When it comes to staying in good shape there are many different workout routines, group programs, and ways to stay active. But staying in good shape is only part of staying in good health--good health depends on a good diet.
And a good diet means working around the myths.Laura Bottoms, a registered dietitian and chief of clinical dietetics at Ireland Army Health Clinic, said eating healthy is about making educated meal and snack choices. And it helps to understand the difference between myths and facts."Eating better doesn't mean you have to eat foods that don't taste good, and it doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money on expensive items," she explained. "Those are just myths."*For example, many people believe carbohydrates are fattening and should be avoided. But Bottoms said, not so fast.Carbohydrates are the body's primary and preferred fuel source, she explained. It's the excess calories that are fattening, whether they come from carbohydrates, fat or even protein."There are generally two kinds of carbohydrates, simple (fast) carbs and complex (slow) carbs," she said. "Fast carbs digest quickly, are often high in calories and few nutrients, and leave you wanting more. Slow/complex carbs on the other hand are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals."She said a health dietary habit would include carbs, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, at each meal and snacks throughout the day. Slow carbs should be paired with a lean/heart healthy protein to maximize performance. And she suggests trying a hard boil egg and some raw veggies as an afternoon snack.*Another myth is: "Eat a lot of protein.""Be careful not to overdo it on protein," Bottoms warned. "The body best utilizes only 20-30 grams at a time. Consuming more than that at a meal is a waste."According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, protein rich foods should only make up about a quarter of a plate at meal time, half should include a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, and a quarter should include unrefined grains."Don't stress if you want to include an occasional portion of white rice or regular enriched noodle dish," Bottoms added. "But aim for at least half of your grains each day to come from whole grain sources, as the Dietary Guidelines recommend."*Then there's this myth: "To lose weight, you have to give up food that tastes good."Bottoms said avoiding foods you enjoy can backfire and recommends people to do an assessment of what they eat using a food journal app and, or, the assistance of a registered dietitian. She added that these tools can help identify from where someone is accumulating excess calories--often the culprit is added fat, added sugar or oversized portions.Next look for "smart swaps," for example; order the sirloin instead of the rib-eye, choose baked chips instead of regular, and if you need a sweet treat eat a bowl of frozen mango instead of ice cream.
"Reducing portions allows you to enjoy your favorites," she explained. "But at the same time increase your intake of vegetable...."She pointed out that denying yourself the food you enjoy will result in "falling off the wagon," which is self-sabotaging. The simple fact is: there are some foods for which there is simply no alternative. For example when you want chocolate, carrots simply won't do.
"For these foods, figure out how often you can allow yourself to enjoy them, while keeping your health goals in mind," she said. "Eating chocolate all the time won't work. However, when you choose to indulge, get the good stuff and own it! Take small nibbles; let each bite melt in your mouth. Simply enjoy it, guilt-free, and then move on.""The goal is to eat food that tastes good and happens to be healthy, not the other way around."*Another myth that can stand to be busted is: "Eating healthy costs too much money."Bottoms said that when people switch to eating healthy they often tack on healthy foods to their current grocery list. To save money people can ignore the sodas, snack cakes and bags of chips. Swap for the healthier choices--fruits and vegetables but make sure to have a plan.
"Don't go crazy and add a bunch of new fruits and vegetables with no game plan how to fit them into your meals," she added. "Limit quick ripening/spoiling fruits, like bananas and berries to only as much as you can eat before they go bad, but stock up on apples and oranges that last a bit longer."You can save money by skipping pre-cut fruits/vegetables and individual packaged health foods. Spend a little of extra time prepping your snacks into individual bags for quick snacks during the week.
Some convenience foods are worth the money, like frozen vegetables, and are great for roasting and adding to cooked dishes.*And people who think that skipping meals can help lose more weight should think again.Weight loss is achieved by creating an energy deficit--by either eating less or burning off more than your body expends each day. However, Bottoms noted that not eating enough can backfire. Our bodies are designed to protect us from food shortages and will dial back that energy when we don't fuel it adequately.Not eating enough to fuel your workout is a problem. If you are burning out half way through your aerobics class, not able to lift the heavier weights or do that extra set of burpees, you aren't going to burn as many calories during the workout. Creating between 200-500kcal per day calorie deficit can get the weight loss ball rolling, she said, but you can't out-exercise a bad diet.
"When we skimp on calories throughout the day, we are more likely to over-eat later in the day," she explained. "Lots of people attempt to eat very little during their active times and when they finally rest, relax, and eat they have a hard time making healthy choices and controlling portions. Their body realizes food is available and turns that appetite into high gear which results in over indulging."And, she added, that overindulgence is often on high fat and sugar foods.
Current research indicates that eating between 4-6 meals or snacks throughout the day helps achieve and maintain a healthier weight. She said instead of eating one large meal a day downsize the portions at dinner and pack the other half for lunch the next day. It's called "cook once, enjoy twice."
*An added myth is: "Dairy is bad for you and should be avoided."Fat free and low fat cheese, milk and yogurt are good sources of protein, calcium and vitamin D, Bottoms explained. The recommended daily calcium allowance is about 1,000 mg a day for most adults, but few Americans actually get enough."Pregnant women, women over 50 and teens need even higher levels," she added. "Getting enough calcium from your diet requires effort --especially if you're not including dairy foods daily. That can be best achieved by including 3-4 servings of low fat dairy foods per day. Doing so may help you reach/maintain a healthy body weight because research shows that calcium intake lower than recommend levels are associated with increased body weight."She said that recent research has shown a possible connection between calcium supplements and increased risk of heart disease so calcium from food sources is always best. She added that increasing calcium intake can be as simple as drinking a glass of milk with dinner, chocolate milk as a post workout recovery drink, or Greek yogurt as an afternoon snack.Getting healthy and staying healthy can be a full time job, but no one said it had to be boring.
"It may take some trial and error, but in the end trying new foods and healthy eating is worth it," Bottoms said. "The benefit from eating healthy goes way beyond staying fit--you never know what favorite new dish you might discover."