Things You Didn’t Know About Nutrition
Every part of you is constantly changing. In fact, your liver, skin, and blood cells are completely replaced several times a year. What you ate for breakfast contributes nutrients to every cell in your body, determining how healthy you’ll be, and even affecting the way you feel right now. Just imagine what a week’s or a month’s worth of nutrients can do. A decade’s worth of mediocre meals will create one scenario, while a decade’s worth of nutrient-packed meals will certainly create quite another—not just in the arteries of your heart, but also on the surface of your skin, in the glow of your eyes, and in the spring in your step. The protection that certain foods provide simply cannot be duplicated in a pill or a superficial cosmetic treatment. Their nutrient makeup is as complex as each cell in your body. And each cell knows just how to maximize the benefits of every vibrant red pepper and bright yellow squash you eat. Multiply that by the more than a hundred million cells that make you who you are and you’ve got a body fuelled by good nutrition and fit for living
New Four Food Groups
At first, good nutrition may seem daunting and tricky. An easy place to begin is by eating at least three servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit each day. Orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes; dark, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, and mustard greens; and an assortment of fruits contain the antioxidants your cells need to block out free-radical damage. Eat your favourites, but don’t hesitate to try new kinds, as the recipes at the back of the book will help you do. Begin your lunch or dinner with a salad of raw vegetables such as spinach, cucumbers, zucchini, sweet peppers, and tomatoes, with a sprinkle of chickpeas. Packages of washed, cut, and ready-to-eat vegetables, found in many grocery stores, are great time-savers. Selecting a variety of plant foods will give each antioxidant—and there are many specialized kinds—the opportunity to defend you to the fullest extent. Experiment with new dishes centred around grains, beans, and lentils. These foods will invigorate your cells with new strength. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s trace out the basics of a healthy diet, and translate nutritional science into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In 1991, physicians and scientists from the United States and England introduced the concept of the New Four Food Groups as a way to put recent nutritional discoveries to work. Much improved from the old food groups popularized in the 1950s and simpler than the Food Guide Pyramid, the new plan was rich in good nutrition while containing no animal fat or cholesterol at all. Although it was hotly controversial when it was first proposed, it has withstood the test of time and remains the most scientifically sound nutritional plan yet devised.
Here are the New Four Food Groups, with details on how to use them:
Whole Grain Group
Whole grains are dietary staples in countries with the greatest longevity and best overall health. Beyond whole grain breads, which most of us love, you can enjoy old-fashioned oatmeal and other breakfast cereals, corn, and a variety of colourful pasta—the Asian invention, perfected in Italy, that comes in every shape and size. Exquisite rice dishes such as curries, pilaffs, and Latin American specialties differ in taste and texture. What nutritional treasures are found in grains? Lots of fibre, complex carbohydrates, important vitamins, and a healthy amount of protein—not too much or too little. They fit easily under the 10 percent fat limit and contain no cholesterol.
Vegetables have become all too unfamiliar on American dinner plates, and you certainly won’t find many on fast-food menus. All the while, daily news reports confirm findings of yet another naturally occurring compound found in vegetables that helps fight cancer or boost immunity. Broccoli and other greens are loaded with calcium, carbohydrates, fibre, and vitamins. Vegetables tend to be very low in fat and, like all plant foods, contain no cholesterol. A diet without a nice range of daily vegetables is dangerously low in essential nutrients.
Fruits range from apples, bananas, cherries, oranges, and other familiar foods to kiwis from New Zealand, cherimoya from Ecuador and Peru, and carambola (starfruit) from southern China. They are rich in vitamins, carbohydrates, and soluble fibre—powerful artillery against heart disease, cancer, and weight problems. Fruit is great for breakfast, dessert, or as a major part of any meal.
The term refers to beans, lentils, and peas. Americans are familiar with navy beans and a few other varieties, but many cultures have made skilful use of the full range of legumes. Lentils make delicious soups or curries. Chickpeas are pureed with garlic and scallions to become Middle Eastern hummus (a dip for pita bread) or formed into a spicy falafel patty. Black beans, gently flavoured with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, are a savoury staple of Latin American cuisine. And, of course, bean burritos covered in fresh salsa are an easy Mexican treat. Legumes are rich in protein, carbohydrates, fibre, and minerals, while they are low in fat, have no cholesterol, and are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating should be a pleasurable experience, not one filled with guilt and anxiety about unhealthy foods you may be eating. The New Four Food Groups allow that to happen with ease. Proportion guidelines are presented below. They are, of course, quite broad and can safely be adjusted according to your size and daily activities. An athlete in training would require more calories than the average woman, but as long as they are both consuming the majority of foods from whole grain sources, plenty of vegetables and fruits, and two or three servings of legumes, they are eating well. On a healthy diet, your appetite is a good indicator of when to eat and when to put down the fork. The New Four Food Groups are so low in fat, you’ll be able to eat until you are satisfied. And there is no need to worry about eating cereal in the morning and vegetables in the evening. Eat according to your cravings. If cereal with soy milk and fruit is your idea of a great late-night snack, enjoy.
Foods That Didn’t Make the Cut
Let’s look at what’s not included in a healthy menu. Chances are you’ll find a surprise or two. The new science of nutrition has led a great many people to break some old habits, with wonderful results in the process. Here are the food products we’ve learned to avoid.
Meat, Poultry, and Fish
Foods have always found their way into women’s beauty treatments. Cool cucumbers to reduce puffiness around the eyes. Avocado extracts to comfort upset skin. Almond oil to smooth cuticles. If they do the job, more power to you. When we think about healing nutrients, we think of foods nourished with the earth’s goodness. Chicken and beef don’t quite conjure images of refreshment or renewal, do they? Scientists aiming to reverse heart disease or prevent cancer have soured on these products, too, finding they do more harm than good. Most people have gotten the message that too much red meat can spell real trouble for the heart, waistline, and other organs. Unfortunately, many have turned to chicken and fish in their pursuit of better nutrition. These cuts are lighter—in colour—but your body can hardly tell the difference. Virtually all nutritional authorities now recommend basing your diet not on meat, fish, or poultry, but on grains, vegetables, and fruits, a recommendation strongly echoed by the federal government’s U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Why the tendency to minimize animal products? Because chicken, fish, and virtually all other animal products contain a hefty dose of cholesterol, fat, and animal protein, while they leave your body wanting for fibre, vitamins, and complex carbohydrates. Oftentimes the heaviness of a meat-centred meal leaves little room for what your body really needs—a rich variety of plant foods. And given the current state of agricultural and environmental affairs, animal products often harbour even more unpleasant surprises than we bargained for.
Here’s a rundown of why you’ll want to skip the meat group:
Fat and cholesterol. Meats contain a surprising amount of fat. Even the leanest beef gets nearly a third (29%, to be exact) of its calories from fat, most of it in the form of artery-clogging saturated fat. All meats contain cholesterol, which is different from fat, and which you can think of as a kind of glue that holds the cell membranes together. There is no longer any question that the less meat you eat, the better. Research studies that have successfully reversed heart disease use vegetarian diets—that is the only way to eliminate cholesterol. As health problems caused by meat and other animal products became clear in one research study after another, it was a logical first step to cut back on the foods in question—we surrendered to skim milk, skinned our chicken, and switched to fish. But instead of the dramatic improvements we hoped for, these changes often just lead to a frustrated feeling of deprivation. It’s no wonder why. Chicken contains just as much cholesterol as beef, and its fat content is nothing to celebrate either. Even without the skin, chicken is still 20 percent fat and often much more, depending on the variety. Compared to the leanest cuts of beef at 29 percent fat, it’s easy to see why a switch from beef to chicken makes minimal differences to our bodies. As we saw earlier, some types of fish have even more cholesterol than red meat. Heart patients are often placed on the National Cholesterol Education Program Step II Diet to lower their risk for future heart attacks. This involves limiting meat products to six ounces per day, trimming the skin and visible fat, and having egg yolks no more than once per week. Even those who strictly adhere to the diet, carefully counting every last gram of fat, generally see a drop of just 5 to 6 percent in their cholesterol numbers. That’s not enough to prevent heart attacks, and it requires a lot of effort for little reward. No one calls their attention to the tremendous amount of fat in animal products compared to rice (1 to 5%), beans (4%), or potatoes (less than 1%) so they will see the real solution as their problem. All foods from plant sources are free of cholesterol, and nearly all are very low in fat, unless it is added in the kitchen. As with all animal foods, fish gives you a significant dose of fat and cholesterol. They do vary, so you will get 40 milligrams of cholesterol in a 4-ounce piece of tuna and about twice that in rainbow trout. Although fish and fish oil capsules have been touted for their omega-3 fatty acids as a means for lowering heart disease risk, they encourage the production of free radicals, which you want to minimize for many reasons. When you choose foods from healthier sources, as we will soon explore, you naturally and safely lower your risk for heart disease and other serious illnesses. The omega-3 fatty acids from fish are highly unstable molecules, decomposing quickly and unleashing free radicals in the process. The kind you will find in vegetables, fruits, and beans reduces free-radical activity while adding antioxidants. It’s a double dose of protection you can get at every meal.
Uninvited Dinner Guests
Fish are hardly swimming in pristine waters: Our waterways are receptacles for sewage systems . Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs (industrial chemicals used in electrical equipment, hydraulic fluid, and carbonless carbon paper), are found in virtually every site where fish or shellfish have been tested—even in remote spots off Alaska and Hawaii. These contaminants become densely concentrated in fish muscles and then find their way into your body, where they remain for many, many years. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stopped testing fish for mercury in 1998, although previous tests showed potentially unsafe levels of mercury present in tuna, swordfish, and shark. Eating fish tainted with mercury has been shown to contribute to Parkinson’s disease, a condition of abnormal muscle control, as well as depression, irritability, and other psychiatric symptoms. One large sampling of shellfish found that of 145 sites tested, every single one contained mercury. When you skip the fish, you cut your exposure in half. In March 2001, the FDA released a warning advising all pregnant women, women of childbearing age, breastfeeding women, and children to avoid predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, and mackerel because of their high levels of methyl mercury. Ciguatera, a cousin of Pfiesteria, is found in reef fish such as grouper, jack, barracuda, and snapper. The toxin causes numbness, tingling, nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness, irregular heartbeat, and sometimes death in those who contract it. Notoriously hard to diagnose, its symptoms have been found to linger for more than ten years in some people. There are a million or more ciguatera poisonings annually around the world, with cases reported in Florida, Vermont, and Texas. Because cooking does not destroy the toxin and it is not visible in fish who carry it, health reports advise us not to eat the head, eggs, or guts of predatory fish. On second thought, why not order the pasta, salad, and vegetable soup?
Chicken, our most popular “white meat,” looks harmless enough dressed up in the drive-thru special of the week. But zesty new sauces and an expensive marketing campaign can’t disguise its shortcomings. Chicken is by no means light, low-fat, or remotely healthy. You wouldn’t dream of taking daily antibiotics, and certainly not veterinary medicines, in your quest for good health, but if you are choosing chicken salads and chicken sandwiches for lunch most days, you’re doing just that. To keep up with demand, farms today operate like high-tech factories. Thousands of chickens are confined in small cages piled one on top of the other. Excrement and other forms of bacteria fall through the cages and are spread in every direction. Stressed by these unnatural conditions, chickens often peck at one another, causing serious injury. To protect profits, birds are routinely debarked, which obviously raises ethical concerns as well. You can’t tell by looking, but the neatly wrapped chicken breasts that you see in the grocery store may still harbour antibiotics and other medications used to compensate for these troublesome conditions. Vegetables and fruits are not injected with hormones. And even when they are treated with pesticides, they cannot concentrate them the way animals do in their body fat. With a growing market of health-conscious shoppers, many large health food stores are able to offer an immense selection of produce, much of which is organic (not treated with pesticides). Even mainstream supermarket chains are expanding their selection of fresh produce so you should have no trouble finding that perfect purple eggplant, a bundle of broccoli, and many new additions. Unlike PCBs, which are slow to leave the body, chemicals from medicated feed and various veterinary compounds are easily eliminated when we get away from meat. In a comparison with the general population, women who adopt a vegetarian diet have 98 percent lower levels of several pesticides and other chemicals in their bodies.
One of every three chickens in the supermarket cooler has live salmonella bacteria growing inside its plastic packaging. And it is easy for chickens to pass the disease through their ovaries and into their eggs. Cooking eggs “sunny side up” doesn’t destroy the bacteria. And don’t forget about the raw eggs in popular foods such as Caesar dressing, hollandaise sauce, eggnog, mousse, and homemade ice cream. Salmonella and other microorganisms kill approximately nine thousand Americans each year and, in less serious cases, cause vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and fever often mistaken for the flu. In infants, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems, the infection can be fatal. Unfortunately, there are eight other major foodborne pathogens, including the well-known E. coli and campylobacter, commonly found in animal products (and most chicken packages) posing a continual threat to those who consume them. In case you were wondering, the USDA’s “seal of approval” ensures only that the product is free of “visible” signs of disease.
If you thought the trouble with chicken could be cooked away, there’s more bad news. Chicken produces dangerous heterocyclic amines (HCAs) when it is heated. Produced from creating, amino acids, and sugar in the chicken muscle, HCAs also are found in tobacco smoke, and are fifteen times more concentrated in grilled chicken than in beef. The combination of fat, animal protein, and carcinogens found in cooked chicken also creates troubling risks for colon cancer. At the same time, poultry, like all meat, lacks the fibre needed to cleanse the digestive tract of excess hormones and cholesterol. Each bite of beef, chicken, and fish that you eat displaces vegetables, whole grains, and legumes—the real dynamos that give your metabolism and immune system a boost.
Got (Problems with) Milk?
Dairy products are a big part of culinary traditions in America, Western Europe, and many other countries. Whatever the dish, someone is smothering it with cheese. Fast-food eateries could probably sell a cardboard sandwich if they covered it in three kinds of cheese. But when your goal is to change the role that foods play in your life and to start using them to your best advantage, it’s time to take a good, hard look at dairy. Let’s begin with milk. Modern dairy farming presents much of the same contamination issues as chicken farming. Cows graze on pesticide-soaked lands and, since the legalization of bovine growth hormone (BGH) in 1993, farmers have been using it to produce enormous quantities of milk. As a result, cows often develop mastitis, a painful udder infection that must be treated with antibiotics. Again, these chemicals can end up in your carton of milk, adding to the problem of antibiotic resistance and other health risks. Twenty different antibiotics and thirty-three other drugs are legal for use in dairy cows. Organic milk products are available in some grocery stores; however, pollutants are not the only reason why dairy products do not belong in an optimal diet. Every slice of cheese you add and every glass of milk you drink, other than skim varieties, burdens your body with fat and cholesterol. Given the very high fat content of whole cow’s milk (49% of its calories are from nothing but fat), it’s clear that nature never intended adult humans to consume it at all. What’s nourishing to a calf has caused a multitude of problems for human beings.
Risks associated with the consumption of dairy products include insulin-dependent diabetes, prostate cancer, osteoporosis, allergies that can cause respiratory distress, canker sores, skin conditions, cataracts, asthma, and, surprisingly enough, fertility problems in women. Babies often suffer from a digestive irritation called colic. It has long been known that eliminating cow’s milk formula often solves the problem. A study in the journal Paediatrics found that women using dairy products pass milk antibodies along to their babies when they breastfeed, increasing the chance of causing colic. As we have seen, iron deficiency in Western countries is uncommon. But add milk products and this can change. Low in iron to begin with, milk often displaces iron-rich foods in the diet. In infants it can cause irritation and loss of blood from the intestinal tract, which over time reduces the body’s iron stores. Even combining a healthy food such as broccoli with cheese or milk reduces its usable iron by about half. While adults often have problems with iron overload, iron deficiency in children is risky, and dairy products often are contributors. Milk causes unnecessary discomfort for people who are lactose intolerant. Even though 95 percent of Asian Americans, 74 percent of Native Americans, and 70 percent of African Americans cannot digest dairy’s lactose sugar, milk products have been pushed in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for all Americans. All babies have lactase enzymes, which allow them to digest milk. But for many, these enzymes disappear after childhood, so milk drinking causes cramping, diarrhoea, and nausea. About 85 percent of Caucasians tolerate milk sugar, but only because of a genetic mutation passed down from distant ancestors. About 75 percent of people worldwide do not. Apparently nature has ensured that mother’s milk—in all mammals—contains ideal nutrients for infants. After this stage of life, milk is no longer needed—especially milk from another species— and a new set of nutrients is required. Perhaps the most troubling side of milk relates to a compound called insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-I. There are small traces of IGF-I in your bloodstream normally, and it has many biological functions, from encouraging cells to grow, to storing nutrients. But IGF-I also is a powerful stimulus for cancer cell growth. Researchers believe that in even slight excess, it may be linked to higher risk of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. Here is where milk comes in. Researchers have found that drinking milk regularly can boost the amount of IGF-I in your blood by about 10 percent, precisely the opposite of what you want to happen. Perhaps this explains why several studies have found higher cancer rates in countries where milk drinking is especially popular.
A Diet for Optimal Wellness
America’s love affair with high-fat, low-fibre foods has taken its toll. More than half of Americans are overweight. Our insides are being attacked by heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and other painful and costly diseases. Our outsides are expanding, sagging, and deteriorating far too early in life. And many people are desperately trying to find their way back to health. The easiest way to pack life-enhancing foods into your day is to begin with a whole new idea of “what’s for dinner.” The New Four Food Groups turn old ideas about nutrition upside down. Why worry about how much your chicken breast weighs when you can feel satisfied eating regular portions of fresh, flavourful foods? The New Four Food Groups put vegetables, grains, fruits, and legumes back in the heart of your recipes, where they can nurture your cells, knock out harmful free radicals, and keep extra weight away.
Making a Healthy Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
What does healthy eating look and taste like? For breakfast you won’t want to go near bacon or eggs, which are fattening up far too many people. So how about a big bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal topped with cinnamon and raisins, along with half a cantaloupe, and some hearty whole grain toast? If you really have to have the taste of bacon or sausage for a while, new vegetarian versions are tasty enough to fool the most sceptical, food-dissecting child at your breakfast table. Healthy lunch at the office is as easy as heating a bowl of soup. Lentil, black bean, minestrone, and split pea are good choices. Browse the health food aisle of any major supermarket for vegan selections full of vegetables, beans, noodles, and delicate spices instead of chicken or beef broth. Add a ready-made salad (precleaned and pre-cut) with your favourite fresh veggies (carrots, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, celery, etc.) and a whole grain roll. Perhaps a veggie burger or sweet potato, which are easily cooked in the microwave. Flavoured hummus with pita bread triangles are a nice variation. And, of course, a fresh fruit cup is always a smart choice. When you start to rethink dinner, you’ll surely want to experiment with new foods and recipes. For starters, however, you can easily cook up some whole-wheat spaghetti with chunky tomato sauce, a quick veggie and rice stir-fry with steamed tofu, or a cheese-free pizza loaded with your favourite toppings. As for proportions, let about a third of your plate be covered with whole grains such as brown rice or whole grain pasta. Then bring in the vegetables as generously as you can, filling about half of the plate, and have more than one kind—say, carrots with spinach, or sweet potatoes with broccoli. The remainder of your plate should contain a legume: lentils, beans, or peas. By now you may be wondering, Will I get enough protein? Will I get calcium? The answer to both these questions is a resounding yes. Let’s look at getting complete nutrition.
Key Nutrients—Where They Are and How They Work
Busy women are all in search of more energy and stamina. You may have wondered if you’re getting enough protein. After all, advertisements have loudly portrayed meat, especially beef, as the superior protein source. Today we have a much better understanding of how much protein we need for good health and where to find the best sources. Protein is needed to build and repair body structures, from tiny blood cells to major organs. Even so, excess protein doesn’t equal better health. There are serious risks associated with eating too much. More complicated than most carbohydrates or fats, protein molecules are made up of long, twisted strands of amino acids that contain nitrogen. From just twenty amino acids, your body makes endless numbers of proteins to build and regulate your body’s muscles, skin, bones, cells, and many other life functions. A more than adequate supply of protein for a normal, active adult can easily be found in a varied diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans. If you had bacon and eggs with cereal and milk this morning, you have overdosed on protein before noontime. Trying to purify your bloodstream of the nitrogen it leaves behind in your body, your liver and kidneys must work extra hard. In recent years, high-protein diets have come into vogue. Like all fads, such diets are recycled through bookstores intermittently over the years. Each time they resurface, people desperate to lose weight buy into the idea, often to their serious detriment. There is no need to be one of them. High-protein diets emphasize meat and eggs to the near-total elimination of grains and other carbohydrate rich foods. If they succeed at temporarily shedding pounds, it is largely from the diet’s diuretic effect, in addition to the fact that these diets are old-fashioned, low-Cal diets. They drain your body’s precious water supply and deprive you of important nutrients, and, over the long run, this is quite dangerous. Besides the doses of fat and cholesterol these meat-heavy diets add, they rob your body of essential minerals, especially calcium.
When researchers feed animal protein to volunteers and test their urine, they find it loaded with calcium. Here’s why: When protein is digested, its component amino acids come apart and pass into the blood, making the blood slightly acidic. However, the body is extremely finicky about how acidic the blood gets, because even a tiny change can derange body chemistry. In the process of neutralizing the acidity, calcium is pulled from bones and ends up being lost in the urine. It’s as simple as that: As animal protein goes in, calcium goes out. The more animal protein you eat, the greater your risk for osteoporosis. If you were thinking you could just replace all that lost calcium with a glass of milk, think again. Milk does contain calcium, but its load of protein increases your body’s calcium losses at the same time. Even high-dose calcium supplements will not counteract the effects of a lifelong, high-protein diet in preventing bone loss. Attaining proper calcium balance is a matter not just of getting more and more calcium but also of eating a balanced diet that includes green vegetables, beans, and fortified juices, and avoiding animal protein. And go for a walk. The importance of regular exercise in maintaining a strong, healthy posture cannot be overemphasized. Just look down the street and you’ll probably spot dozens of restaurants serving meat, cheese, or eggs (or all three) in every breakfast, lunch, and dinner item on the menu. It’s no surprise that Americans consume more than twice the amount of protein necessary for good health. Eating a variety of foods from the New Four Food Groups will provide you with all the protein your body needs, without increasing your risk for heart, bone, and kidney diseases.
Superior Calcium Sources
Recent advertising campaigns have promoted the notion that everyone desperately needs more calcium and that our failure to drink enough milk has led to osteoporosis and bone breaks. This idea has been marketed so aggressively it is probably hard to imagine there is quite another side to milk. However, scientific studies have produced some surprising results. First, milk does not protect against osteoporosis. In fact, milk drinkers ‘fracture rates were slightly higher among those who got the most calcium from dairy sources, hip fracture rates were nearly double those of women who had little or no dairy in their diets. A large Australian study found exactly the same thing. Many other calcium researchers have found that countries with the highest calcium intakes actually have higher, not lower, rates of osteoporosis. The reason may lie in other concomitant dietary characteristics. Where calcium intakes are highest, large dairy industries exist, producing not only large quantities of milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter, but also meat from dairy cattle whose milk production has declined. Where meat consumption is greatest, osteoporosis rates are high. As we saw earlier, the animal protein from beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and even dairy products forces calcium out of your body. A group of Yale researchers looked at hip fracture rates in sixteen different countries, focusing on women over fifty because osteoporosis is particularly aggressive in women after menopause. They found that countries with a high calcium intake happened to be those where Western diets—high in meat and dairy products— were popular. Again, the more meat people ate, the more fractures they had. When people exclude meat, cheese, and eggs from their diet, they cut their calcium losses in half. How much calcium do you actually need? Unfortunately, scientists haven’t finished debating that question. On the one hand, Americans lose a great deal of calcium through their urine, due to the animal protein, sodium, and caffeine they consume, aided and abetted by physical inactivity. So some nutritionists argue for ever-increasing calcium intakes to try to make up for the losses, on the order of 1,000 milligrams per day, or even more. On the other hand, researchers have clearly shown that the populations with the strongest bones and lowest fracture rates have fairly modest calcium intakes, and they also tend to avoid animal protein. In China, Japan, and much of the rest of Asia, for example, cheese, milk, and ice cream have never been dietary staples. Calcium comes from vegetables and bean products, and typically meets the World Health Organization’s guideline of 400 to 500 milligrams per day. To keep calcium in your body where it belongs, you’ll first want to stay away from animal proteins that drain it from your body, and keep sodium to a minimum, too. It’s an aggressive calcium depleter. Refer to the following chart of calcium-rich plant foods to determine whether you’re feeding your bones what they require to stay strong.
Carbohydrates Make a Comeback
Sometimes it seems as if there is a conspiracy against your good health. While protein is getting undeserved praise in fad diet articles , healthy carbohydrates have been banished from the dinner plates of misguided dieters everywhere. So many people are missing out on pasta, rice, lentils, potatoes, bread, and even vegetables for fear that they will turn to fat. As long as carbohydrates are not loaded down with fatty sauces, oils, or butter, they can promote aggressive weight loss. Complex carbohydrates are naturally low in calories. Even better, they cannot add directly to your body fat. In fact, if you were to really overdo it on carbohydrates, your body has a tough time turning them into fat. In contrast, beef or chicken fat can easily add to the fat on your body, and only 3 percent of their calories are used in the conversion. Best of all, carbohydrates increase your metabolism—your basic calorie-burning speed—fo a few hours after each meal. These calories are lost as body heat, not stored as fat. Here’s the skinny: Researchers at the University of Rochester asked a group of young men to drink a special carbohydrate solution, and then measured their metabolic rates. Each time you choose rice, pasta, or potatoes—cooked healthily—you’re giving your body an internal, fat-burning workout. Employ them each day—in place of meat and dairy products—and you will see the results. The New Four Food Groups allow you to choose generous amounts of vegetables, grains, legumes, and fruits so you’ll never have to think in terms of what you can’t have again.
Iron: Not Too Much, Not Too Little
Iron is essential for red blood cells to carry oxygen to your body tissues. Previously, we saw the importance of being careful about iron to minimize free-radical production. The New Four Food Groups provides healthy non haem iron from plant sources, allowing your body to absorb what it requires while avoiding excesses. By steering clear of burgers and fried chicken you will greatly reduce the fat/iron combination that can easily contribute to free-radical damage.
Zinc is important for normal growth and many other body functions. As with iron, it is best to allow foods such as grains, corn, oats, peas, potatoes, spinach, and other plant foods to supply your daily requirements, rather than boosting your zinc level too high with supplements. Excess zinc has been linked to immune system damage and has Alzheimer’s researchers paying close attention as well. One study, testing the ability of zinc to improve alertness in Alzheimer’s patients, ended abruptly when the supplemented patients quickly began to deteriorate. It is safest to avoid supplements and rely on a well-rounded vegetarian menu.
Unlike iron and zinc, which our bodies require in trace amounts, we need no aluminium at all. Unfortunately, aluminium sneaks in from soda cans, aluminium pans, some brands of antacids, and even many deodorants. Kidney patients on dialysis are often exposed to high levels of aluminium, which can lead to abnormalities in the brain. Aluminium is often found in drinking water and, like other metals, has been implicated as a possible culprit in Alzheimer’s disease. Your local health department can tell you more about the quality of your water.
Also known as vitamin B2, riboflavin helps make enzymes that are used for many essential body functions. When you are low in this vitamin, you may have skin problems, anaemia, or other disorders. You’ll get riboflavin by eating asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, avocados, Brussels sprouts, and peas. Although your intake of riboflavin will be a bit less than if you had eaten animal products, the amount you need, called the Dietary Reference Intake, is actually very low, about 1.3 milligrams per day for men and 1.1 milligrams for women. A study found average intakes of well under a milligram per day, yet no signs of deficiency were seen.
Vitamin B12 is an interesting vitamin in that it comes from bacteria. Neither animals nor plants produce it, although plants can be contaminated with it from touching the soil, and animals harbour it, produced by bacteria in their intestines. The recommended intake for B12 is only 2.4 micrograms per day, a minuscule amount. And the body does such a magnificent job of conserving this vitamin that people can go for years on a diet low in B12 without developing a deficiency. Nevertheless, B12 is important. It is crucial to cell division and proper nerve functioning. A deficiency, although rare, would indeed be serious and may present symptoms such as anaemia and neurological problems such as weakness, tingling in the arms and legs, and a sore tongue. When you choose foods from the New Four Food Groups, you should include a source of B12 such as fortified breakfast cereals, soy milk, meat analogues, or Red Star brand (Vegetarian Support Formula) nutritional yeast. A simple multivitamin or B12 supplement will do just as well. Look for the word “cobalamin” or “cyan cobalamin,” which are chemical names for B12.
Anytime you surf the Internet for health news or listen to a medical report on the evening news, you’re likely to hear about new discoveries in how certain nutrients work to protect your cells and organs. Now that you’ve built your menu from healthy foods, whatever scientists are spotlighting at any given moment will already be in your cabinets or refrigerator in the form of wholesome foods. There’s usually no need to run out and buy supplements or overload your diet with the high-profile food of the hour. With a balanced diet of plant foods, you’ll cover your wellness bases.