Thursday, June 7, 2012

Keeping Food Real

     My mom grew up on a Wisconsin farm and ate what the farm produced—no potato chips, snack cakes, or Uncle Ben’s rice. Back then, Mom was eating “from the earth”—her food was free of artificial dyes, transfats, and high-fructose corn syrup. Now, people like Bill Clinton and Ozzy Osbourne are adopting that retro approach to eating. It’s called a plant-based diet.

     In the strictest sense, a plant-based diet is a vegetarian lifestyle. I’m not promoting dinners without meat, but moving closer to first-generation food—my Mom’s way of life—sounds right, not just trendy. So what does a plant-based diet look like? It’s largely made up of fruits, veggies, nuts, and legumes (beans). Meat is low on the ladder and packaged foods are passé. Here’s how can you get closer to a plant-based diet:

Make food swaps
     Program manager for cardiac rehabilitation, Pam Peitz, RN, tells her cardiac patients to make food swaps. She encourages them to eat nuts rather than chips. Pam’s top six nuts include peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts. For snacks on the go, Pam recommends dried apricots and pears versus muffins and candy bars. Instead of a ham and cheese sandwich, she suggests oat-bran bread slathered with hummus and topped with cucumbers. Pam tells us to limit sweets made with trans or hydrogenated fat, because “It’s the worst fat to eat in terms of heart disease.”

Move closer to the real deal
     Before you pop something into your mouth, ask yourself what is real and what is not. How many degrees of separation is orange soda from the orange? Even a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be processed (packaged Uncrustables). Registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist Brandy Baxter gives this guideline: “If it doesn’t come off the field or cow in the way that it appears on your plate, you should think twice about eating it.”

     Summer is the best time to eat locally harvested fruits and vegetables. For preparation ideas, watch Meritus Health’s Chef Joe make a grilled vegetable salad. Frozen veggies are a good option too because they are immediately frozen from the field and shipped to the grocery store.

Read the label
     To me, rigidity spells failure. If you need to eat packaged foods, choose wisely. It starts with reading the ingredient label. The fewer the ingredients, the better—and the more scientific-sounding the ingredient, the worse it is for your body. Think Ramen noodles: they contain monosodium glutamate, sodium carbonate, sodium tripolyphosphate, and disodium guanylate. Keep in mind that ingredients are listed in order of predominance, so check out the top five. Brandy says if the ingredients start with sugar, salt, or corn syrup, put the item back on the shelf.

     The next time you plan a meal or grab lunch on the go, think of how many steps your food has taken to get to its current state—and let the weaning process begin.

By: Anne Gill

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