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Imagine This... You've been known to catch a chill while standing in front of your refrigerator with the admonitions of diet gurus, yesterday's newspaper headlines, and your mother running through your head. Meals used to feel like battles. Good fats vs. bad fats. Fast food vs. slow food. Carbs: friend or foe? You had questions. Soy what? To supplement or not to supplement? And those supposedly helpful Nutrition Facts labels? They made you feel like a freshman trapped in a senior's chemistry class. Then you found that nutrition know-how could actually make food fun -- nourishing your body, easing your mind, pleasing your palate, and restoring your faith in one of the finer things in life: food, glorious food! Come and get it. You can do it!The Payoffs
From the book: YOU CAN DO IT!, The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-Up Girls, by Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, © 2005 (Used with permission of Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco, CA, www.YouCanDoItBook.com.)
What She Does: Carol is the author of more than 20 (yes, 20) books on nutrition and health. They include Nutrition for Dummies, Controlling Cholesterol for Dummies, Weight Loss Kit for Dummies, The New Complete Book of Food, The Book of Chocolate, and the pioneering Estrogen and Breast Cancer: A Warning to Women. She is the nutrition columnist for the New York Daily News and frequently writes articles on health, food, and diet for a number of newspapers and magazines.
Why She Does It: "I love explaining scientific issues in ways that ordinary human beings can understand. I choose to write about subjects I want to know more about myself -- partially because I'm the kind of person who can't rest until I understand an issue and get my questions answered. I'll never be 'done' with nutrition, because we are at the very beginning of our understanding of the subject. I've updated Nutrition for Dummies three times, and once a year in the New York Daily News, I do an 'Oops!' column of nutrition bloopers. The great thing is that with what we do know about nutrition, you can do a great deal to make your life more adventurous and fun. You can learn about your body, your history, and your culture."
Word from the Wise: "What you eat says a great deal about you -- whether you are adventurous, what allergies and conditions you may have, and quite a bit about your genetic makeup. When George H.W. Bush said he hated broccoli, he might have been letting us know that he has the gene that makes some people sensitive to one of the flavor chemicals -- phenylthiocarbamide -- in cruciferous veggies. And food is an incredible adventure, a continuing journey of self-discovery."
Before embarking on any significant change to your diet, get the facts about your dietary needs from a reliable source: your doctor. But your doctor can only help you if she has accurate information about exactly what you eat and what your health issues are. So make an appointment to see your doctor at least a week from now, and in the meantime:
Take your food diary, medical history, and dietary questions to your doctor. She'll be impressed -- and it will help you both get a handle on your nutritional needs. If you'd like specific meal-planning pointers, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian.
Go to your doctor prepared to make a difference in your health.2. Follow the guidelines.
In addition to the input you get from your doctor, spend an afternoon reality-checking what you think you know about what you should eat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services' Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Food Guide Pyramid are ideal for this. Go to www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/dga and there you'll find:
Put the Guidelines to work for you.
Using the Pyramid and your doctor's recommendations, create your own eating plan for a week. Remember that while the Pyramid allows for a great deal of variety, you should:
Make a meal plan for the week.4. Shop for taste sensations.
Once you've got your square meal plan squared away, it's time to make up a shopping list. In addition to any ingredients you need for your meals, add these items to your list:
To make room for all this good stuff, go through your food supplies at home and at your office, and ditch a few items that don't sit well with your newfound nutrition knowledge. If they're not expired, you might donate them to a local food pantry. Easy does it, though: You can't expect to change your family's eating habits overnight, and you don't want anyone to feel deprived. Implement healthful changes gradually, and you'll avoid cravings and rebound bingeing.
Stock up on healthy eats and treats.5. Play with your food.
Now that you've enjoyed a week's worth of tasty, healthy meals, you'll know what eating well can do for your mood, your body, and your spirits. So make a habit of it! Spend a month exploring healthy food options by trying three of the activities listed below at least once:
Eat well for a month -- and have a blast doing it!
CONGRATULATIONS! Feeling merrier as you eat and drink? Here's to your health! You did it!
Success stories from other women who have dared to dream.I Did It!
"My work requires me to drive around seeing client businesses several days a week. Though I'm not a junk food junkie, I did find myself eating fast food on those days because it's so convenient and, well, fast! Trouble was, I quickly put on 10 pounds and felt guilty for eating the stuff I try to keep my kids away from. I started ordering off the children's menu to get smaller portions, sticking with grilled chicken or plain burgers, and substituting side salads (with low-fat dressing) for fries and water for soda. It's still fast and convenient, but I no longer feel guilty -- and I lost the weight." -- RikkiIndigestion
"In an effort to lose weight, I eliminated sugar and wheat from my diet. I did lose weight this way -- but since I was eating quite a bit more protein and fat, my cholesterol counts went way up. My doctor was concerned, and I'm now trying to eat more grains. It's a struggle, and I'm still trying to find the right balance for me." -- SondraComparison Shopping
Before you buy, check the Nutrition Facts panel.
Ingredients are listed in order of their prominence in the food. If corn syrup is item number two after water, that "juice drink" is more like soda pop than juice.
Pay attention to serving sizes; they are often smaller than you think (or wish!).
"% Daily Value" helps you determine how an item will help meet your body's daily needs for vitamins and minerals, and how much fat, sodium, and cholesterol you're in for with each serving.
"High" means that one serving provides 20 percent or more of the Daily Value of a nutrient. For example, a juice might read "High in Vitamin C."
"Low" means you can eat several servings without going over the Daily Value of this nutrient. The FDA strictly monitors items that claim to be "low-fat."
"Good source" means one serving gives you 10-19 percent of the Daily Value; for instance when a cereal advertises that it's a "good source" of fiber.
"Light" (or "lite") refers to calories, fat, or sodium. Items that claim to be "light" must have one-third fewer calories, 50 percent less fat, or 50 percent less sodium than is usually found in that type of product. But be sure to double-check serving size on "lite" items -- sometimes they are smaller.Pyramid Pointers
Ripped from the guidelines.
Eat a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables daily. These plant foods make you feel full with few calories, are low in fat, have no cholesterol, are high in fiber, and are filled with the phytochemicals believed to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.
Mind your serving sizes. The suggested minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables may seem like a lot, but in actual practice this amounts to some veggies at lunch and dinner plus a fruit snack in between. (No, ketchup doesn't count!)
Aim for a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat. Unsaturated fats are found in: olive, canola, and vegetable oils; avocados, pecans, almonds, walnuts, and flax-seed; fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and lake trout; and vegetables. Saturated fats (including butter, cheese, lard, and palm and coconut oils) are associated with increased cholesterol, heart disease, high blood pressure, blood clots, and some kinds of cancer.
Go easy on the sugar and the salt.
Moderate your intake of highly processed foods. This means frozen entrees, "instant" box mixes, and meal-in-a-can dishes like chili or baked beans. These tend to be high in salt, sugar, fats, and multisyllabic mystery ingredients.Seals of Approval
Here's the deal with all those seals.
If you're curious what health and science professionals -- rather than fashion magazine editors -- consider "overweight," visit the Weight Control and Obesity section at www.nal.usda.gov/fnic to see charts and assess your Body Mass Index. Consider consulting a dietitian about your needs and struggles, and if you just want to fit into your skinny jeans, remember this common sense from Carol: "The Food Pyramid offers so many choices that you can eat that way for the rest of your life. Weight Watchers also doesn't exclude any foods, which is extremely important. Most people can stay on a restricted diet for a short period of time, but eventually say, 'To heck with this; I can't do this!' and gain weight back." Eating fewer calories (rather than excluding entire food groups) and exercising is what works long term.
It's best to get nutrients from food, rather than from pills or powders. But there are certain situations that call for supplementation, such as when:
If you love it as much as you thought you would, dream on...