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Andrew’s Healthy Food Tips

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Introduction

This article describes convenient techniques for making food that tastes good and is healthy. Most of these techniques use less than 2 minutes, or actually save time.

A few disclaimers: this article mentions a few commercial products; other than possibly being a customer, I’m not associated with any of the companies that make those products. I’m not a nutritionist or medical doctor. Nothing in this article should substitute for advice from a medical doctor. Consult with a medical doctor about significant diet changes. Be careful about following my suggestions; what is good for one person is not necessarily good for another.

People Differ

That’s the first tip: never forget that different people have profoundly different nutritional needs. For example, I’m supposed to have a lot of salt, because sometimes my blood pressure is too low and salt raises it; but a high-salt diet would be disastrous for other people. So, the next time you see someone eating something that you think is weird, you might consider that their dietary needs might be different than yours, and try to figure out why they’re eating what they are; if you can, you may learn something that helps you.

In general you can’t expect to get good results by following someone else’s diet from a book or word of mouth. The only way that I know of to find food that’s good specifically for you is to experiment, in conjunction with learning general principles and picking up little facts here and there.

Water

Drink lots of water. Water flushes waste products that result from chemical reactions in your body, and helps your body work efficiently. My doctor recommends that I have a gallon of water per day. You’ll need more than a gallon on some days, such as when you exercise a lot. A good rule of thumb that’s well-known to hikers is that if your urine is not clear, you’re probably dehydrated. This does indeed mean that many people spend their entire lives under-hydrated!

Drinking clean water is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Try to use a water filter, e.g., a Brita water pitcher and filter. Filtering can remove many undesirable particles, and may provide a huge health benefit at low cost. Home-filtered water is healthier than some bottled water, and in some cases tastes better.

If you do buy bottled water and want to save quite a bit of money, you could instead bottle your own water. Bring home a few used water bottles and fill them with your own filtered water. This method also benefits the environment by cutting down on bottles.

Do you have a headache? If you do, then you might be dehydrated. When someone tells me they have a headache, I ask them if they’ve had enough water, and they almost always say “no,” and act surprised, as though they think I have supernatural powers. The real explanation is more mundane; it’s simply that many headaches are caused by dehydration. For example, I find that when I have a headache (which is very rare), I drink as much water as I can stand, and usually the headache goes away quickly. Be especially alert for dehydration if you have a lot of caffeine, because caffeine is a diuretic — it increases your body’s tendency to be dehydrated. Be careful with headaches, though. Sometimes they indicate a serious health problem.

Avoid Heavily Processed Foods

Try to minimize the amount of heavily processed foods that you eat. (Another term for heavily-processed foods is “refined”.)

Bread is a particularly important food in this regard, since so many people have a lot of bread. When you have bread, try to have stone-ground wheat bread, and avoid white bread. The stone-grinding process is one of the best ways to make bread so that nutrients are retained, whereas the heavy processing that white bread undergoes produces bread that has little nutritional value.

Many other carb-rich foods have been heavily processed. Try to avoid these foods. The nature of the carbohydrates that you eat can make a big difference in how you feel, and in how your body produces insulin. For example, eating heavily processed sugar may make you feel worse than eating unrefined pure cane sugar.

Reduce Consumption of High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Try to avoid high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Many foods, including almost all soft drinks, have mountains of HFCS. You can check nutrition labels to determine whether a food has HFCS.

The following strategy for diet improvement is particularly applicable to reducing HFCS: make small improvements over a long period of time. That is, do not attempt to perfect everything in one shot. (Obviously, though, you’ll need to take other things into consideration, such as immediate health concerns.) It can be shocking to discover just how much HFCS is in one’s diet. Try not to let this discourage you or make you feel as though you must immediately eliminate all HFCS from your diet. You’re less likely to be overwhelmed if you take a more gradual approach. Take joy in each small improvement. It probably took years to get your diet to have lots of high fructose corn syrup; it seems realistic to allow years to get rid of it.

Protein and Carbs

Try thinking about the by-weight ratios of protein to carbohydrates that you have throughout the day. This ratio may significantly affect how you feel. My own experience is that the 1 to 1 ratio is good for me, and that deviating from it can make me feel terrible. If I eat even one meal that has 5 grams of carbs for every gram of protein, I’ll likely feel dizzy and otherwise awful. Keep the “people differ” idea in mind; two people may have considerably different ideal protein/carb ratios. If you are interested in investigating your ideal protein/carb ratio without radically changing your diet, you could try one ratio for several days, and see if it seems better for you than another one.

It’s usually easy to determine the protein to carb ratio for a given food. In the US you can get protein and carb totals by weight (grams) from the food nutrition labels that come on the packaging of most food. Protein and carbs info may also be found in the paperback, “The Complete Book of Food Counts”, by Corinne T. Netzer. I keep this book handy on top of my refrigerator. Many web sites also have protein and carb info. The Zone diet is based on the 2:3 ratio. If you’re already on the Zone diet, you may benefit from experimenting with other ratios, as the Zone diet itself suggests. Be careful about radically changing your diet, especially when adding or removing lots of carbs; check with your doctor before making significant dietary changes.

Milk and Cereal

Many people like to have cereal for breakfast. Instead of eating cereal that has empty carbs like refined sugar, one can have a high-protein, low-carb cereal. This allows you to add carbs to your breakfast in a form that you choose, instead of in the heavily refined form that is in most cereals.

I have a low-carb cereal most mornings. One nice thing about this is that it allows me to mix in fruit with my cereal, especially pineapple, blueberries, raspberries, or prunes. I’m fortunate to have a store nearby that sells lots of frozen fruit. I defrost the fruit by taking it out of the freezer and letting it sit by my fireplace for half an hour while I do my normal morning routine before breakfast. One can also thaw frozen fruit over night in the refrigerator. Even better is to use fresh fruit, if you can eat it within a few days of buying it, so that it doesn’t't go bad or lose nutrients. If you have milk with your cereal, be sure to drink all the milk in the bowl. Lots of good nutrients from the fruit will dissolve in the milk.

The kind of low-carb cereal I get is called “Keto Crisp” (TM). The nutrition label on the Keto Crisp box says that 2/3 of a cup has 110 calories, virtually no fat (1.5 grams), 2 grams of carbs, and 22 grams of protein. Be aware that Keto Crisp has quite a bit of salt – 370 mg, about 16% of the “daily value”. I get Keto Crisp from vitaglo.com and have had good experiences getting it shipped to myself.

Food Colors

Believe it or not, different food colors correspond to different kinds of nutrients. Try to get variety in the colors of the foods you eat. For example, yams are a great source of orange food.

The Carrot Trick

Another easy way to get orange food is to get a bag of baby carrots, transfer the carrots to a small plastic container or resealable plastic bag, and put it in the refrigerator. Then, sometimes when you go into the refrigerator, grab a couple of baby carrots and eat ‘em. Keep the carrots near the front of the refrigerator in order to maximize your chances of eating them. A successful implementation of the carrot trick requires virtually no work. There’s no peeling or cutting.

Pepper Game

Ideas similar to the carrot trick work with other foods. My mom likes to keep a supply of sliced green peppers in the refrigerator.

Another easy way to get green vegetables is to cut strips of green pepper and put them in sandwiches. Strips of green pepper, red pepper, and yellow peppers are also good with dip.

Wash Vegetables and Fruit

Wash vegetables and fruit. Vegetables and fruit can have insecticides, as well as plain old dirt, which probably isn’t great to be eating. I wash these foods in a few seconds using water and my hands, without soap or sponge.

Salad

If you eat salads, try using olive oil instead of salad dressing. Olive oil has the “good” fat that’s believed to help peoples’ hearts. I add grated or cubed cheese for flavor.

Cucumbers

I like salads, but I eat them infrequently because they take more time to prepare than I usually feel like investing. One easy way to get green vegetables is to eat cucumbers. Instead of having a salad before dinner, just wash a cucumber, cut it in half, peel the half, chop the peeled half into slices, and season the slices if you want. Save the unpeeled half in a plastic bag for next time. I like to put salt and pepper on cucumber slices and eat them while I’m making the rest of the meal.

Try to Use Organic Products

If dairy products are part of your diet, try to have organic dairy products, to avoid hormones that may be present in non-organic dairy products. While organic products are usually more expensive than non-organic ones, they’re probably worthwhile if you can afford them. By the way, organic egg nog tastes unbelievably good.

Smoothies

I like to make smoothies once or twice a week. A batch can be made in 10 minutes.

As you’ll see, these smoothies are a bit unusual. Nope, they don’t contain chicken. These smoothies are made with cottage cheese, and contain very little liquid. The cottage cheese provides lots of protein. The carbohydrates in these smoothies come from fruit. I like to have a 1 to 1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates; you can adjust the ratio to suit your taste and health needs.

We’ll get to the recipe shortly. First, let’s talk about a few other things.

A side effect of using cottage cheese is that these smoothies tend to be quite thick. I chill them and then eat them with a spoon (see below). This gives these smoothies a desert-like quality that makes them tasty after meals. They also make a nice meal by themselves.

Some kinds of cottage cheese contain a lot of salt; smoothies might taste better with low-salt cottage cheese (if such a thing exists).

For fruit, I usually use some subset of apples, bananas, blueberries, mangos, and oranges. Pineapple works well if you’re going to eat the entire blend immediately, but be aware that after just a few hours a smoothie with pineapple in it will taste acidic. Blackberries don’t work very well because little bits don’t get ground up.

I keep lots of frozen fruit around so that I don’t have to worry about fruit going bad. A side benefit of using frozen fruit is that the smoothies are nice and cold right after they’re made. You can also experiment with adding ice cubes.

I use about half a cup of milk to help the blender mix things up. Dairy milk, soy milk, water, or even egg nog should work.

To make the concoction, begin by putting the ingredients into a blender. Put liquids in first, so that they’re at the bottom and will thus help mix things up when the blender starts.

Turn the blender on, and blend the mixture until it’s a smooth liquid. If the blender seems to be whirring uselessly, stop the blender immediately to avoid damage to the blender; then stir the contents, perhaps add some liquid, and restart the blender.

After blending, put what you’re going to eat right now into a bowl, and put that in the freezer. Take it out when the mixture begins to solidify, e.g., after 5 minutes. While the stuff in the freezer is chilling, move what’s left from the blender into an airtight container, and store it in the refrigerator. This stuff will make a great snack or small meal later. Clean the blender.

Now, take the bowl out of the freezer and eat the smoothie.

These smoothies seem to be tough on blenders, so don’t be surprised if your blender dies, especially if it’s a cheap one. I use a 1.2 horsepower Juiceman JMS 6000 that I got on the web for about $100. I’ve been using the same Juiceman JMS 6000 without problems for six months. Using more liquid may make the process easier on the blender. Filling the blender too far or running the blender too long may damage the blender. For this concoction you may want to fill the blender less than for other concoctions.

You can make something similar without using a blender, by mixing the ingredients together in a bowl. This can be especially useful in the workplace if access to a blender is difficult. To me, this doesn’t taste as good as the smoothie version, but it’s the same stuff, and it may be even healthier than the smoothie version.

Background

I wrote this article to try to help other people by communicating some things that I’ve discovered about food. Most of these things are well known in the medical community, I think, but I certainly didn’t know about many of them for a long time, and I suspect there are things in the article that many people don’t know either.

For some more perspective about this article, you might like to know a bit about my eating habits. I eat red meat several times a year, white meat once or twice a week, and fish once or twice a week. Despite parental protestations, I ate a quite a bit of junk food when I was growing up. I still eat junk food occasionally.

I hope that this article will help improve your health in some way.

Copyright 2002, Andrew Shapira
Content Last Modified April 3, 2003

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