Healthy eating is tasty eating
Canadians have lost their ability to celebrate flavourful food that nourishes, author says
Elite athletes need more calories than the average person, even one who works out regularly, but they still need to follow the same principles, she said before rattling off the most important fundamentals to good nutritional practices.
- Eat foods the way nature provides them.
"You will get more nutrition and health protection from eating a whole apple than you will ever get from eating apple sauce or apple juice," she said. "Always go backwards. Shop the perimeter of the grocery stores. That's where the whole foods are.
"The more processed, the more sugar added, the more all these other things done to it, generally the less healthy it is."
- Eat fat to absorb essential fat-soluble vitamins, but not so much and not the animal kind.
While we need fat to absorb vitamins A, E, D, K and carotenoids, it packs a calorie wallop, having twice as many calories as protein or carbs, so Pearson recommends choosing low-fat foods and making sure the fat you eat is good fat, the stuff you get from fatty fish and extra virgin olive or canola oil. If you eat animal products, which are high in "bad" saturated fats that clog arteries, choose lean varieties like skinless chicken or loin cuts of beef, rather than ground beef. Drink skim milk. Eat fish.
The fats from fatty fish and plants like flax and hemp are loaded with Omega 3s, which our bodies and brains desperately need. Pearson says everyone should eat fatty fish like salmon or mackerel twice a week.
Pearson's favourite vegetable fat is extra-virgin olive oil because it is so high in antioxidants. Research shows that extra-virgin oil is better able to prevent damage to the artery walls that leads to heart disease, compared to third pressing of olive oil.
- Eat carbohydrates for calories and to fuel your brain and muscles. But choose complex carbs like whole grains and fruit and vegetables.
Complex carbs are high in fibre, which we need for digestive health and gut health and for reducing cancer risk of the gastrointestinal tract. Fibre also keeps us full longer. But whole grains also have high nutritional content, she says, adding she doesn't mean only 100-percent whole-grain bread. She also means whole-grain pasta and brown rice or quinoa.
"Eighty per cent of the health-protective parts of grains are in the bran and the germ, the two parts you get rid of when you do refined grains."
Here's another good reason: A study at Penn State University took 50 overweight men and women and put them both on a low-calorie diet. One group got refined grains and the other group got whole grains. Both lost weight, but the group eating
whole grains lost significantly more abdominal fat.
"Abdominal fat is the fuel on the fire of disease," she said, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. "You don't want abdominal fat."
- Eat moderate amounts of protein to repair and build muscles.
Pearson says it's a myth that athletes need high-protein diets.
"The reality is, athletes need more calories. Protein needs go up slightly, but most people can easily meet their needs for protein with a healthy diet. They don't need protein bars, and shakes and powder. Too much can harm the kidneys."
Ideally we should have two to three servings of meat or meat alternatives every day. If it's meat or fish, the portion size should be about the size of a deck of cards. If it's beans, the Canada Food Guide recommends a three-quarter cup serving and a quarter cup for nuts.
As for the types of protein, Pearson would really love people to eat more beans. Black beans, kidney beans and soy beans are excellent sources of both carbohydrates and protein and they have amazing health promotion properties, including antioxidants.
"The research on beans is really amazing," she says. "You want to reach that 100-year mark? You want to live a long time? Beans are more consistently linked to long life than any other food.
"Beans are like nutritional powerhouses. They are so loaded with protein, B vitamins, fiber, potassium, magnesium."
Look for cans with low sodium content and rinse well before cooking, she advises, noting that few people are willing to cook beans from scratch. Beano works to deal with the gas issue, she says. It's an enzyme that breaks down the sugars that cause the problem. But people who eat beans regularly don't produce gas. Their bodies adjust, she says.
- Eat your antioxidants and cancer-fighting vegetables with every meal.
Antioxidants protect cells from damage that leads to disease, she says. Berries have the most among fruits. Artichoke hearts have the most among veggies. Cancer-fighting foods have additional compounds that slow down the growth of cancer cells or help prevent them from forming in the first place. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage are rich in cancer-fighters.
Dark leafy vegetables like spinach are "nutrient powerhouses and disease-fighting superstars. When you eat spinach your body says "Hallelujah."
- Don't forget the chocolate.
Dark chocolate has more antioxidants than green tea or even blueberries. Great for pleasure too.