TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter August 2009

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Good Food

What's Good to Eat?

Does it seem that every single day somebody releases new, disturbing, and often conflicting information about what you should or shouldn't eat? Many people I know are so frustrated, they've resolved to ignore health aspects altogether... and just eat whatever they want. That's not smart. Great nutrition isn't rocket science. Common sense tells you what's good to eat: foods that are high in nutrition, that fill you up, that taste great, and won't make you fat.

I like to keep things simple. Here are six choices which have guided me to great health and significant weight loss. I choose foods that are:

  • Relatively low in fat

  • High in fiber

  • Contain lots of moisture

  • Are brightly colored

  • Have very little added sugar

  • Are as "close to nature" as possible

There's synergy among these six guidelines. You can't just take one and focus on it fanatically, to the exclusion of everything else. For example, about ten years ago "low fat" was all the rage. Manufacturers rushed out hundreds of low-fat products: cookies, salad dressings, dairy products, frozen dinners, etc (the "Snackwells Decade"). You know what happened. As a nation, we became fatter rather than thinner. To compensate for the loss in flavor caused by removing fat, manufacturers added sugar and other high-calorie ingredients.

Bottom line: it's more important to count calories than fat grams. That's why I say "relatively low fat." A certain amount of dietary fat is important both for good health and to control appetite. But fat carries a heavy payload: nine calories per gram (that's why just one ounce of cooking oil contains over 200 calories). For comparison, carbohydrates contain only four calories per gram. Unfortunately, highly processed carbs like white flour and white sugar cause those wild insulin / blood sugar swings that lead to craving and bingeing. If you want to fill up without spreading out, include more fiber in your diet. Non-soluble fiber – the kind in whole grains, vegetables, and legumes – has zero calories per gram. It passes right through us. "What good is that?" you may say. Plenty. Because it's indigestible, fiber's bulk first fills you up, then "brooms out" the toxins from your digestive tract (one of the primary reasons why a high fiber diet helps prevent colon cancer). Fiber also "buffers" the sugars and starches you eat, and slows their absorption into your bloodstream, moderating harmful insulin / blood sugar spikes.

Foods high in moisture, like fruits, vegetables, and cooked whole grains, also contribute to a feeling of fullness – without a heavy calorie load. And if you choose brightly colored fruits like berries and vegetables like green/red/yellow peppers, you'll also pick up a healthy dose of antioxidants.

A word about sugar: a teaspoon of sugar (white or otherwise) in your morning coffee won't do you any harm. However… even if you don't stop at Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts every morning, there's tons of added sugar in your diet. There's hidden sugar in almost every processed food product you buy. Take ketchup for example. It may not list "sugar" on the ingredients label, but right after tomatoes comes corn syrup. In case you didn't know, CORN SYRUP = SUGAR. Likewise, sucrose, maltose, fructose, or any other "ose" is sugar. Manufacturers have become very shrewd at hiding behind these sugar pseudonyms, often breaking up the total added sweetener into several of these terms, so that "sugar" isn't the very first ingredient listed. (Ingredients are listed in descending order of prominence by weight.) They know if you can see *sugar* is the main ingredient, you may not buy the product.

A relatively recent "advance" in food science is HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup). Manufacturers like HFCS because it's cheap and easy to process. Unfortunately for us consumers, HFCS is no health food. Consuming it will cause an especially rapid and dramatic rise in blood sugar levels… and a corresponding unhealthy swing in insulin production. Knowing this, I go out of my way to avoid HFCS and other "far from nature" ingredients.

Regarding "natural," there's one exception worth making... if you like cola and other soft drinks. Regular soda contains an astounding amount of sugar. Meanwhile, "advanced" artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet® (aspartame) and Sucralose have been repeatedly shown to be quite safe after exhaustive studies and long widespread consumption. Still… pure water is best. It's the ultimate zero calorie "back to nature" beverage.


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