3. Processed sugar. Sugar is sneaky. It’s in just about everything we consume. The average person needs 25-30 grams of sugar a day. Basically, that’s a can of coke, glass of sweet tea, or a couple of cookies. With excess sugar intake comes excess calories, leading to weight gain or type II diabetes. It’s possible to cut back on your sugar intake simply by changing what you drink. Also, avoid high sugar foods like candy, donuts, cookies, ice cream, and pastries, etc. There is nothing wrong with splurging every now and then on these foods. But try to limit them to the good stuff made with real ingredients that are actually worth the calories – not processed items that usually don’t taste as good anyway.
If you’re eating something with a food label, check the amount of sugar in that item. Foods with more than 10-15 grams of sugar may not be worth consuming. I also recommend “saving” your sugars for the foods you really want throughout the day. For example, I really love milk. Milk has the natural sugar, lactose, in it. Even though it’s a naturally occurring sugar, it’s still sugar. So, I save a lot of my sugar during the day for that glass of milk I want at night.
One other note is to watch the amount of fruit you eat. Many people don’t consider the sugar content in fruit because it’s natural, but again, these sugars still count. Go for high nutrient, low sugar fruits are berries – blue, black, and raspberries. Watch out for higher sugar fruits like bananas, grapes, pineapples, and mangos. Eat smaller quantities of these. Similarly, pay attention to smoothies. Smoothies are considered a healthy snack or meal replacement, but they can be loaded with sugar. If your smoothie recipe includes a banana, berries, apple juice, and yogurt, you’re mostly getting sugar. Boost the nutrition and lower the sugar content by trying berries, low sugar almond milk, plain Greek yogurt, and flax seeds. Or try a scoop of protein powder, plain oats, low-fat milk, and peanut butter for a smoothie with good carbs, fats, and protein with little sugar.
4. Carbohydrates. For the last 5-10 years, carbohydrates have been vilified. In the ’90s, fats were the mortal enemy. Remember the Snackwell brand of cookies? Man, I loved the devil’s food ones! But they were stripped of fat and loaded with…sugar!! We took the fat out of everything and added sugar so that we wouldn’t miss the fats! Fast forward 15 years, and what did we figure out? We consume too much sugar.
So now, carbohydrates – the main form of sugars in our diet – are bad news. But our bodies need carbs!! God made our bodies, especially our brains, with specific functions that require carbohydrates to carry them out. Our cells are heavily dependent on the glucose in carbohydrates. Our muscles store glucose (called glycogen) for sustaining activity and providing long term energy when necessary.
What we need are good carbohydrates, which come from whole grain/whole wheat sources. These are less processed, containing more of their natural nutrients and fiber. Look for carbohydrates made of whole grains. Eat other good carb sources like brown rice, farro, bulgur, or quinoa. Sweet potatoes and beans are good carbs too.
Related to our need for good carbs is our need for fiber. Men need 35 grams, and women need 25 grams of fiber every day. Fiber is needed for good gut health. Ideally, we should get sufficient fiber from our food intake – like whole grain wheat, beans, vegetables that are dark in color, and the peeling of apples and potatoes. So the next time you eat an apple or potato, don’t discard the best part!
The carbs to avoid are ones made of enriched flour, which are highly processed and have lost much of their nutrient content. These are breads, pastas, crackers, etc that are generally white in color. When choosing bread, for instance, watch out for the manufacturers’ clever marketing tactics! Their packaging may say, “made with whole grain” on the front of the loaf of bread. BUT, if you turn it over and the first ingredient isn’t whole grain but enriched grain/flour, then they are trying to pull a fast one on you!! Look for carb sources that begin with the first ingredient being whole grain or whole-wheat flour.
5. Fats. As with carbs, fats are misunderstood vital nutrients in our bodies. Fats are essential for numerous processes in the body like storing energy and aiding in nutrient transport. And just like carbs, if we eat diets too low in fat, we can suffer physical consequences.
Now, there are different types of fats, some better than others and knowing the difference is critical for healthy eating. The first two fats I discuss are ones that raise our bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglyceride levels. Unfortunately, the American diet is filled with too many of these fats. I’ll start with the worst kind of fat that we should avoid altogether – trans fats. These fats do not naturally occur. They are manufactured and mostly added to foods to extend their shelf life. Remember that blue Crisco tin in your grandma’s kitchen? Crisco remains solid at room temperature instead of melting because it is trans fat. Thankfully, many manufacturers have gotten rid of using this fat or at least aren’t using as much of it. It’s best to avoid eating trans fat altogether. Usually, they can be found in those processed cookies and crackers or pastry crusts, biscuits, even tubs of icing.
The next category is saturated fats. The body needs SOME saturated fat – like 10-15 grams a day. Saturated fats are primarily found in animal products. So any meat ground with animal fat will contain higher amounts of saturated fats. These are foods like burgers, sausage, salami, and pepperoni, along with anything pork-related.
The last category of fats is called monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. We should mostly consume these fats as they are heart-healthy and even raise our good cholesterol (HDL). In fact, unsaturated fats can even decrease our bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides. So if you have high cholesterol, particularly high LDLs which have shown to be a determiner of heart disease, lessen your consumption of saturated fats and increase unsaturated fats. These sources are nuts and nut butter, avocados, olives, fish, seeds, and many oils like olive, peanut, avocado, sunflower, canola, sesame, and safflower.
6. Proteins. Like the other macronutrients carbs and fats, our bodies depend on protein. Proteins, composed of amino acids, are foundational to the body for muscles, bones, hair, nails, regulation, and maintenance processes. There are two classes of protein, complete and incomplete, referring to whether or not they contain all 9 essential amino acids.
Complete proteins come from animal sources. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy classify as complete proteins. We should eat mostly lean animal proteins, like poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, eggs (mostly whites), and lean beef or well-trimmed pork chops.
Incomplete proteins lack some of the 9 essential amino acids, and so they must be combined to ensure sufficient protein intake. These are plant-sourced proteins such as nuts, grains, legumes, seeds, some vegetables, and meat substitutes like tofu, TVP, tempeh, etc. They are generally not considered significant sources of protein. If you are a vegetarian – I was for 10 years – then you MUST be diligent to combine and consume enough incomplete proteins for proper nutrition. Insufficient protein intake can lead to serious health issues. I experienced some of these in my vegetarian years.
7. Veggies. Vegetables are necessary to our diets for the vitamins and minerals they contain. The more dark, colorful veggies you eat, the more nutritious they are. Stay away from too many starchy vegetables like white potatoes or corn and definitely eat more dark leafy greens (like spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard, etc), tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, and beets.
8. Sodium. The AHA recommends 2,300mg or less of salt each day. Like sugar, the American diet contains too much sodium, and it’s very sneaky too. Salt is added to many foods, yet we can avoid consuming too much by taking a few simple steps. Avoid processed and packaged foods. Eat fresh foods as much as possible. Check the ingredient lists for sodium content. Don’t use spices that contain salt. Choose lower-sodium foods when eating out, and never salt your food before tasting it.
I hope you are motivated by these nutrition suggestions and will try incorporating them into your eating. Give into those latest, greatest diet gimmicks no more!