1. Limit or avoid altogether processed foods. It takes very little extra effort to serve/consume whole foods at every meal instead of processed foods. Although my kids just love those boxed or frozen mac-n-cheese products, they will gleefully wolf down my home-made version using brown rice pasta. The slow food movement, which promotes cooking from scratch and eating meals at home, is not as slow as you think. By preparing foods yourself you’ll avoid overdosing on sugar, fat and salt and likely, save a few bucks in the process.
2. If you must eat refined grain products (i.e. crackers, chips…) look for products made with ingredients you recognize with limited salt and artificial preservatives.
3. Include lean protein and complex carbs in every meal. The American diet is top heavy in simple carbs and fats, but a little protein at every meal will provide longer lasting satiety and stave off a possible binge in the middle of the day. This is easily accomplished by adding nuts or beans to any meal.
4. A quick read through of Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss is all it takes to convince you that your taste buds and sensory perception have been adulterated by the Food industry’s glut of salty, sugary and fatty snack/processed foods. You can fight the addictive urge for such food by avoiding the center isles of your local food markets. Did you ever notice that all the fresh produce and whole foods are located at the perimeter of the store? Just think of all the time that you will save by making just one big loop around the store.
5. Who needs empty calories? Welcome to the 21st century. No one really should be drinking soda (diet or otherwise) or eating Swedish fish on a regular basis. Just think what that soda is doing to your bone density (since the carbonation may interfere with calcium absorption). Sorry to put the kibosh on milk-cokes. In case you are wondering, sugar should be limited to 6 teaspoons per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men.
6. Red wine- say yes; Margarita Ville-take a pass. The sensory experience of a beautiful glass of red wine need not be limited to special occasions. A daily glass (or two for men) provides an excellent burst of antioxidants by way of a substance called resveratrol. While purported to have a myriad of health benefits resveratrol is largely known for preventing damage to blood vessels, reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) and preventing blood clots. Of course, these benefits will be offset if you overindulge. And that Margarita served in a festive salted glass at your favorite TexMex hot spot? Probably has more sugar and other additives that you really should avoid.
7. Salt and hypertension: Hypertension is a relatively new phenomenon that presented largely with the advent of canned foods. To avoid succumbing to this condition, or to alleviate already elevated blood pressure, salt intake should be kept below 2400 mg per day. This, unfortunately, means laying low on pickled and fermented foods and really reading the ingredient lists on packaged goods. If you stick with whole foods as per principal #1, you cannot go wrong.
8. How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you really need? The current food guide pyramid suggests we get 2 to 4 servings of fruits and 3 to 5 servings of vegetables each day. Although this sounds like a tall order a full serving is probably not as much as you think. For fruits this equals just one medium sized fresh fruit or ½ cup chopped, cooked or canned fruit, or ¾ cup fruit juice (look for unsweetened).
9. Not all fats are bad for you: Saturated and trans fats found in processed foods, sweets and fast food are bad for you because over time, the fats accumulate in your arteries, leading to atherosclerosis (arteriosclerosis is the accumulation of calcium in the arteries, in case you did not know). However, the mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, fish and avocados are good for your heart and can help raise your good HDL cholesterol. The structure of these fats does not allow them to stack on top of one another, so cannot clog the arteries. They also appear to have a positive effect on insulin levels and support blood sugar control.
10. The importance of whole grains: The Whole grain council recommends 3 to 5 servings of whole grains per day for a healthy adult. For many people this is a bit of a challenge as so many of our everyday carb choices contain very little whole grains (think white bread, white rice, semolina-based pasta, goods made with unbleached flour, and of course, the ubiquitous pizza). By focusing on whole grains we will automatically avoid foods with a high glycemic index, that rapidly raise blood glucose levels. Foods prepared with whole grains are so much more readily available than they were years ago. If you go to the Whole Grain Council Web site (http://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/cooking-whole-grains) you will be pleasantly surprised by the number of food and recipe options based on quinoa, oats and brown rice, to name a few.