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No Nonsense Nutrition

by Dr. Rita Louise

At the turn of the century, America's relationship with food changed dramatically, with fast or convenience foods becoming a staple for many. Woman alone, account for a substantial percentage of convenience foods purchases, with sales exceeding 4.5 billion dollars annually.

When natural and whole food substances are transformed from raw food products into canned, boxed, precooked or instant foods, many of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are lost. In addition, the use of hydrogenated vegetable oils, food additives, preservatives, fillers, artificial flavorings and color have transformed something that was once good for you, into something that has very little, to no nutritional value left.

When you walk down the aisles of the supermarket, many of the choices available are not "whole" foods nor natural. They are not filled with the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients we need to thrive. Instead, they are preprocessed, presweetened and laden with artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. They have very little, if any nutritional value left within them.

Take a moment to inventory your eating habits. How many of these foods do you eat? Kraft macaroni and cheese: box-o-chemicals, Betty Crocker potatoes a gratin: box-o-chemicals, hamburger helper: box-o-chemicals, Spam, Vienna sausages, Franco-American Spaghetti-O's, Cheese Wiz, all chemical laden. This is only a small list of products available to American consumers that we happily and whole-heartedly consume.

The truth is, our bodies were not designed to handle these non-foods. There are no keys in our genetic make-up designed to utilize these products. Instead of promoting health, they promote disease. While nutritionists contend that soft drinks, white flour and other calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods can fit into a good diet, in theory, they are correct. However, they regrettably ignore the fact that most Americans consume great quantities of these nutrient poor foods and only meager quantities of healthful foods.

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The good news is that many American women are becoming more proactive about their health and well being. A great place to start any kind of health program is by adopting a healthful diet. Many health enthusiasts have led people to believe that in order to be healthy, the solitary route is to eat only organic foods, or to become a vegetarian, leaving many with the feeling that it is an "all or nothing" proposition. In the big picture of things, yes, they may be right in their assertion, but making the transition from the typical American diet to one a more healthful one may seem like an insurmountable task. Many quit before they even try. If you are raising a family, you might not be able to financially afford to live this lifestyle. This, however, shouldn't exclude you from peak and optimal health.

Like so many women, I am constantly on the go and have to translate the concerns of proper nutrition to meet a fast food lifestyle. An important key to health and healthful dining is to become an active chooser when it comes to our food choices. Being an active chooser is easy. It is the art of shopping selectively, picking healthful alternatives over nutritionally poor ones. This can be accomplished, even if you are on a budget!

When creating a healthful food plan for yourself or your family, here are a few guidelines you can use to help you as you transition to a healthful diet and lifestyle.

First, we all need to drink at least 8 - 8oz glasses of water daily. Water, not soda, coffee or other beverage, is a necessary component in maintaining health. Other than its role in the many biochemical processes our bodies perform, another of its functions is to help to remove toxins from the body. A high quality vitamin and mineral supplement is also another must. Americans currently spend in excess of 2.5 billion dollars annually on vitamin and mineral supplements. Certainly these individual must think they are getting some value out of them. Supplements, however, should not replace good foods. They should instead help compensate for the many demands placed on a woman's body as well as make up for nutrients you are not getting from your regular diet.

When selecting foods, we should eat from a variety of whole, unprocessed foods … the more variety, the greater the pallet of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients we will be ingesting. Try to ensure that you eat at least one leafy green salad and a piece of fresh fruit daily. While this is still below the recommended standards, it is a great place to start. Reduce or eliminate preprocessed, prepackaged, chemical laden food as well as foods that are high in refined sugars, including white bread and white rice.

When preparing meals, I always ask myself, is any of the food I am serving fresh? Fresh fruits and vegetables have enzymes in them that are essential to good health. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best, followed by frozen ones, with canned foods following poorly behind. Food processing of any kind destroys vitamins and phytonutrients, so frozen foods while still having some nutritional value, are nutritionally inferior to fresh. Canned foods have little to no nutritional value left. Limit canned food purchases to items such as tuna, tomatoes and beans.

Many of us don't always have time to cook hardy nutritious meals. When time is short, I look to my crock-pot to do the cooking for me. If that is out of the question, it is a time in which you will have to choose "the lesser evil". For example, you are running late and don't have time to cook dinner, instead of opting for fried chicken or a greasy burger, select roasted chicken or opt for a hearty salad instead. When looking for something quick and healthy to make at home, prepare sandwiches served on whole-wheat bread or in a whole-wheat pita with lettuce and tomato. Try serving it with a few slices of fruit. If something pre-made seems to be the way to go, select foods that feel good, or at least seem like the best choice for your health and well being.

Following the same vein, we are not perfect and sometimes a Quarter Pounder with cheese will just hit the spot. Whether you eat this meal at home or out, the point is, be aware that you are eating devitalized foods and try to limit it to a once in a while kind of thing. Now granted, while eating healthy may be your plan, give yourself permission to have bad weeks too. At times, we all end up eating on the run. So don't get discouraged. I like to think of it this way, each time you eat a healthful meal; you are improving your health that day. Thinking of it this way affirms the changes that you are making.

When looking for a quick pick me up, many of us turn to snack foods such as cookies, candy or chips. Selecting healthy snack foods can be a problem all by themselves. There are, however, many healthful alternatives that you can eat. Go-Gurts - these handy yogurt snacks are always a crowd pleaser. String cheese never lasts long at our house. Baby carrots and ranch dressing is another favorite. Remember the little gold fish? They are baked, not fried. Even nuts, although high in fat, they are also high in protein and other nutrients our bodies needs. While many snacks do not fall into the same category as fresh fruit, there are many food items that can be bought or prepared that you can feel good about eating. Weeding through all of the total junk to find a healthy food choice can be time consuming but well worth the effort

Taking the first steps toward a healthy lifestyle is always the hardest. At first, you may feel a bit intimidated by these changes, but armed with this information, you will have a better opportunity to make more responsible choices. As time goes on, you will also find that it will become easier and easier to incorporate healthful food choices into your life.

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