WHO HAS TIME to solve the ancient mystery of the food pyramid? I mean, I get it, but real life keeps getting in the way. Who can tell the difference between a portion and a serving? And who expects me to know that two tablespoons of peanut butter amount to the size of a Ping-Pong ball?
I'm guessing most of us just wing nutrition. We're too busy, too lazy, too cavalier or too bamboozled by the super-size mentality. I am not going to measure the amount of rice I eat, but I will keep in mind what's good for me, as long as I don't have to think about it too much.
I asked Lola O'Rourke, a registered dietitian and area spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, to teach me a few simple principles that we can take with us to control weight and stay healthy, too. "Simple" means you have to supply the details, but here are key principles:
Cut down. If you can't handle or don't want to be measuring precise servings, try cutting your normal portions by a third and see where that leads you. It should go without saying, but cutting down means no second helpings. If you stop at the fast-food window, order a regular burger instead of the larger one. It'll save you about 150 calories. Small fries instead of the super-size option save you 300. Get the smaller soda and save 150. That's 600 calories saved. Now, that's a deal.
Slow down. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to get the message that you've eaten enough food, so if you're chowing down in a hurry, it will likely get the message too late. This can be hard when you're eating on the run or trying to fit an hour lunch break into 15 minutes. But taking a break has all kinds of benefits, even to the employer.
Fruits and veggies. O'Rourke suggests that half your plate be filled with fruits and vegetables. "They are really great for losing weight and maintaining health. There's no bad stuff with them. You can hardly overdo it." Substituting, say, an apple for chips saves a large amount of calories and is better for you. A win-win.
Don't skip meals. Skipping meals during the day sets you up for overindulgence later, and often involving whatever is convenient.
Balance. Try to get protein, fat and carbohydrates in all your meals. For breakfast, get more creative than toast and orange juice.
Pay attention. "There is so much mindless eating," she says. "I suggest people try to keep a food journal and note what they eat and how much, what they were doing and feeling. The first stop in changing behavior is knowing what's going on. Maybe you'll find a walk would do the trick, if you're stressed, instead of eating."
For those who want to be slightly more precise, the American Cancer Society says that one cup of chopped vegetables is the size of a baseball; one ounce of cheese is about the size of four die.
If you want someone to do your own planning and thinking for you, Allrecipes.com might be worth a try. I was impressed by its "Nutri-Planner," a subscription service that costs $36 a year. Its mission is to make nutritious eating easy. I started by creating my profile, which included my stature, age, activity level and goal (general fitness). The site's calculator pegged my suggested caloric intake at 2,272 a day. I could then choose from a menu of menus to create my own daily meal plan.
The Nutri-Planner also provided me with totals of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, saturated fats, cholesterol, fiber and sodium, as well as guidelines from the company's nutritional advisory panel and health organizations. If I wasn't meeting my desired nutrition, I could add or subtract food items until my goals were met.
Although I wouldn't stray from the set menu, which you can pre-plan for a week or month ahead, some folks likely would want to mix and match by making their item-by-item selections from the "pantry." About 23,000 recipes are in the Nutri-Planner.
When I typed in muffin, the planner gave me a vast number of choices, complete with star ratings, calories and cooking times When I went to the meal-planning part, I typed in "muffin" and got 24 options. I clicked on blueberry muffin and got a rundown on what percent of fat, protein and carbs came with it. I could check foods by category. For instance, I learned that an Asian salad is three times more fattening than a recipe for cucumber slices with dill.
If you're serious about eating right without much thought, and you're comfortable in a kitchen, it might help.
Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. Boo Davis is a Seattle Times staff artist.
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