Health & Fitness

For six years now we’ve badgered you about WHAT – and what not -- to eat for longer, healthier lives without sacrificing the pleasure of food. Many of those articles on WHAT to eat include tips on how to buy and prepare healthy, delicious food, but most of the HOW advice is hidden and scattered under WHAT titles. It’s time to bring the HOWS out of their scattered closets, give them the title role, and assemble them into a coherent plan. This plan will help you move many things from the forbidden foods list to at least the rare treat list, often even to the everyday good foods list.

Many people can burn their diet books if they follow these principles of healthy eating, implied often in this column’s archives at the ISSUES tab to your left:

  1. Stop buying crap.
  2. Stop cooking good ingredients in crappy ways.

If you find the word “crap” offensive, good. If your kids read it, good. We should all learn from an early age to regard inherently harmful foods and cooking methods as offensive. Your kids can have a lot of fun being the family Crap Police (OK, Fat Police in public).

As a refresher, here’s a brief list of crap we should avoid:
  • Chips.
  • Dips.
  • Most sauces and dressings, including the ones in so many packaged foods.
  • Butter.
  • Margarine.
  • Any form of bread or cereal with less than 3 grams of fiber per 50 gram serving.
  • Ice cream.
  • Bacon.
  • Donuts.
  • Cookies.
  • Crackers.
  • Pastries.
  • Frozen breakfast crap.
  • Candy.
  • Pre-packaged commercial lunch meat.
  • Poultry skin or dark meat.
  • Corn dogs, Twinkies, and almost all similar man-made products.
  • Hamburgers.
  • Almost all fast food.
  • Shakes.
  • Fries.
  • Deep fried or breaded anything.
  • Anything Alfredo.
  • Alcohol beyond a shot or two per day.
  • Whole milk (1% tastes great after a week on the milk wagon).
  • Cream.
  • Long-term, low-carb diets*.
  • Canned soups, stews, chili, ravioli, etc. with double-digit fats per can (not just per serving).
  • Solid shortenings.
  • Chowder.
  • Crap helper (hamburger helper, etc.).
  • Store-bought granolas, trail mix, etc.
  • Most power/energy/health bars.
  • Fried (tempura) oriental foods.
  • Almost any “food”, especially the countertop crap, at a gas station.
  • Pizza.
  • Most packaged meals, especially upscale TV dinners.
* The Atkins conglomerate recently admitted their followers eat too much saturated fat. Their updated diet is a little bit safer, but still not even close to the far superior South Beach diet. It would not be surprising if The Atkin$ Machine i$$ue$ another book just for this slight improvement.

Whew. Need a breath.

  • Gravy.
  • Toppings, such as chocolate or caramel.
  • Burritos, tacos, enchiladas, refritos (refried beans), etc.
  • Cake.
  • Pie.
  • Calzones, ravioli, etc.
  • Cheese.
  • Quantities of red meat (beef, pork … mammals in general).
  • Yogurt.

If that’s your grocery list, there’s a good side: it means there’s room for major, easy improvement in your diet. It’s easy to go cold turkey on the crap above the “whew”, and you won’t even miss most of it. Better yet, the list below the “whew” is easy to buy and prepare in very healthy, tasty ways. In fact, if we eat right most of the time, occasional moderate raids above the “whew” are fine.

To wean yourselves of the crap above the “whew” line, study the list and your grocery nutrition labels (see Feb 2001 H&F) to identify it, then consciously scorn it. Keep it out of your grocery basket, your car, your home, your fingers, your face, your school menus. Don’t pick it up at parties or the office. Learn what to eat instead of crap, such as olive oil instead of butter/margarine and whole wheat Fig Newtons (aka the Anti-Oreo) instead of most other cookies. (Betcha can eat just one!) Tell friends you plan to stop eating from the first list and encourage them to razz you if you backslide.

Below the “whew” lies room for a great deal of culinary pleasure and healthy eating, as long as we select and prepare it right. All this can be bought in low fat versions and prepared in ways to cut the damage even further while enhancing the flavor. (Watch out; low-fat often means high sugar, 90% fat-free = 10% fat, and the sat fat in even low-fat burgers is a far bigger threat than mad cow disease.) My wife’s enchiladas and fajitas and lasagna and stews and chili and casseroles are high in fiber and good fats and very low in bad fats, and taste better than most restaurant versions. Their only penalty is the calories in the second or third plateful, but at least those can be burned off in exercise. (The bad fats ubiquitous in the above lists harm us even if we burn their calories off.)

Her shopping and preparation methods are a blueprint for healthy, delicious, diet-free, satisfying eating. Read the labels on the ingredients you buy to keep sat fats down. Put plenty of the inherently healthy, low-fat foods such as vegetables, fruit, and whole grains in your market basket and make them the predominant food in your life. Replace sat-fat-laden ingredients with low-fat versions or cut them way back or leave them out altogether (very few recipes need butter/margarine), and use seasonings to replace any lost flavor. The results usually taste better than the old recipe and are far healthier.

Take fajitas. Tortillas, meat, diced tomatoes, salsa, several kinds of mild and/or hot peppers, sour cream, guacamole, green chile sauce, cheeses, sweet onions, and beans. Sounds like a laser-guided fat bomb targeted on your heart, doesn’t it? No way; this is an excellent, heart-healthy meal, a gastronomic delight, and an extremely simple meal to prepare.

Buy low- or no-fat tortillas, sour cream, cheeses, and refritos (or just use beans). Experiment to your tastes; some low-fat foods taste too healthy, but it’s easy to cut fat by 80-90% with very little flavor loss. Buy low-fat meat such as shrimp or other seafood, skinless chicken breast, plus maybe a little very lean beef or pork for variety. Avocados (for the guacamole) are high in healthy fat, and the guacamole you make in minutes from fresh avocados and a guacamole seasoning package is far tastier and healthier than most restaurant versions. The primary ingredients in fajitas should be veggies -- heaps of red, green, orange, and yellow bell peppers, plus hot peppers if you like, and onions, especially the sweet varieties. Try mushrooms, too.

Now that you’ve brought home food instead of crap, fix it to further cut bad fats. Discard any visible fat from the meat. Cut up the meat and veggies (a great 8” chef’s knife is worth every cent of $90) and toss them on a Teflon griddle wiped with olive oil. Heap that on a plate-sized, low-fat, whole wheat tortilla, add beans and cheeses and salsa or tomatoes and fake sour cream, sprinkle on seasonings such as southwest blend, fajita blend, seasoned pepper, maybe a dash of cinnamon and paprika, roll it up (bet it won’t fit!), pin it with a toothpick, pour red or green chile sauce (New Mexico’s state question is “Red or Green?”) over it, nuke it to make sure it’s all hot and to melt the cheeses, slap on some guacamole, put on your raincoat, and dig in. Repeat until satisfied. Man, what’s not to like about that!? Your tongue, tummy, pocketbook, kids, spouse, guests, and hearts will all love that meal.

Fix all your food, regardless of its ethnic origin, with these principles and you’ll be a fuller, more satisfied, lighter, happier person than those poor souls who feel they have to be on some kind of DIET to stay healthy or who blow off their health because they think it requires giving up delicious food. Bolster healthy eating with exercise and you can eat all you want most of the time. Don’t forget -- the more veggies, whole grains, and fruit you eat, the more nutrition you’re getting and the less room you have for crap. A great meal should look like a bomb went off in the produce section as a chicken was passing by and should smell like the lawn mower ran over the herb garden again.

In general, when cooking from recipes or mixes, use olive oil (flavor) or canola oil (almost no taste) instead of butter/margarine and use much less of it. Use low-fat cake mixes. Ask Google about “fat substitutes”; there are many. Cook it right: grille, griddle, microwave, stir-fry in a dash of healthy oil, bake, broil, boil, steam … anything but fry it in animal fat.

Even great desserts can be prepared in healthy ways. Pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie are almost as healthy as their parent vegetables when done right. Cream pies -- chocolate, coconut, custard, lemon – can be fat- and calorie-free. Heaps of fresh strawberries buried in chocolate or vanilla pudding, a huge chunk of angel food cake buried in berries and a compatible topping … these aren’t sins or relapses, folks; these are good, healthy foods that happen to taste like a tub of heaven … if.

If you skip the pie crusts (pure crap) altogether. If you use low- or no-fat evaporated milk, toppings, puddings and cream-pie fillings. If you cover these delights in fat/sugar-free fake whipped cream such as Cool Whip. You’ll never miss the crust, and your homemade angel food cake is far better tasting and far healthier than the store-bought version.

Too much work? Cook large quantities and freeze meals. It’s just one meal a day, because lunch and breakfast and snacks are so simple even a man or teenager can fix them. Breakfast, if you haven’t yet decided to swap breakfast and supper (May 98 H&F), is a big bowl of whole-grain cold or hot cereal, buried in fruits and nuts, especially walnuts. Throw a heap of dried fruit chunks (raisins are great) in the oatmeal (the real version, not the instant crap) along with the brown sugar and cinnamon while it’s cooking. Serve with whole wheat toast or low-fat, high-fiber muffins and one of the fat-free liquid butter/margarine substitutes. Add eggs now and then. Don’t skimp on breakfast; it’s vital to your energy and to weight management. Lunch is some combination of whole wheat bread, peanut butter, occasionally a little fresh-sliced lean deli meat and low-fat cheese and mustard, beans, fruit, salad, low-fat fruit yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, a low-fat sub on a whole wheat bun. Sweeten anything to taste with Equal or Splenda.

If you eat this way and remain overweight, the obvious solutions include more veggies, fruit, and whole grains, less crap, and more exercise. Most people manage their weight fine this way, and our hearts love it. Now go play and work up a good appetite.

That’s the way to manage your weight and health.

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