January 4, 2012

Natural Foodie:
Go ahead, make a change

We asked four experts, and it was unanimous. The key to a healthier you in the new year can pretty much be summed up in two words: 'Lifestyle changes.’

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Eating better has long been a top New Year’s resolution. No surprise, given that the turn of the calendar follows weeks of consuming too much holiday ham, buttered rolls and cream pie – a perfect recipe for feeling bloated, groggy and ready for change.

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Mushrooms such as maitake have a long history of use in non-Western medical traditions.


But as we all know, January’s best-laid plans for healthful eating often fall prey to February’s pizzas, chicken wings and chocolate cupcakes. The reason why, say experts, is that too many turn to short-term diets rather than permanent lifestyle changes.

“Dieting never works, because you’re always going to go back to what you did before,” said Lisa Silverman, who runs the Five Seasons Cooking School in Portland and teaches students how to prepare macrobiotic meals centered on whole grains and vegetables.

“The lifestyle changes are what really need to occur,” said Frank Giglio, a classically trained personal chef from East Waterboro who prepares dishes that promote health using whole, seasonal foods.

Meg Wolff, a two-time cancer survivor and a cookbook author from Cape Elizabeth, said the best approach to making lasting dietary changes is to take small steps – such as always eating breakfast, adding extra vegetables to each meal, eliminating soda or cutting out fast food. Once one healthful eating habit is firmly establish in your routine, you can add another.

“If I had not had a life-threatening illness, I wouldn’t have had the shock needed to make such a big change,” said Wolff, who credits her switch from the standard American diet to one based on whole plant foods for keeping her cancer-free.

A similar approach, advocated by Giglio, is to upgrade the quality of your existing food choices. For instance, you could switch from white bread to 100-percent whole wheat bread, swap out tub margarine for cold pressed vegetable oil, change from processed table salt to trace mineral rich sea salt, or choose organic rather than conventionally produced food.

Another common pitfall happens when family and friends belittle, ignore or are openly hostile to the dietary changes someone is trying to make.

“If you’re a mom with three kids and a husband and none of them wants to support you, it’s likely not going to work,” Giglio said.

But it is possible to get the whole family on board. Erin Dow, a Winthrop chef who works with school districts to improve lunchroom offerings, knows how to entice kids to try new foods. She said the best way to get the whole family to support a move toward healthful eating is to take “a couple solid dishes your family likes and learn to nail them in a healthier way.”

This could mean using black beans instead of beef in burritos, making a creamy pasta sauce with pureed chickpeas rather than cheese, or replacing lettuce with kale in your salad.

Many who want to eat better can get tripped up at the grocery store, where aisles of packaged foods sport health claims such as “made with whole grains,” “now with antioxidants” or “contains omega-3s.” Too often, these claims are marketing gimmicks attempting to mask a nutritionally inferior food.

“Don’t take what’s on boxes as the total truth,” Giglio said. “For example, fresh blueberries are a lot better for you than a packaged food with dried blueberries that you reheat in the microwave. Set aside what the box says and learn to read the ingredient list of all the food you’re buying.”

When reading those labels, be on the lookout for long ingredient lists, words you can’t pronounce or ingredients never found in a home pantry. All are signs of highly processed foods that shouldn’t make it into your shopping cart.

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