevent muscle wastage. Recent research indicates that unless you eat enough protein at one time, your body won’t turn it into muscle. And there is some research that says don’t eat carbs with your protein if you want to maximize muscle building. So eat the 4 oz steak and ditch the potato and bread. (Robinson, 2012)
Here is what I mean by “high quality.” Avoid deli meats. Eat home grown eggs and real free range chickens if at all possible. Get the best you can find. Eat range fed beef – it’s higher in omega-3s and tastier. Eat wild-caught Alaskan salmon – avoid farmed, it can be inflammatory and low in omega-3s. Canned salmon is one of the best cost/benefit proteins available.
Here is a good list of what 20 – 30 grams of protein looks like http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/whattoeat/a/highproteinfood.htm
Don’t Eat Gigantic Portions of Protein – It’s a Waste of Money
In general, an ounce of meat has 7 grams of protein. Four ounces of meat at one meal is about right for maximum muscle building. Eating more than 30 grams of protein at one sitting will not make more muscle. Four ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of playing cards.
One study compared eating 4 oz of lean beef (about 30 g of protein) to 12 oz. The 4 oz serving increased the building of muscle by approximately 50% in both young and older volunteers. Eating the 12 oz portion did not increase the amount of muscle in either young or elderly. (Symons, 2009)
Eat Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and veggies deliver antioxidants, vitamins, and trace minerals. However, I am not particularly in favor of the extreme raw food diet. I think most people, especially older people, do better with vegetables well cooked in soups, stews, and crock-pot type meals.
Cut Back on Grains
This is the hardest recommendation for most Americans. Americans love their wheat and corn – chips, cookies, pasta, pizza, pies, bagels, and pastries. It’s American food!
I really don’t know if it is the type of wheat and corn being grown these days (GMO, hybrids) or not, but it seems that when people go on a gluten-free or low-grain eating plan they feel better. I’ve looked into the research and it is not convincing either way – that grains are either all-good or all-bad. Obviously if you have celiac disease, gluten is bad.
I’d say try cutting out grains for 3 weeks and then add them back in and see how you feel.
Alternatives to grains are acorn and butternut squash, spaghetti squash, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, quinoa (not a grain), and some of the lower-glycemic legumes like lentils.
Cut Back on Carbs
The research is growing that eating a diet high in carbs spikes blood sugar, disrupts weight chemistry, slows metabolism, and triggers food cravings. I’m not in favor of severely low-carb diets, but just about every American can probably benefit from cutting back on carbs.
Nuts are rich in good fats and protein and are a very satisfying food.
Eat Good Fats
Eat good fats like avocados, olive oil and coconut oil. Don’t be shy. Oils will increase your satisfaction and you’ll probably end up eating fewer calories and enjoying them more. Coconut oil is an excellent fat-burning food.
Eat Naturally Fermented Foods
These are pretty hard to find unless you make them yourself. Commercial “fermented” foods are usually pasteurized which kills all the good bacteria you’re fermenting them for in the first place. Eating homemade sauerkraut, pickles, kimchee, yogurts, and more will deliver healthy, good bacteria to your digestive system. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon is a good guide to home fermentation.
Of course where there’s food there’s controversy these days. What about dairy? Huge hunks of processed cheese and gallons of pasteurized milk — probably not so good. Small portions of sheep, goat or traditionally made cheeses, fermented yogurts and kefirs, goat milk and organic milk – probably good.
Change Is Good!
Changing food habits is one of the most difficult changes to make – and it pays off in the biggest rewards. Do your best to identify the unhealthy foods you love and find a substitute that is just as satisfying. For example, switch from sodas to soda water and a splash of fruit juice, then just flavored soda water. It may take some time to retrain your taste buds from the zing of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, carbs, grains, and trans fats to naturally tasty foods. It’s worth it.
Robinson S, et al. Nutrition and Sarcopenia: A Review of the Evidence and Implications for Preventive Strategies. J Aging Res. 2012; 2012: 510801. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312288/
Symons TB, A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Sep;109(9):1582-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.06.369.