A recent Gallup poll succeeded in shocking me. It found that healthful eating is at its lowest point since 2008. Considering the resurgence of quinoa, organic foods, specialty markets, etc., I honestly would have expected a different result. However, the survey found that for every month during 2013, Americans reported they were eating worse than during the same month in 2012. Some of the reasons given included economics and the recent recession (making fast food "dollar menus" look attractive), along with the rising cost of fruits and vegetables. Just what is a "good" or "bad" diet? Planning a business lunch recently, I carefully took into account those who were lactose free, gluten free, vegan...it was quite a challenge, and one is not necessarily better than another. Nonetheless, it is clear to all of us that soda, candy, doughnuts, Wonder Bread and Oreos generally don't hit that high bar for excellence in nutrition. What we eat has a significant impact on our health. Here are some helpful suggestions to help you get a healthy start for the new year: *Avoid "white' foods, "fast" foods, and "fried" foods. Choose items that are as close to their natural state as possible. *Carbohydrates should be our main food source. "Simple" carbohydrates include white bread, white rice, white pasta, and sugar products. However, these simple carbohydrates wreak havoc on our ability to regulate sugar levels, and are generally empty calories. On the other hand, vegetables, fruits and whole grains represent far more nutritious complex carbohydrates. *Protein is a necessary part of our diet. Protein is abundant in meat, ice cream and cheese. Of course, these sources of protein are high in calories and artery-clogging saturated fats. More reasonable protein sources include fish, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy, poultry, soy, and quinoa. *Fats have a bad reputation, but are nonetheless necessary. They typically make up about 30% of the calories in the typical American diet; 20% would be desirable. Saturated fats come from animal sources such as meat, cheese, ice cream, butter and eggs, as well as palm kernel oil. They contribute to plugged arteries, heart disease and strokes. Focus instead on unsaturated fats, found in olive oil, avocados, peanut butter, rapeseed oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds. A healthier diet needn't take more effort. Always look for 100% whole grains. Choose foods as close to their natural state as possible; most processed foods offer reduced nutritional value. I have heard the excuses for using processed or fast foods: "I don't have the time," "I'm only cooking for one." But remember that it is now easier than ever to buy bags of pre-washed vegetables, fish and chicken filets for the freezer, and many more simple alternatives. Make more thoughtful choices when food shopping during this coming year, and your body will reward you! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: Dec. 12, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 35