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Food for thought
"Tired of eating by numbers? The American Heart Association has agreed on new dietary guidelines, to be published Oct. 31, that will make it easier to figure out what to put on the table if you'd like to be healthier. And maybe slimmer, too. Instead of playing the percentages as in past guidelines - no more than 30 percent of calories from fat, for instance - the new recommendations detail how many servings of important foods each of us should eat each day.Make that five daily servings of fruits and vegetables; six daily servings of grains; and two weekly servings of fatty fish, such as tuna or salmon, for starters. The old recommendations on limiting fat and cholestrol are still there, but the emphasis has shifted toward what you should eat, not what you shouldn't. And for the first time, the Heart Association is talking about the prevention of obesity as a goal.In the same week, the Centers for Disease Control reported that the number of obese Americans has reached a new high with almost 19 percent of the population weighing in at more than 30 percent above their ideal body weight. Obesity is a risk factor for most chronic diseases that we know about, said Oak Harbor certified nutritionist Lori Taylor, who will soon be a registered dietitian, as well. That includes type II diabetes, heart attacks, stroke and hypertension. So what does all this mean to us earnest eaters?It means that even when we're trying hard, we get often get confused - or kid ourselves - about what's good for us and what isn't. Following previous AHA diet guidelines, People are cutting down on fat, but now they're eating large amounts of refined carbohydrates, Taylor said. And those bakery snacks, low-fat or not, and 32-ounce sodas are adding up.Even so, adjusting your diet for better health and a better body weight is not so much about what you eat in excess, Taylor said. It's about things you need to add to your diet. That's where the new AHA guidelines come in. It's focused on food rather than math, she said, adding that the new recommendations take the emphasis off measuring and counting and reading food labels, all of which take the joy out of eating. What the guidelines say, very clearly, is that people need to eat more whole plant foods and more whole grains and legumes, such as beans and lentils. The key to healthier eating, says Taylor, is to look for food that's pretty close to its natural state. The closer food is to Mother Nature, the better it is for you.That means that apple sauce is better for you than apple juice. But an apple trumps apple sauce, not only because you get more nutrients and fiber, but at least partly because whole fruits, vegetables and grains are more satisfying and filling than the refined versions. If you eat the recommended number of servings of fruits, vegetable and grains, it crowds out the bad food, Taylor said.That's why five daily servings of fruit and vegetables and six servings of grains aren't too much. The idea is to start with those important foods, and then fill in around them with smaller amounts of lean meat, fish, cheese, yogurt and other foods - including some of the things you really like, such as an occasional doughnut. Food has to be enjoyable, Taylor said. Taylor would also like to see more emphasis on the quality of food we eat than on the quantity. And that means that if we want to improve our health, we will have to cook more of our own food. You won't find a lot of whole grains in prepared foods, she said. In trying to find ways to beat the time crunch, most of us have taken time out of the dinner hour, Taylor said, but if you give up time to cook, and eat out or pop ready-made meals in the microwave, you give up part of your health.Even adding just one or two home-cooked meals a week will help. Take it slowly, she advises, but take back one meal a week, and eat sitting down around the table with the family. Eating and talking slows down food consumption and teaches kids good food habits at the same time. You'll make more progress that way than by reading food labels, Taylor said.And eat your vegetables first. Try out new fruits and, especially, new vegetables to make things interesting while you get your five-a-day. At this time of year, squashes are fabulous, she said. And try some of the dark, leafy vegetables like kale, that you can sneak into soups and quiche.Improving your diet can make a difference to your weight, as well as your health, but you can't achieve sustained weight loss through nutrition alone, Taylor warns. Adults need 30 minutes of activity every day and kids need an hour of exercise, the more vigorous the better.You must have that activity, she said. There is no substitute. Portion size is not as important as how you use the energy.The combination of eating the right amounts of whole, close-to-nature foods and getting enough activity each day is a better recipe for weight loss and good health than any one popular diet plan, but Taylor doesn't rule out the popular diets that make the best-seller list. There's always a kernel of truth in every one, she said. And different things work for different people. It comes down to the individual, she said. That's important. Ideally, anyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health would consult a medical professional to figure out what's best for their particular needs. People with specific diseases have specific needs, and even healthy people can react differently to different diets. Doctors can help, and so can dietitians and nutritionists like Taylor, who holds a master's degree in education and an MS degree in nutrition. As soon as she has passed her boards to qualify as a registered dietitian, Taylor plans to open a practice at Coupe's Village in Coupeville working both with doctors and directly with clients to tailor specific diets for specific needs. Her phone number is 679-3363.You have to remember that people are individuals, she said. There's not one diet for everybody.But it can't hurt to eat your vegetables first.--------------Therapeutic Nutrition for a Healthy HeartLori Taylor will teach a heart healthy food class that explores how adding certain foods to your diet can help prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. She will also discuss the changing role of dietary fat in heart disease as well as different cardiac diet plans. Recipes and meal ideas provided. The class is Tuesday, Oct. 24, 7-9 p.m. at Whidbey General Hosptial. Fee: $7. Call the hospital at 678-5151 or Taylor at 679-3363. "