Are You Gonna Eat That?
New Year’s advice to break the cycle of broken resolutions
by Paula Anne Delve Phillips
Every New Year, we think about self-improvement at least for a minute or two. Losing weight always tops the good resolution list, often followed by exercising more, to both lose weight and stay healthy.
Those are resolutions I don’t need to make.
You won’t catch me in a gym or health club, I don’t jog, and I don’t care to diet. I have a drug-free medicine cabinet save for some great smelling essential oils, arnica for sore muscles and baby aspirin. I’ve used common sense, daily walks and a little high school math to keep the pounds off over the years.
I may not be in perfect health, but if I drop dead tomorrow, at least I know I’ll look trim in my casket.
Most everything I needed to know about keeping fit and trim, I learned from my grandfather Fred and my father Douglas Delve. They didn’t have much fast food. During the Depression, they didn’t have much slow food, either. Wonder was, they were still darn picky about what they put on the table.
Visiting my father and his family along the Magothy River around 1960, my grandfather told me, “soda pop is good for only one thing: cleaning the garage floor.” I let him know that we only were allowed one soda on Saturdays, but even that didn’t appease him.
My father agreed with him on these matters. Almost daily in 40-some years of marriage, he’d ask my mother, “are you gonna eat that white gum?” That was one of his many names for white bread and anything he thought was unfit to eat or drink. He preferred dark wheat and rye breads. In his later years he made his own. He didn’t let the flour rise long enough, but that’s another story.
My dad liked plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and mom cooked balanced meals. We followed the old food pyramid to balance starch, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy products. A small copy of the food chart adorned the refrigerator door.
We didn’t have what you’d call junk food, or not very often. The food was whole and unadulterated. There was that one experiment with Hamburger Helper when I was home from college. We discovered that cooking with that quick meal product took longer than making our own sauces from scratch, and there were lots of weird ingredients we were suspicious of.
My studies in the health field have only increased my respect for the convictions of my dad and grandpa, who knew a snake oil salesman when they saw one. I have saved a lot of time, money and trips to the drugstore and doctor’s office because of what they taught me: Just because a product is advertised as food, doesn’t mean it’s fit to eat.
At 55 and old enough to be a grandmother, I’m taking my turn as wisdom keeper. For this New Year, I’m passing along common-sense tips that can free you from the cycle of broken resolutions.
Families on the run are consuming more and more bottled beverages such as fruit juice, ice tea and soda. These drinks are often sold in school vending machines as well as at gas stations and convenience stores. They are sold as food products in grocery stores. They seem harmless if not healthy. But are they?
Most bottles of soft drinks, teas and so-called fruit drinks contain close to one-quarter cup of sugar. If offered a quarter cup of sugar, some food coloring, a teaspoon of flavoring and a glass of fizzy water, wouldn’t you refuse it? Because we often don’t bother to read the labels, we say yes to such concoctions in fancy packaging.
Sugar has about 18 calories per teaspoon. The average bottle of soda, ice tea or fruit juice is about 220 calories. To do your own math, divide the number of calories in any of these drinks by 18 and you’ll find out how many teaspoons of sugar product you’re about to swallow. It may be granulated sugar or the ultra-sweet liquid version we know and love, to our downfall: high-fructose corn syrup.
Corn syrup has a different molecular structure from sugar, so we can take in more of it without sensing we are full. Thus it does us more harm than sugar.
High-fructose corn syrup was introduced in 1970. By 2000, the average yearly consumption of the ultra-sweet liquid hit 73.5 pounds per person in this country. Obesity rose from 15 to 30 percent in the adult population and dramatically in teens, according to Dr. George Bray, founding president of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. He’s the one who sent up the call for removing soda machines from schools to save teens from the consequences of their taste for soft drinks, fruit juice, sports drinks and packaged goodies sweetened with corn syrup.
Count Your Calories
It takes only 3,500 surplus calories in a child’s or an adult’s weekly diet to cause the weight gain of one pound. By drinking two bottled beverages, of 220 calories each, a day, you can gain a pound every nine days for about 40 pounds per year. Two drinks, totalling about 440 empty calories easily replace the calorie content of a healthy meal.
Consider a bottle of the classic soft drink, Coca Cola. The half-liter bottle contains 200 calories of high fructose corn syrup and/or sucrose, plus carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors and caffeine. There is no nutritional value.
On the plus side, many people like the cola taste. Those who like it enough to add this drink to their diet twice daily (without increasing their exercise) can gain weight quickly. It’s a common phenomenon to see this kind of weight gain in high school children whose physical education classes are no longer required and in previously active college freshmen who spend their evenings studying, chips and Coke in one hand, text in the other.
It’s not only kids who are at risk from sugary cocktails, nor is weight gain the only risk. Another ingredient, phosphoric acid, may have its own side effects as the medical profession is beginning to make cautious statements about its role in displacing calcium.
Gatorade sounds more promising; don’t athletes drink it?
Let’s look at its label to see if the healthy hype is justified.
The 20-fluid-ounce bottle is a typical size. Contents: water, sucrose syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, citric acid, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, red 40 (a new name for coloring), ester gum and sunflower oil.
So while it may have earned its place in helping big hunks stay hydrated on the football field or other athletes performing in the hot sun, for most of us it has little more than sugar to offer.
On these and other soft drinks, you may not notice every detail on the label. Calorie content is measured per cup (eight fluid ounces). Yet the small type on the back of the bottle most often indicates that there are two and one half servings per container. Drink it all, and you could find yourself 40 pounds heavier in January 2007.
Surely juice is better for you?
Some fruit juices have vitamin C. Other vitamins may be added as a marketing ploy. Vitamins are good, but is juice the best source, considering it contains 190 calories of sugars per 14-ounce serving?
Read the label and you’ll see the vitamin C is generally no more than you’d get in an orange, a slice of lemon or in other lower calorie fruits and vegetables.
Cold drinks can also encourage bronchial spasms. That’s bad news for asthmatic youngsters whose parents stock cold bottled beverages in the refrigerator at home.
Lose Weight while You Quench Your Thirst
Why not have a glass of water if you’re thirsty? A piece of fruit hydrates, nourishes and fills the tummy. Vitamins are best absorbed from the foods they come in naturally, in the forms they come in naturally. Unless your physician or nutritionist tells you otherwise, it’s a good rule of thumb to follow.
That’s why many pediatricians nowadays counsel mothers to avoid juice or mix orange, apple and other juices with water. Otherwise toddlers and young children may become full from all the sugar calories and fail to be hungry for and eat other foods necessary for a well balanced diet.
Now for the good news: Eliminate two servings of bottled drinks even juice from your daily diet, and you can lose one pound every nine days for 40 pounds in one year.
What will you drink instead of those sugar cocktails?
Water is best. Next to that, I like water and lemon or water and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, the old New England folk cure that discourages sniffles. To stay warm and relax, drink hot herbal teas, which come in a range of flavors and can be very satisfying. Those teas, black teas and black coffee give you zero calories. Zip. Nada.
The Great Milk Myth
Two cows sing in a pasture: You never outgrow your need for milk. For what? For milk. Drink three glasses every day.
Milk is another drink that’s been advertised and consumed with little restraint. Many people still believe that cows can sing and that milk is the only source of calcium. Not so, says the American Council of Pediatrics. Lots of foods are rich in calcium, and you can safely get your calcium from other sources.
Four ounces of milk give you 150 milligrams of calcium, but at 40 calories for skim milk and 78 calories for whole milk. Four ounces of canned salmon has 220 milligrams of calcium. Sardines do even better: 248 milligrams of calcium in only two ounces. Next to fish and nuts, my favorite source of calcium is greens. One-half cup of turnip greens has 98 milligrams of calcium. The same amount of bok choy (Chinese cabbage) has 79 milligrams. White beans and almonds are also high in this nutrient.
Even so, calcium isn’t the certain solution for strong bones. The Harvard School of Public Health cites factors such as getting enough vitamin D from sunshine and vitamin K from green leafy vegetables, getting vitamin A in natural form and refraining from excessive amounts of caffeine and protein. Exercise too is important.
In other words, it’s body chemistry that matters most. Taking excess calcium without addressing other factors does not improve bone health. In countries such as India and Japan, where calcium intake is about one-third of what’s recommended in the U.S., the incidence of bone fractures is quite low.
Milk has still another drawback. For many people, like my daughter, it’s an allergen. Self-healing guru Dr. Andrew Weil recommends that anyone who suffers from recurring bronchitis, asthma or runny nose should be tested for a milk allergy. From Harvard to Hopkins, a growing number of physicians and nutritionists concur.
Whether milk itself causes mucous production or whether the problem is the work of undiagnosed milk allergies, we can take the common sense approach. Stop all milk products for a few weeks, and you may see less nose dripping, coughing, wheezing and sneezing.
God Bless now-retired Giant Foods Consumer Spokesperson O’Donna Mathews, who developed a great slogan and drummed it in our ears for years. Eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, she advised, before the new food chart made the advice a national mantra. Consult the updated food pyramid when you’re ready for more information, remembering that new dietary discoveries are made every year.
A simple way to ensure a good spectrum of vitamins is to choose foods in a variety of colors. Eating these foods gives the added benefit of helping us meet our oral drive for sucking, biting and chewing. This instinctive and very physical drive can override the hypothalamus, which tells us when we’ve had enough to eat, becoming a major factor in how much we eat.
Let Others Eat Cake
Let others eat cake and cookies and drink sodas and other sugary drinks.
What should you eat instead?
Complex carbohydrates such as those in freshly baked wheat and rye breads, rice and even al dente pasta have essential vitamins. Those foods don’t make people fat though too much of those or any other food will make a person fat. Read Why French Women Don’t Get Fat for refreshing alternatives to America’s never-ending diet fads and consult the new food pyramid to see why carbs should be back in our good graces.
These foods are full of B vitamins. They are essential for healthy skin, hair and teeth. They sharpen mental alertness and smooth out moods. Try your own test. Drive to a bakery (Great Harvest gives samples) for some freshly made whole grain bread. Have a slice and see if the world doesn’t seem a better place.
Eating was once a great pleasure. If we make it so in our own homes, we’ll reduce indigestion and the little purple pills that go with it. Common sense tells us we’re better off looking for the root of indigestion: in the foods we eat, the combinations we eat them in, how fast we eat and whether our meal-time environment is stress free. Do we really need a doctor to tell us these things?
Look Out for Your Family
A middle-aged woman at my church lamented discovering that she had Type II Diabetes and would have to curtail her intake of sugars and simple carbohydrates the kinds that fill up pizzas, cookies and colas. She served her family a lot of pre-packaged and prepared foods; now that she’d have to go on a special healthy diet, she thought it unfair that her husband and children could continue eating junk food.
A diagnosis like that is a loud wake-up call, not only for one person but also for a whole family. Only one person has become ill so far, but all are at risk. Those skinny teens won’t be that active forever. What happens when sugar calories inside our bodies exceed our physical activities? That overweight husband may have only slightly elevated cholesterol now. How will he fare in a few years?
Why set your children up to be overweight at any age? Why invite diabetes, heart disease and other conditions when you can teach your children to take good care of themselves starting with what they eat?
Think about what is healthy and attractive to you as a start to replacing unhealthy eating habits with positive eating behaviors that you enjoy. One of the first things I do when helping people improve their diets is ask them to make a list of their 10 favorite fruits and vegetables. How many of your favorites are in your refrigerator?
We don’t do well on diets when we’re focused on what we’re giving up. We can maintain a healthy lifestyle by giving ourselves the good things we need and enjoy.
Seven Simple Steps
Here are a few tips to help you bring a healthier you into the New Year:
• Drink plenty of water and other simple, natural drinks.
• Eat whole grains and whole foods when possible.
• If you can’t pronounce a supposed food or beverage ingredient and you don’t know what it’s doing to your body, don’t eat it (unless you’re in a French restaurant).
• Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
• Eat the required amounts of foods, not many times the required amount.
• Consult the food pyramid, your family physician, allergist and/or nutritionist for expert medical advice and care.
• Beware the snake oil salesman. He’s only in it for the money.