Fifth in a series of Ten Habits for a Healthy Mom

By J. Ron Eaker, M.D.

My dad was the king of, “Do as I say, not as I do”.  This maxim led to 50 extra pounds, hypertension, type 2 diabetes…and an early death. In his defense, he always encouraged us to practice healthy dietary habits but there wasn’t a barbecue pork chop that didn’t have his name on it.  There is nothing better (except maybe stopping smoking) that most of us can do for our long term health than eating well.  Raised in the South, I grew up, like many of you, thinking the four food groups were doughnuts, Coke, anything fried and ice cream.  Moms set the tone for families when it comes to health, especially as it relates to diet so it’s time to take the Big Mac by the horns and steer a course for healthier meals.

Do a Dr. Google search for healthy eating and you’ll be overwhelmed by a plethora of fads, fiction and foolishness.  Let’s stroll down the reductionist’s path and break it down to a few indisputable rules. When it comes to healthy eating, simple is better so here are some simple guidelines for eating well.

Rule number one: Eat balanced meals. What your mother always taught you is true.  There is no one super food, in spite of what the algae lovers claim and there is likewise no naturally evil food (well, maybe Spam qualifies as evil).  We were created to survive on a variety of nutrients and no one food can provide everything you need so mix it up to guarantee good health.  Balance proteins, carbohydrates and fats by selecting a wide variety of foods. Spice up your life! Get crazy and try foods that don’t have burgers, bacon and barbecue in their names!   There are three sub rules in this category: eat whole foods whenever possible, mainly plants, and prepare them in as close to the natural state as you can.  In other words, don’t fry, fritter and fracture your food. And one final caveat, don’t overdo it.  How much you eat is just as important as the mix.

Rule number two: Eat low fat meals.  This is not to demonize fat but to remind you that too much grease is just not healthy.  In spite of the cacophony of nutritional advice on the Inter-web, there is not a reliable expert around who tells you to eat more lard.  Some fat is necessary but we should all limit saturated and trans fats.  These include margarine, salad dressings, processed cakes, chips, cookies and gobs of other nasties.  Become a label reader.  It’s right there in black and white.  If the serving size contains more than 5 grams of saturated fat, put the item down and run away screaming.  Total fat in your diet shouldn’t exceed 25% of total calories.  There are a number of fat counters available online so it is relatively easy to calculate how much of the grease is sliding down your gullet.  Don’t forget, there are some good fats.  For example, the omega 3 fatty acids found in abundance in some plants (flaxseed) and cold water fish (tuna, halibut) are critical in assuring good health and are essential for their anti-inflammatory actions.

Rule number three: Eat low sugar. The average person will consume 160 pounds of sugar a year!  Most sodas contain 40g of sugar in each can!  Sugar, or glucose in fancy doctor talk, is necessary for energy, yet most of us eat enough sugar to power a high school soccer team.  The low carb craze of recent vintage did make us aware of the evils of consuming too much sugar (carbohydrates=sugar) and the data supports that a low carb lifestyle is healthy. Keep in mind that your need for sugar and energy is directly proportional to your activity level.  Marathoners need more carbohydrates than chess masters.

Rule number four: Eat more fiber.  This rule may be a bit of a surprise because it doesn’t get the airplay that the other guidelines seem to enjoy. However, fiber, both soluble and insoluble, is a key component of a healthy diet.  These are things that aren’t fully metabolized in the system but serve a variety of vital functions such as binding excess cholesterol, promoting bowel health and regulating hormone levels.  The American Heart Association has stated that consuming 28 grams of fiber a day can reduce your risk of heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women.  Fiber is abundant in fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, and tree bark. (Just seeing if you were paying attention). Choosing foods high in fiber not only fulfills the need for roughage but these foods also tend to be low in calories and very filling. 

Become the “Do as I do” mom or dad and your kids (and spouse) will benefit.

This article appears in the August 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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