Knowledge Is Power — And Better Health

Remember when you were a kid in adolescence and people told you the weirdest things about sex? You learned later on that “street smart” wasn’t all that smart at all. In fact, most of that stuff was just plain wrong — or wishful thinking.

The same thing happens to food. Most schools don’t teach a lot about nutrition. Even if they do, often the information is outdated. The USDA Food Pyramid, for example, is not really right for all people. So, if you can’t even trust the federal government, what are we to do for good advice about eating?

That’s where a nutritionist or dietician comes in. They have the scientific information and practical experience to help you find plans that work for you. Everyone is different. There are general guidelines, but they are not laws. Nutrition and dietary professionals can help you make sense of conflicting information and help you figure out what will work with your lifestyle, income and obligations. They may have some suggestions about behavior modifications to make it easier or more successful to eat right and lose weight.

Meanwhile, let’s look at some basic information that’s wrong and tell you what’s right.

Low Carb diets are healthier. It’s true that some people who have used low carbohydrate diets have lost weight. I would agree that Americans eat too many simple carbohydrates for the amount of activity they engage in. Carbohydrates are fuel. We need a certain amount to keep going. No matter what kind of food, if we eat more than we need the excess is stored as fat. In fact, studies have shown that people eating high carbohydrate diets tended to eat less and were less likely to get fat. Another study showed the type of carbs matter. Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, beans and starchy vegetables, take longer to digest. That leaves you feeling fuller longer and doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar. But simple carbs, like white bread, sugar and fat-laden sauces, are more likely to cause weight gain and overall poor health.

If you eat before going to sleep, you’ll gain weight. Researchers have found that when you eat is less important than how much. It’s a simple formula: burn more calories than you take in. They found no relationship between eating just before bedtime and obesity. A smarter strategy, unless you rely on insulin injections requiring a lot of calculation, is to eat small meals more often. Five to six small meals or snacks keep your blood sugar at a more even level, thus making it less likely that your body will dump large amounts of insulin into your bloodstream. Doctors believe high amounts of insulin in the system are what leads to early incidents of Type Two diabetes and insulin resistance. Personally, I find if I eat too much too late, I have indigestion and reflux issues. But I haven’t found it affects my weight. What DOES affect your weight and health is the total number of calories you consume throughout the day. If like me, you must take insulin to control your diabetes, you can eat more small meals instead of three regular meals. But it makes management a little more difficult because you have to figure out how many carbohydrates you’re consuming in order to figure out how much insulin you need. So, if you think not eating late will help you lose weight, that’s just not true.

A little weight gain over the holidays is okay, you’ll lose it after New Year’s. Sorry, but research just doesn’t support that. They studied the holiday weight gain patterns of nearly 200 Americans in 2000. They found weight gained during the holidays was usually NOT lost by the same time next year. So, while the gain might be small, it just keeps adding up year after year.

That doesn’t mean you have to skip those big dinners and the plate of cookies at the office. It means you have to be smarter about it. Eating just a little before you go to dinner makes you less hungry and less likely to overeat or eat too much of things that hurt your health. Cutting back on the size of lunch and dinner will make up for those cookies. And exercising just a little longer will help, too.

Fresh is always better than frozen. Regular readers of The Bachelor’s Kitchen will know the answer to this one. A lot depends on where you live. If you’re in a warm climate where all kinds of produce are available locally all year round, you have very different choices than those who have cold winters. Buying fresh food that’s in season is always a good idea if it comes from a source nearby. But for many of us, fresh produce out of season means fruits and vegetables that have traveled hundreds, even thousands, of miles to get to the Produce aisle in the store. That means it has been picked way too soon, so it never gets ripe, just softer and a ripe-looking color. Some fruits and vegetables travel better than others. But frozen products are processed at the peak of their season, thus preserving nutrients and flavor better. Also, fresh produce out of season will cost you a lot more.

The “five-second rule” applies to any food that falls on the floor. I’ll agree that we Americans are germ-phobic. We use too many anti-bacterial cleansers and worry too much about nearly sterile bathrooms and kitchens. But that does not mean something that falls on the floor is safe. The idea that germs don’t have time to “jump” onto fallen food if you’re fast enough is ridiculous. However, if you have a dry tile or hardwood floor which is reasonably clean, eating a cookie off the floor probably won’t kill you. A lot depends on the type of food that falls. Scientists have found that wet foods tend to gather bacteria immediately while dry ones gather germs less quickly. So, wash it off before you eat it or throw it away.

One of the secrets to eating better is to learn more about your food. That’s why The Bachelor’s Kitchen exists. Eating better means eating smarter.