It can be difficult to know which foods are the healthiest, especially when you are away from home. That's why I found it interesting that New York City is trying to require that McDonald's and other restaurant chains post their calorie counts on the menu board. But something didn't sit right with me about that approach. How can they require that of one sort of restaurant and not another?
Are they going to require that Le Cirque list calories on its menu too? You may think that if you are lucky enough to go to Le Cirque, it's a special occasion and you don't want to think about calories. But how I feel about going out for a special meal at a fancy restaurant may be exactly the same as how someone else feels at McDonalds: They just want to enjoy the food and not be forced to think about calories.
On the other hand, we should all learn the skills needed to choose wisely between different options. But do we need numbers by our choices to help us? How do you figure out which foods are good for you?
No one makes good choices every time, but it helps to at least know which choice is better when alternatives are presented. Why are sweet potato fries a little better for you than regular French fries? (Answer: strongly-colored foods tend to have more vitamins.) Where does a salad hide its calories and fat? (Answer: the dressing).
These recommendations are here to guide your choices. As you make small changes, hopefully you will develop good habits that will serve you and your children well throughout your lifetimes.
- Eat mostly vegetables and fruits--strong colors tend to be the most vitamin-rich.
- Get sources of protein from chicken, lean meats, fish (choose fish that tend to be low in mercury), tofu, or low-fat dairy sources. If you are vegan vegetarian, you will need to learn about nutrition to meet your protein and vitamin needs.
- Take in most of your carbs as whole grains: brown rice and whole wheat. Downplay white foods.
- Don't drink your calories--our bodies don't know when we take in liquid nutrition and oftentimes we don't count it in our daily intake. Sodas and juices contain a lot of calories.
- Eat food that looks like food, not processed into something else.
- Eat what your appetite tells you to--eat when you are hungry, take your time, and stop just before you are full.
- When you do eat foods that are not "ideal," take a small portion, and enjoy every minute of it.
- If you eat from stress, habit, boredom, or to socialize, find alternative ways to meet those needs. Keep your hands busy, go for a walk, listen to music, phone a friend.
- Pay attention to your food while you are eating it. Don't watch television or read, or you may eat more than you meant to and still not really be satisfied.
Habits are hard to change, but when we get used to making good food choices and eating to allay hunger (as opposed to the myriad other reasons we eat), we can all really enjoy the tastes and textures of our sustenance, and be healthy too!