There are some simple truths about eating and exercise that seem to have been overlooked. They apply to everyone: Sedentary or active, young or old, in or out of shape.
1. Set the Table
Children in families with more structured mealtimes exhibit healthier eating habits. Among middle- and high-school girls, those whose families ate together only once or twice per week were more than twice as likely to exhibit weight control issues, compared with those who ate together three or four times per week.
Of course, the notion of a 6 p.m. dinnertime and then everyone into their pj’s is a quaint one, but it’s hardly realistic in a society where our kids have such highly scheduled social lives that the delineation between “parent” and “chauffeur” is sometimes difficult to parse. While we can’t always bring the family together like Ozzie Nelson’s (or, heck, even like Ozzy Osbourne’s), we can make some positive steps in that direction. One busy family I know keeps Sunday night dinner sacred—no social plans, no school projects, no extra work brought home from the office. Even keeping the family ritual just once a week gives parents the opportunity to point out what is and isn’t healthy at the dinner table.
2. Eat More Whole Foods and Fewer Science Experiments
Here’s a rule of healthy eating that will serve you well when picking out foods for your family: The shorter the ingredients list, the healthier the food. (One of the worst foods I’ve ever found, the Baskin-Robbins Heath Shake, has 73 ingredients—and, by the way, a whopping 2,310 calories and more than 3 days’ worth of saturated fat! What happened to the idea that a milk shake was, um, milk and ice cream? Let’s be grateful that Baskin-Robbins finally pulled this monstrosity from their menus.) The FDA maintains a list of more than 3,000 ingredients that are considered safe to eat, but we’ve found reasons for concern for a number of the additives on that long list, and any one of them could wind up in your next box of mac ’n’ cheese.
According to USDA reports, most of the sodium in the American diet comes from packaged and processed foods. Naturally occurring salt accounts for only 12 percent of total intake, while 77 percent is added by food manufacturers.
3. Drink Responsibly
Too many of us keep in mind the adage “watch what you eat,” and we forget another serious threat to our health: We don’t watch what we drink. In fact, according to research from the University of North Carolina, Americans now slurp up nearly 25 percent of their calories in liquid form—nearly double the rate we used to drink just 20 years ago. One study found that sweetened beverages constituted more than half (51 percent) of all beverages consumed by fourth- through sixth-grade students. The students who consumed the most sweetened beverages took in approximately 330 extra calories per day, and on average they ate less than half the amount of real fruit than did their peers who drank unsweetened or lightly sweetened beverages.
One important strategy is to keep cold, filtered water in a pitcher in the fridge. You might even want to keep some cut-up limes, oranges, or lemons nearby for kids to flavor their own water with. A UK study showed that in classrooms with limited access to water, only 29 percent of students met their daily needs; free access to water led to higher intake.
Another important strategy: Be extra careful about the juice you purchase. Too many “juices” are little more than sugar water masquerading as the real thing. Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry, for instance, has just 15 percent real fruit juice. The other 85 percent? High-fructose corn syrup and water. Make sure the juice you buy says “100 percent Fruit Juice” on the label, and try to choose one made from a single fruit, not a mix of high-sugar fruits like white grapes, which are commonly used in fruit juice blends.
4. Beware of Portion Distortion
Snack portions aren’t the only things that have increased wildly in size. Since 1977, hamburgers have increased by 97 calories, French fries by 68 calories, and Mexican foods by 133 calories, according to analysis of the Nationwide Food Consumption Survey.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine looked at 63,380 individuals’ drinking habits over a span of 19 years. The results show that for children ages 2 to 18, portions of sweetened beverages increased from 13.1 ounces in 1977 to 18.9 ounces in 1996.
One easy way to short-circuit this growing trend? Buy smaller bowls and cups. A recent study at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas, shows that 5- and 6-year-old children will consume a third more calories when presented with a larger portion. The findings are based on a sample of 53 children who were served either 1- or 2-cup portions of macaroni and cheese.
5. Snack With Purpose
There’s a big difference between mindless munching and strategic snacking. Snacking with purpose means reinforcing good habits, keeping your metabolic rate high, and filling the gaps between meals with the nutrients your child’s body craves.
Chew on this piece of trivia: In the 20 years leading up to the 21st century (1977 to 1996), salty snack portions increased by 93 calories, and soft drink portions increased by 49 calories.
Combat portion distortion by eating healthy snacks: Triscuits and peanut butter; string cheese; a sandwich bag filled with homemade popcorn; or that classic of kid’s snacktime nourishment, ants on a log.
6. Never Skip Breakfast
Yes, mornings are crazy. But they’re also our best hope at regaining our nutritional sanity. A 2005 study synthesized the results of 47 other studies that examined the impact of starting the day with a healthy breakfast. Here’s what they found:
People who skip breakfast are more likely to take up smoking or drinking, less likely to exercise, and more likely to follow fad diets or express concerns about body weight. Common reasons cited for skipping were lack of time, lack of hunger, or dieting.
Bad news. Sure, it would seem to make sense that skipping breakfast means eating fewer calories, which means weighing less. But it doesn’t work that way. Consider:
People who eat breakfast tend to have higher total calorie intakes throughout the day, but they also get significantly more fiber, calcium, and other micronutrients than skippers do. Breakfast eaters also tended to consume less soda and French fries and more fruits, vegetables, and milk.
Breakfast eaters were approximately 30 percent less likely to be overweight or obese. (Think about that—people who eat breakfast eat more food, but weigh less!)
7. Always eat at least 5 times a day.
Two or three meals are simply not enough. It is permissible to consider two of these meals as “snacks,” provided they contain sufficient calories to get you to your next meal, and they are comprised of the appropriate ratio of macronutrients as described in Rule 8. Your blood sugar and insulin levels will be controlled (and thus your energy level), you will get protein in small amounts throughout the day to support growth and recovery, and (most important) body fat will not be stored, but instead mobilized as an energy source. By providing your body with a consistent and frequent supply of just the right number of calories, its need to store fat is reduced. Conversely, when you eat infrequently, your body recognizes a “famine” situation and your entire endocrine system (powerful hormones produced inside your body that control how you grow, recover, and produce energy) is thrown for a loop. Then, too much of the food you consume is stored as body fat in preparation for the “famine” to come.
8. Plan Your Meals
In planning each of your daily meals (or snacks), a caloric ratio of approximately 1 part fat, 2 parts protein, and 3 parts carbohydrate is a good place to begin. However, as you will see in Rule 9 (below), this is merely an estimate for average people. Depending on the severity of your daily work routine and training protocol, you may need more or less carbohydrates for energy. Fat is essential for maintaining good health and it is needed to manufacture many important hormones in your body, so do not attempt to eliminate fat from your diet! Just try to ensure that saturated fat (from animal sources) is kept low, and that the unsaturated fats (canola oil or olive oil) predominate. Also, you must consume enough protein to support growth and recovery and consume carbohydrates. For the most part, choose low glycemic index carbohydrates, which are converted to blood sugar slowly so you can control your insulin levels. Remember, carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy fuel source, although fats work well too, particularly during aerobic training (provided the ratio of fats, protein, and carbohydrates is kept within the recommended “zone”). Remember that protein and carbohydrates both have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram.
9. Ask before you eat.
When you sit down to eat, ask yourself, ”What am I going to be doing for the next three hours of my life?” If you nap, eat fewer carbohydrate foods; if you plan to train, eat more carbohydrates. In other words, adjust your carbohydrates up or down depending upon anticipated energy output. Remember, your pre-workout carbohydrates should be low glycemic.
10. Alternate periods of negative calorie balance with periods of positive calorie balance.
You cannot lose fat quickly and efficiently unless you are in a negative calorie balance: taking in fewer calories than you are burning. Neither can you gain muscle tissue quickly and efficiently unless you are in a positive calorie balance (taking in more calories than you would need to maintain your current weight). So, how can you gain muscle and lose fat at the same time? This paradox is easily explained. Clearly, you cannot lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, so you must alternate periods of negative calorie balance with periods of positive calorie balance. It does not matter if you are trying to lose total body weight, stay at the same weight, or gain weight. This alteration will 1- readjust your BMR upward, making it easier to keep fat off, and 2- support recovery and lean tissue building through insulin and glucagon control.
11. Take Your Multivitamins and Food Supplements Daily.
It is almost impossible to get all of the nutrients your body needs to remain healthy and active from food alone, particularly if you are on a diet. Therefore, it is important to supplement your diet with vitamins, minerals and other carefully selected substances to ensure maximum progress toward your fitness, health, muscle-building and fat-loss goals. Also, no matter how hard you try, no matter how good a cook you are, or where you buy your food.
· You cannot always eat 5 or 6 times daily.
· There are many instances when your body either requires or can make good use of certain micronutrients in greater amounts than what can be derived from food alone.
· Soil depletion, toxins in the food chain, over-processing, overcooking, free-radical formation in the body, and a host of other (sometimes medically related) factors can all interact to make food less than totally nutritious.
· Periods of high-stress training require a higher intake of many nutrients without a commensurable increase in caloric needs.
· Periods of high-stress training create a situation in which various benefits can be derived from substances not normally found in food or biosynthesized in the body in sufficient quantities, but which are easily derived from botanical sources.
· Humankind’s genius has allowed us to improve Mother Nature’s original work in many of life’s arenas. One such arena is in the nutritional supplement industry.
· There are some great supplements for serious sports competition training or fitness training that are not available in nature.
But remember: Always consult your doctor before and while you are on a supplement program.
For vitamins, minerals, and food supplements visit my Health Shop.