If the whole journalism thing doesn’t work out, I would gladly go to school to become a nutritionist /dietitian. I am continually trying to figure out what really is healthy and what is just an fad. It is very difficult as a consumer to decipher the good from the bad when it comes to foods, unless you want to spend hours in the grocery store reading labels.
For instance, I know that nuts are a great source of protein and generally deemed “good for you.” So, I started eating almonds as snacks (because I am allergic to peanuts.) I now know that almonds are actually high in fat (good fats, but fat nonetheless) and only appropriate in small doses. The better choice would be a walnut, which contains omega 3 and antioxidants.
So, where exactly do I turn for real health information? What is a credible source that can tell me what is actually “good for you?”
The latest in nutrition seems to be organic and natural foods, such as those offered at Whole Foods Markets. The concept makes sense, that the less processed the food product, the less chemicals you consume and the better it is for your body. But beyond that is where I fail to find clear guidelines.
Tips listed on the Whole Foods Market include:
- Simply put, eat mostly plants
- No matter what type of diet you follow — including those that incorporate dairy, meat and/or seafood — eat more plants, like raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains
- Eat a colorful variety of plants to ensure you’re getting the best nutrients for your body, which leads to feeling satiated
- Choose foods that are whole, fresh, natural, organic, local, seasonal and unprocessed
- Eliminate the consumption of refined, highly processed foods and foods void of nutrients, such as artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats
- Get your healthy fats from plant sources, such as nuts and avocados
- Minimize extracted oils and processed fats
- If eating a diet that includes animal products, choose leaner meats and seafood as well as low-fat dairy products
- Choose foods that are rich in nutrients when compared to their total caloric content; also known as foods with a high nutrient density
- Build your menus around plant-based foods to ensure highly nutrient-dense meals
- Choose foods with a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants
- Look for the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) scoring system to guide you on healthier choices
The tips have been reiterated countless times, but to really put them into practice takes more than a list of ideas. I am in search of one-on-one, customizable, personal counseling to guide me to healthy eating. Resources I am aware of are of course MyPyramid.gov and the FDA, and Cleveland Clinic Health, however, they do not provide the personalization for my peanut-allergy, fish-loathing, mushroom-and-onion-disliking self.
So, digging deeper into the Whole Foods website, I noticed more specific guidelines for the “20-39 year old woman,” which are as follows:
Reproductive health and sexual function depend on a healthy diet with adequate nutrient intake, including sufficient amounts of protein.
Protein builds and maintains muscle tissue and helps the body to heal and repair itself.
Protein is found in abundance in fish, beef, poultry, wild game, eggs, dairy products, soybeans, and legumes.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
A number of studies have found that B6 relieves PMS symptoms and decreases the intensity and duration of menstrual cramps.9
Not stored in the body, Vitamin B6 needs to be replaced by whole foods or supplements within eight hours. Good dietary sources include meats, eggs, whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. Vitamin B6 is generally available in a multivitamin formula or a basic Vitamin B complex.
The RDI for Vitamin B6 is 2 mg per day.
Folic Acid (folate)
An adequate supply of this B vitamin is important for women, in particular during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Studies have shown that supplementation with folic acid around the time of conception can reduce the risk of having a child with neural tube defects.10 Folic acid is also extremely heart-friendly.
Folic acid is found in leafy greens, citrus fruits, beans, and wheat germ, and is generally available in a multivitamin formula or a basic Vitamin B complex.
According to The National Academy of Sciences, all women of childbearing age need to have 400 micrograms daily (600 micrograms when pregnant).
Many young women do not get enough iron, a critical mineral that can be lost while menstruating.
Iron is necessary for good energy as it increases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Fatigue, weakness, pale skin and lips, and a tendency to feel cold may be signs of iron deficiency anemia.
A diet including iron-rich foods (such as, liver, lean red meat, shellfish, and dried beans) may also be complemented by a supplement.
The RDI for iron for women in this age group is 15 mg (30 mg when pregnant).
Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Grown in Mediterranean countries and central Asia, vitex has a long history of medicinal use. Well-respected as a woman’s herb, vitex was recommended by Hippocrates for a wide variety of conditions.
Although it does not contain hormones, vitex acts upon the pituitary gland to increase progesterone production and helps with regulating the menstrual cycle. One study found that women taking vitex have significant relief from symptoms ranging from breast tenderness to cramping and headaches.
Chaste Tree is available in herbal and supplement form.
And on the Cleveland Clinic Site:
If you are trying to watch your weight…
Watching your total caloric intake is important when trying to lose weight. Finding foods high in fiber can help make you feel fuller longer and helps prevent between-meal snacking. Reading food labels for serving size is also an effective measure towards weight loss.
While these tips are helpful, I am still on the look out for straight guidelines about what to eat, like specific foods to buy at the store.
Today, I visited the Whole Foods Market for the first time upon recommendation from a co-worker. Although I enjoyed a place where I know most anything I pick up is probably “good for me,” I was overwhelmed with healthy choices and options. Problems I have with grocery shopping:
- What specific products should I be looking to incorporate into my diet? So you say ____ is “good for you,” but what is the BEST kind? What, out of the ten options on the shelf, should I put in my cart?
- What actually tastes good? You say flax seed is “good for you,” but how can I sneak it into my diet in a way that actually tastes good? I have definitely had my share of healthy foods that end up tasting terrible.
I wish I could just have a personal health guru by my side to make me a shopping list of delicious, healthy, affordable products. But until that day, please share any resources to help make good decisions!