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StillFit: The First Rule Of Healthy Eating August 22, 2010

Posted by Mike Clipp in Diet, Health.
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The first rule of healthy eating is – Make vegetables and fruits the base of your diet. (It’s more common to see this food group combo written as fruits and vegetables, but since veggies are the foundation of this rule, I list them first.) Numerous studies and research efforts have shown that people who eat the proper amount of vegetables and fruits live longer, healthier, more active lives. The nutrition and health worlds are full of disagreement on how much or whether to eat meat and how much or whether to eat grains, but most everyone agrees that you need to eat the proper amount of vegetables and fruits to attain optimum health and fitness. Even the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Atkins diet tells you to eat your veggies.

The amount of vegetables and fruits to eat every day is 7 to 9 servings for most people. If you eat 7 servings then ideally 5 to 6 servings should be vegetables and 1 to 2 servings should be fruit.

Now, I can hear you saying, “7 to 9 servings. I can’t eat that many vegetables and fruits.” My reply is, “It’s not that much. A proper salad (we’ll talk about that later), a bowl of mixed vegetables, an apple, and a banana can fulfill this requirement.” 

I think that the next thing to consider is just what exactly are vegetables and fruit?  Cabbage is a vegetable. So are carrots, green peppers, celery, lettuce, broccoli, artichokes, tomatoes, radishes, spinach, beets and the like. Fruit consists of apples, berries, oranges, mangoes, plums, and many others. There is a hierarchy of nutritional value within the vegetable kingdom. Broccoli is an example of a vegetable packed with higher levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Iceberg lettuce is an example of a vegetable containing lower levels of nutrients. I call iceberg lettuce “the lightweight of the vegetable world.” In general, the darker and deeper the color of the vegetable, the higher the nutrient levels.   

Macaroni and cheese is not a vegetable. Nor is it a fruit. In the StillFit world, potatoes are not a vegetable. Macaroni and potatoes are what I call major carbs. The major carbs are grains, potatoes, corn, bread, pasta, pastries, etc. When you go to the salad bar and you fill your plate with macaroni and cheese and potato salad and rolls or cornbread you aren’t putting vegetables on your plate. You’re putting highly processed major carbs on your plate. It’s not healthy eating and it certainly won’t help to keep your weight in a healthy range.

You don’t have to eat a bunch of weird or exotic stuff to fulfill your vegetable needs. I was looking at another health blog today where the writer described what she eats. She eats stuff like kohlrabi, nutritional yeast, sprouted spelt bread, acai berries, dikon, yuca, seaweed and goya. You don’t have to eat that type of stuff to be healthy. You can thrive magnificently on the normal veggies you grew up eating. Lettuce, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, green peppers, beets, celery, broccoli are all good for you. Of course, if you want to eat the exotic vegetables go right ahead and eat them. They’re good for you too. The main thing is to eat 7-9 servings of vegetables and fruits per day and to eat a good variety of them.

As for cooking or preparing your vegetables, don’t ruin a healthy meal by pouring gravy, sauces, cheese, and assorted other viscous white or brown or orange stuff on your vegetables. Try sprinkling on a non-salty seasoning or squeeze some lemon juice on them. Use a drizzle or spritz of olive oil to make the seasonings stick to the veggies. I know that a lot of people say they don’t like the taste of vegetables, but if you give yourself a chance to become accustomed to their taste you’ll be surprised at how much flavor and taste you can get from your veggies. You just have to retrain your tastebuds away from craving salty, fatty or sugary sauces. The psychological experts say that it takes 21 days to break an old habit and establish a new habit. Give it a try. Set a goal of using simple, light seasonings on your food for 3-4 weeks. Try this with meat and major carbs also. Just this one simple change can have a tremendous effect on your health and weight. I’m pretty sure that you will start feeling better within a short time if you try this. When you go to a restaurant don’t order the foods that are bathed in cheese, alfredo sauce, cream sauce, or butter. Remember, the less processed a food is the better it usually is for you. There’s a whole new world of flavor and taste to be discovered.

One of my favorite ways to ensure that I get my 7-9 servings of veggies is by eating what I call a Love Salad four or five days a week. Put simply, a Love Salad is a salad with ten or so different vegetables in it. I made my first Love Salad about twenty years ago. I made a salad using all the fresh vegetables that were in the refrigerator. Lettuce, carrots, green peppers, broccoli, red cabbage, mushrooms, celery, radishes, tomatoes and more stuff that I don’t remember. I added beans, walnuts, almonds, and a little cheese for protein. I poured on some dressing and presented it to my wife for lunch.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“It’s a love salad,” I replied. “I made it out of my love for you. I want you to stay healthy and with me for a long time so I made this Love Salad to keep you healthy.”

I know, it’s corny, but hey, I’m a corny guy.

You can vary the Love Salad by changing up the vegetables and using different proteins. I’ll put nuts on it one day and cheese the next. Sometimes it’s tofu, other times it’s tuna. Try whatever you like. The protein also adds some needed fat. We’ll take a deeper look at proteins and fats when we discuss rules 2 and 5.   

Usually on Sunday or Monday I prepare enough Love Salad veggies to take me through the week.  I cut up carrots, yellow and green peppers, red cabbage, broccoli, celery, and various other veggies. I open a can of beans and rinse them. I usually mix kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans together for variety. After I prepare these items I store them in separate Tupperware type containers. Some things don’t mix in storage – that’s why I store the beans separate from the cut up veggies. With experience you’ll learn what can be stored together and what can’t. Other veggies don’t store well if prepared in advance. Leafy greens, tomatoes and others should be cut shortly before use.

If I’m taking my lunch to work I’ll usually make my salad the night before. Since I already cut my veggies it takes only a few minutes to prepare my salad. I rinse and tear up the leafy greens, place them in a plastic container, throw in a cup or two of my previously cut up veggies, cut up and add a tomato, then throw on my protein. One day I’ll add tuna, the next it might be almonds and walnuts, then it could be cheese, another day I’ll add beans and some days I’ll mix it up and even throw in a hard boiled egg or tofu. Then there are my “stinky fish” days. Those are the days when I pack a tin of sardines in my lunch. I don’t put the sardines on the salad. Their taste and smell would overpower the salad so I eat them separately. Just be careful of how much protein you add to your Love Salad. There can be more calories in 3 or 4 ounces of the protein than there is in the 5 cups of vegetables. For even more variety and flavor I’ll occasionally add fresh apple or orange chunks to my salad. Add a slice of whole wheat bread on the side and you have your complete lunch. Simple, easy and quick.

Remember, I told you earlier that getting your daily 7 – 9 servings of vegetables and fruit won’t be as hard to do as you think. With the Love Salad I easily gave myself 5 – 6 servings of veggies. 2 cups of leafy greens, 2 cups of cut up veggies, plus a tomato or apple equals 5 or 6 servings of veggies and fruits. 

If you haven’t been eating the daily 7-9 servings of vegetables and fruits, it may take some getting used to. You may at first produce more intestinal gas than you used to. But cheer up, veggie farts don’t usually smell as bad as meat and fat farts. Constipation will also be less of a problem. In fact, you’ll probably visit the toilet more often. Some people claim that while they visited the toilet more frequently their total time spent on the toilet went down. With more veggies and fruit you get more fiber, which helps to move things quicker and smoother through your intestines. 

You should also feel better overall. Once you start eating the daily 7-9 servings you’ll be getting more and better nutrition than you did in the past.  There are numerous studies showing the benefits of eating the proper amount of vegetables and fruit and we’ll take a look at some of those studies in later posts.

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