Just how do I track these things, anyway?
Many products are now labeled with their caloric, fat, cholesterol, and sodium levels, and that is of enormous help in becoming nutritionally aware. Become label conscious. Read labels both for the ingredients in the products you eat, as well as their nutritional breakdown. For other items, you will need a guide that provides the nutritional breakdown of foods. A brief guide is provided in appendix 2, “Nutritional Content of Food,” in this book, which should be adequate to get started. If you would like a more comprehensive listing of foods, I recommend Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, by Jean A. T. Pennington and Helen Nichols Church. It is a wonderfully complete and accurate guide-a real bible of nutrition. I find it quite interesting just to read different sections to see how different foods compare.
Now you’re being sarcastic.
Well, how many people really want to read a book of foods and their nutritional breakdown?
Okay, you don’t have to read it, but it is an invaluable reference guide.
Now, what about more complex foods, such as prepared foods either from a can or a restaurant?
You have to use your judgment. Compare it to foods that you do know the nutritional content of. As you have more experience, you will become better at estimating. Do the best you can; your estimates will be more accurate than you think.
Let’s review exactly what I am supposed to eat.
The heart and soul of this diet are grains in forms as natural and unprocessed as possible. Grains can be cooked and eaten directly; they can be cooked with vegetables in casseroles; they can be eaten in salads and in many other ways. Grains are also the primary ingredient in a variety of other desirable foods, such as breads, cereals, and pastas. Grains are a relatively complete food. They are primarily complex carbohydrates but also include protein, fiber, small amounts of essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
There are three considerations that are worth mentioning with regard to grains. First, eat a variety of grains. Don’t get all of your grain calories from a single grain, such as wheat. In addition to wheat, which is ubiquitous in the United States, there are oats, rice, rye, barley, triticale, buckwheat, millet, and many others. Each grain has a different balance of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids, so distributing your intake among different grains is important. Second, try to avoid breads, cereals, pastas, and other grain-based products that are high in fat, eggs, salt, and sugar. Again, read your food labels. A slice of bread with 70 to 100 calories should not exceed 2 grams of fat, preferably 1. It is desirable not to have eggs listed as an ingredient. Sugar (or its synonyms, such as glucose, sucrose, dextrose, honey, molasses, maple syrup) should not be among the first several ingredients on the ingredients list. Finally, try to eat grains in as unprocessed a state as possible. Processing and refining tend to strip away the valuable fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.
What else can I eat besides grains?
Legumes and Vegetables
Next to grains, legumes such as beans (including soybeans), peas, and lentils are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, soluble fiber, protein, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients. They also make nutritious and tasty casseroles when cooked with various grains.
Next, we move to vegetables, all of which are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and other nutrients. You can eat all vegetables except olives and avocados.
Fruit and Dairy
You’re really catching on now. Fruits and fruit juices are fine, and provide a blend of complex and simple carbohydrates, along with other nutrients. Eat as much in whole-fruit form as possible to get the optimal amount of fiber.
Another important category are dairy products made with skim milk. One percent (fat by weight) milk is acceptable, although 2 percent milk is much too high in fat. Skim and very low fat (1 percent) milk provide a broad variety of products: milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, non-fat frozen yogurt (instead of ice cream), and a variety of very low fat cheeses. These are sometimes hard to find, but it is worth seeking them out to provide greater variety in your diet. Milk products are excellent sources of protein, iron, and calcium.
Egg whites are low in fat but provide protein and other nutrients and are quite useful as egg substitutes in recipes.
Meat and Fish
Finally, we come to very lean meat and fish. This is an acceptable category, but you have to limit the quantity. As I discussed earlier, I recommend limiting lean meat or fish to around 4 ounces per day, although it is possible to stay under 10 percent calories from fat while eating as much as 8 ounces of lean meat or fish. Meat is limited to very lean grades of beef or pork, or white meat chicken or turkey cooked without the skin. The skin is nearly 100 percent fat. If you leave the skin on while cooking, the skin bastes the meat with saturated fat. Also, avoid self-basting chickens and turkeys, as the basting liquid that is injected in the bird is nearly 100 percent fat. Very lean grades of beef, such as flank and round steak, are acceptable.
Preferable to meat is fish. While fish also contains relatively high levels of fat, the fat is rich in omega-3 fats, which in many individuals is beneficial in thinning the blood and possibly reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It is important that the preparation process not add fats or oils. Meat and fish can be baked in a tomato-based sauce, steamed, poached, grilled, or broiled in wine, defatted chicken stock, or low-sodium soy sauce. Also acceptable are clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops. Shrimp and lobster contain moderate amounts of cholesterol and should be eaten in limited amounts.
Perhaps the most important point is to eat a broad variety of foods. This will avoid taste fatigue and will provide all of the proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need. By eating a variety of foods, you will not need vitamin or mineral supplements, with the exception of calcium for certain individuals. It is far preferable to obtain your vitamins and minerals from food rather than from a pill or capsule. Vitamins and minerals in food tend to be in the right proportions and are in a form that is easily absorbed and utilized by the body.
Do I have to throw out all of our recipes and start over?
In general, recipe conversion is relatively straightforward. In the recipe conversion guide in chapter 13, “How to Eat Revisited,” I have provided a number of substitutions that, on the whole, work quite well. You will have to experiment since some of these substitutions may require minor adjustments in preparation and cooking. As a rule of thumb, try to convert recipes that already contain some healthy ingredients. If you have to substitute every ingredient in the recipe, it may be an interesting experiment, but it probably will not be successful. In addition to converting your existing recipes, a number of recipes are contained at the end of this book. Chapter 14, “Quick-and-Lean Cuisine from the Kurzweil Kitchen,” also contains a list of cookbooks that follow the guidelines of the 10% solution.
Okay, now what about restaurants.
The most important resources you will need in restaurants are a little common sense and patience. With a little practice, you should have no difficulty staying very close to these guidelines. In general, the better the restaurant the more willing they will be to accommodate your needs. Joe’s Hamburger Heaven and your local greasy spoon may be less willing to modify their cuisine. For the most part American restaurants are not unfamiliar with patrons asking for low-fat, low-cholesterol items. You may find greater resistance and ignorance on these subjects in a number of European countries. Asian cuisine (as served in Asia), however, is often close to ideal, although Japanese food is very high in salt.
Explain your needs in a patient way to your waiter or waitress. Ask that foods be baked, grilled, or broiled in wine, low-fat chicken stock, water, or even dry. Ask them to hold the oil, butter, margarine, mayonnaise, cream and cream-based sauces, egg yolks, and cheese. You may need some persistence. Most waiters have relatively little knowledge of nutrition, and they may not be familiar with the ingredients or nutritional content of their menu. Nondescript sauces are suspect-they will often contain cream, oil, or butter. See the guide for dining out in chapter 13, “How to Eat Revisited,” for suggestions of items you can order in different types of continental and ethnic restaurants.
Keep your priorities in mind. Fat and cholesterol are the primary substances to avoid unless you are hypertensive, in which case sodium should have equal priority. In general, your first dietary concern should be fat and cholesterol, then sodium, and then sugar.
You know, it’s not easy to hold a lengthy negotiation with a waiter, especially if you are with other people.
It usually does not need to be lengthy. By selecting your items carefully and using a few well-chosen words, you should be able to communicate your needs without much difficulty. In your hometown, as well as places that you travel to frequently, try to find particular restaurants that you know can follow the guidelines. Ultimately, it should require very little negotiation once the restaurants become familiar with your needs. But being responsive to the social aspects of dining is one reason that it is important to keep your priorities in mind when dining out.
Any other situations worth being aware of?
If you are invited to a party, it makes sense to discuss your dietary needs with the host or hostess. Explain that you do not wish to put them to any significant trouble. Usually, some minor adjustments will enable you to eat many of the items being prepared. These may include such accommodations as putting your potatoes or vegetables aside before they are doused with a cheese or cream-based sauce. It is better to discuss this issue in advance rather than frustrate both the host and yourself by eating little of what is served.
Functions such as luncheons and planned dinners are relatively straightforward. Call ahead and explain your needs. When traveling, call your airline at least twenty-four hours ahead and order a “low-fat, low-cholesterol” meal. I have also had success ordering a meal that is “vegetarian, no egg or dairy” You can specify this when you order your tickets. Taking some condiments with you when you travel to a foreign country, such as non-fat milk powder and no-oil salad dressing, is also a good idea.
What about other family members?
I’m glad you mentioned that, because a supportive and cooperative environment is very important to successfully changing your habits. Ideally, your family will follow the same diet. As I explained earlier, children may eat a somewhat higher level of fat than 10 percent (I recommend 20 to 25 percent), but there is no reason why they cannot eat the same foods that are prepared for you. If everyone in your household eats a similar diet, then preparation is greatly simplified, and you will feel supported in your efforts.
What if I can’t get my spouse to adopt the same approach?
Hopefully your spouse will at least support your own efforts, if not actually adopt the diet. While it is easier and more enjoyable to approach this as a mutual effort, you have to take responsibility yourself for your own health and well-being. Keep in mind that it’s your body and your job to keep it healthy.
It is not a good idea to be too aggressive in promoting your dietary approach with others, even your own family. You can explain what you are doing, why it makes sense, and how it has become an enjoyable way to eat and live. People will notice that you look and feel good and that you are enthusiastic about your life-style.
You could also write a book on the subject.
Hey, that’s a great idea.