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Healthy Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning For Your Health

Spring is finally here, I can’t wait to start working outside and plant my garden.  I would imagine everyone is contemplating items on their spring cleaning list.  For those of you who have been thinking about eating healthier or dropping a few pounds, I have a suggestion for a little spring cleaning project.  Clean out your pantry, refrigerator and freezer.  Donate what you can to a charity or throw away all of those guilty pleasures and unhealthy processed foods.  

Processed foods fill the kitchens of America, making it convenient to have a quick snack or create a meal.  There are a few processed foods that are healthy, but nutrition studies prove time and again that diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods contribute to poor health. It may be difficult to get rid of all processed foods in your household, but I have a few quick tips to make your kitchen a little healthier.

When moving toward a healthy diet, many people buy processed foods that appear to be healthy.  Packaged foods make claims like "Multi-Grain", "All Natural", "No Artificial Colors", "Made with Real Vegetables" or  other catchy marketing phrases, but that doesn't mean they are healthy.  For instance, Multi-Grain simply means that they may have added a small amount of several varieties of grain, none of which are required to be whole grains.  For the most benefit, processed grain based food such as bread and tortillas should be made from 100% whole grain, and that is how the ingredients list should read.  Enriched wheat flour as the first ingredient is your warning sign that the item is not made from whole grains.

Fiber - the 5 to 1 Rule

All fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds in their natural state contain fiber.  Processing things like wheat into white flour removes most of the fiber and nutrients.  Fiber has many health benefits and most Americans get about half of the recommended fiber intake. The American Heart Association recommends between 25 and 30 grams of fiber daily, while most Americans get around 15 grams. In my opinion, the recommended intake is a minimum, and doubling that minimum has shown to increase the benefits.  (Fiber Information)

You should be getting your fiber from whole fruits and vegetables, but you can check your processed foods to see if they meet certain guidelines.  Look at the nutrition information on the product, and look for the total carbohydrates and the total grams of fiber.  For every 1 gram of fiber, there should be no more than 5 grams of carbohydrates.  If a packaged food has 2 grams of fiber and 30 grams of carbohydrates it doesn’t make the cut.  You can easily calculate this by multiplying the grams of fiber by 5, and the number should be greater than or equal to the total grams of carbohydrates. If it has 6 grams of fiber and 30 grams of carbohydrates, you can keep it. (6 x 5 = 30)  I have read where some people recommend a 10 to 1 fiber ratio, but for me a 10 to 1 rule means that I am eating a highly processed food.  Some exceptions to this rule are whole foods that are minimally processed, such as old fashioned rolled oats, which are around a 7 to 1 ratio.  If it is a minimally processed whole food with only one or two ingredients, you can keep it with a fiber ratio closer to 10 to 1.

Sodium - Is the number less than calories?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends keeping your sodium intake under 2,300 milligrams per day.  According to The National Heart Lung and Blood Association, 500 milligrams of sodium is a safe daily minimum.  Depending on activity levels, most people can survive on 500 to 1000 milligrams of sodium daily, and excess sodium can be dangerous and contribute to hypertension and heart failure. (Excess Sodium Information

The average person consumes between 1,800 and 2,500 calories per day.  The easiest way to watch your sodium intake is to make sure there are fewer milligrams of sodium than there are calories in the food you eat.  For example, potato chips that have 170 milligrams of sodium per serving and 160 calories per serving need to be tossed into the trash!  Make sure to pay attention to serving size when reading a nutrition facts label.  Most processed foods contain more than one serving per package, and the nutrition information is based on serving size not package size.  You may be surprised when you realize you just ate two or three "recommended servings" and you total up the calories and sodium. 

The skinny on fats

Fat intake, especially saturated fat should be as low as possible, and trans fat intake should be zero.  Studies have proven that trans fats raise cholesterol levels and are harmful to health.  The FDA defined some ground rules for trans fats and is requesting they be removed from all processed food, but there are still trans fats in some of the food you eat today.   FDA has set compliance guidelines starting June 18, 2018, that human food must no longer contain partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat), but the guidelines also state that certain uses of trans fats may be authorized by FDA.  Apparently, they are allowing some manufacturers to continue using trans fats in their processed foods.  (Link to the FDA article)  There are naturally occurring trans fats, but they exist only in animal fat, so eating meat or dairy products will result in a dietary intake of trans fat.

Saturated fat is more concentrated in animal products than in most plants; however, coconut oil, palm kernel and palm oils are higher in saturated fat than butter.  This doesn't mean butter is healthy, it means coconut oil is not the health food everyone thought it was.  (Information on Coconuts

All fat contains 9 calories per gram.  If your bag of chips has 4 total grams of fat, with 2 grams of saturated fat per serving, that means there are 36 calories from fat in total, and 18 of those calories come from the saturated fat (9 x 2 = 18).  If the total calories per serving are 100, then the total fat contributes 36% of the calories (36 / 100 = 0.36 or 36%) and the saturated fat contributes 18% of the total calories.  

The dietary reference intake (DRI) for fat in adults is 20% to 35% of total calories from fat, with no more than 10% coming from saturated fat.  The chips in the previous example do not meet either recommendation, so they need to go in the trash.  For optimum health, you should really shoot for the lower end of the DRI range.  

There are a few exceptions to this rule; for example, the calories from saturated fat in an avocado are about 11%, but an avocado is a non-processed whole food so it is considered a healthy option for obtaining some fat in your diet.  The key to healthy fat intake is to get it from a whole food, not processed foods or refined oils.  Eat the whole coconut and throw out the processed coconut oil, and eat the olives rather than using olive oil.

Replacement Options

Once you have removed the unhealthy foods from your kitchen, you might be wondering what foods should replace the foods donated or discarded.  The simplest answer is to buy foods that do not have a nutrition label, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  Low sodium canned beans and tomatoes are also healthy options, as are frozen vegetables that do not contain special seasoning or seasoning packets.  Frozen fruits and vegetables are often more healthy than fresh because they are picked at the peak of ripeness, quickly blanched and flash frozen, which preserves many of the nutrients.  Fresh vegetables and fruits are often picked before they are fully ripe so they can handle transportation and warehousing before arriving at the grocery store.

If you are going to purchase processed foods, the healthiest foods you find in a package typically have five or fewer ingredients.   Check the ingredients list, the law requires that the largest proportion of ingredients by weight must be listed first.  Oils, sugars, and salts should be listed last on the list of ingredients, or better yet, purchase packaged items that do not contain those items.

A good spring cleaning of your kitchen can definitely help you reach your health goals!

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