'Good' foods, 'bad' foods: Is it time to draw the line?
Monounsaturated fats, found in avocados, nuts, seeds, olives and canola, and polyunsaturated fats, rich in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, are linked with lower risk of cardiovascular disease. (Fotolia.com / December 12, 2012)
"We really need to talk about good food," said Walter Willett, Dr. P.H., M.D., Nutrition Chair, Harvard School of Public Health, at the Food for Your Whole Life Health Symposium in New York in June. "If you look at recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is no such thing as 'good' or 'bad' foods. Yet research shows that the choice of food does make an impact. We need to distinguish between these foods."
Willett opens up a controversial topic on whether we should vilify particular foods in our diets that provide clear health detriments and buck the mainstream advice that says "you can eat anything you like in moderation." Given that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, heart disease is the No. 1 killer, and type 2 diabetes is on the rise, it seems that the "moderation" message isn't well understood.
AIMING FOR MODERATION
Jessica Crandall, R.D., C.D.E., National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, believes that moderation is a difficult message for consumers to comprehend. It's a subjective term that can mean different things to different people. Moderation might mean a serving of food once a day for one person, or twice a year for someone else.
"We all have things in our diets that we can work on; it depends on what our goals are," she adds. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you may need to be much more disciplined in your food choices in order to achieve weight loss. But if you're a young athlete, you may have more flexibility within your food choices.
How do you know how often you should splurge on less than stellar food choices?
"Journal what you eat for one week and you will be able to see some changes that you'd like to make in your diet," says Crandall. She recommends that you limit your dietary indulgences to no more than a 150-calorie treat once a day, as a general rule of thumb. Better yet, turn your treat into a healthy indulgence by choosing something more nutrient-rich, such as an ounce of dark chocolate, one small whole grain cookie, or a scoop of fruit sorbet.
"Just be careful not to overindulge and eat the whole package just because it's 'healthier'," cautions Crandall.
MAKING BETTER FOOD CHOICES
Decades of health research have given nutrition researchers and experts a better picture of foods we should stay away from, and foods we need to increase in our diets.
1. EAT THIS...HEALTHY FATS
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs,) found in avocados, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, olives, and canola, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs,) rich in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, are the types of fats linked with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and fish oil, flax, soy, and walnuts are linked with many benefits, such as lower inflammation, blood lipid levels, and blood pressure, and reduced risk of heart attacks.
Bottom line: Shoot for the majority of your fats--13-28 percent of your total calories, or 29-62 grams per day--from MUFAs and PUFAs. Try to get an average intake of 250 milligrams per day of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil and add plant omega 3s every day.
INSTEAD OF THIS...SATURATED FATS AND TRANS FATS
There's a strong correlation between saturated fats, found in high-fat meats, poultry with skin, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils (palm, palm kernel, coconut) and cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Trans fats, found in partially hydrogenated oils in margarines, fried foods, and other processed foods, have an even worse effect on blood lipids and cardiovascular disease risk.
Bottom line: Keep your saturated fat intake below 10 percent of calories (22 grams/day for the average person); even lower, to 7 percent, for optimal health. Try to eliminate all sources of trans fat in your diet.
2. EAT THIS...WHOLE FRUITS
Diets that include more whole, unsweetened fruits have been linked with many health advantages, including lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, degenerative eye disease, type 2 diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases.