One of my favorite Jack LaLane’s quotes concerning diet is “If nature made it, eat; if man made it, don’t.” That’s because most of these natural foods are usually rich in all of the ‘good’ stuff-fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and low in the ‘bad’ stuff-saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars. For example, when you refine a grain, as is done with white flour, you strip off its nutrient-rich outer coating; and when you create highly processed snack foods like chips or cookies, they often contain added salt, sugar, and fats. In an ideal world, the most wholesome diet you could imagine would feature foods prepared from scratch without the addition of copious amounts of salt, sugar, and fat. If you made just one change in your diet for better health, the biggest bang for the buck would be transitioning to a diet based on whole foods. But most of us don’t have the time or desire to do this every day, and some foods may not be available in your region year-round. If you have to buy processed foods, remember that food processing is a continuum, ranging from minimally processed to heavily processed. Canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are minimally processed foods, while candy and frosted donuts are heavily processed. Highly processed foods such as refined carbohydrates have a lower nutrient profile, and they are much lower in fiber (which makes you feel fuller-this is important, especially if you’re trying to lose weight). If you’re unable to use foods in their whole or natural state, try to use minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods in your diet; just read the labels (and the serving sizes) to ensure that they are low in added sugars and salt. I found a good article on whole foods and a food chart in the May 2012 edition of Environmental Nutrition. Animal Products: Fresh milk, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, fresh or frozen fish, poultry or meat (with no added ingredients). Grains: Whole grains in their natural form (whole kernels) or made into 100% whole grain flour, such as oats, wheat, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, brown rice. Legumes: Dried beans, lentils, peas, and minimally processed soy (edamame, tempeh, tofu) in their natural form, including canned or cooked (no salt added). Nuts/Seeds: Walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios, sesame, sunflower, flax, and hemp; butters made out of nuts and seeds (with no added ingredients). Fruits: Whole fresh, canned, frozen, and dried (no added sugar) fruits such as berries, citrus, pears, grapes, melons, peaches, cherries, bananas, mango, and plums. Vegetables: Whole fresh, canned, frozen, and dried (no added salt) vegetables such as greens, lettuce, cucumber, squash, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and broccoli.

In staying with the healthy eating topic, a new twist on an old trend is coming back onto the food scene-eating the whole plant, from stem to root. We normally lop off and discard broccoli stems, carrot tops, and woody ends from asparagus without a thought. With the new emphasis  toward sustainability and lowering your ‘carbon footprint’, a new generation is discovering what was commonplace just a couple of generations ago; eating all of the plant. Today, hardly anyone knows that cauliflower leaves are edible and nutritious, that beet greens are loaded with nutrients and taste great when sautéed, or that broccoli stalks are superb when shaved into a salad. Citrus rinds make an excellent zest for sauces or salads, and contain most of the nutrients. Note: if you are going to eat roots or rinds, organic is the best way to go to protect against consuming too many pesticides and fertilizers. Here’s a partial list, again from the May 2012, edition of Environmental Nutrition.  Greens or tops from carrots, beets, or turnips; sautéed, use in smoothies, steep to make tea. Leaves from Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery: Flavor and garnish salads and soups. Stems from chard, kale, collards: Braise or saute. Stalks from broccoli, asparagus ends: Sliver for slaw; coin or cut into dipping sticks for humus, tsaziki. Peels from potato and citrus: Bake potato peels for snacks; use citrus for zest. Rinds from watermelon: Cut outer peel and eat for snacks or in salads. A note on the latest study regarding high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). There is growing concern that HFCS  intake may lead to greater health risks like kidney disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, researchers compared the effects of a 24 ounce beverage sweetened with HFCS or sucrose (table sugar) among 40 adults. The HFCS-sweetened group resulted in significantly higher levels of fructose circulating in the body and higher metabolic biomarkers, including blood pressure levels, than the sucrose-sweetened group. The study was published in the journal Metabolism, December 7, 2011.

Eat well, stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.