Sharpening the Saw: Healthy Eating
“Sharpening the saw simply means that we take time to eat right, exercise moderately, sleep properly, manage stress, and maintain our emotional well being. It’s not just about focusing on any one element, it’s about having a comprehensive set of healthy habits that govern our lives.
Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People discusses sharpening the saw. The habit of sharpening the saw focuses on managing our health. Interestingly enough, many people try to have success in life with a dull saw. While there are many excuses for disregarding our health, there are few good reasons. The fact is that keeping your saw sharp pays dividends in all areas of our life and should be a major focus.
In this series of articles, we will be reviewing each of these five areas of health (diet, exercise, stress management, sleep and emotional well being). This first article focuses on the corner stone of all other health issues, diet.
According to Anthony Komaroff, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and editor in chief of Harvard Health Publishing, “One of the most important fields of medical science over the past fifty years is the research that shows just how powerfully our health is affected by what we eat. Knowing what foods to eat and in what proportions is crucial for health. The evidence-based Healthy Eating Plate shows this in a way that is very simple to understand,”
The nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), created the Healthy Eating Plate. The plate provides an evidence-based visual guide and provides a blueprint for eating a healthy meal. Like the U.S. government’s MyPlate, the Healthy Eating Plate is simple and easy to understand. However, unlike the government food chart, the healthy eating plate avoids the biases inherent in the political process.
Walter Willet, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition at HSPH, states that “Unfortunately, like the earlier U.S. Department of Agriculture Pyramids, MyPlate mixes science with the influence of powerful agricultural interests, which is not the recipe for healthy eating. The Healthy Eating Plate is based on the best available scientific evidence and provides consumers with the information they need to make choices that can profoundly affect our health and well-being.”
A comparison between the Health Eating Plate and the USDA’s My Plate shows the shortcomings in government’s guidance. For example, MyPlate does not tell consumers that whole grains are better for health than refined grains; its protein section offers no indication that some high-protein foods—fish, poultry, beans, nuts—are healthier than red meats and processed meats; it is silent on beneficial fats; it does not distinguish between potatoes and other vegetables; it recommends dairy at every meal, even though there is little evidence that high dairy intake protects against osteoporosis but substantial evidence that high intake can be harmful; and it says nothing about sugary drinks. Finally, the Healthy Eating Plate reminds people to stay active, an important factor in weight control, while MyPlate does not mention the importance of any activity.
Today, two in three adults and one in three children are overweight or obese in the U.S. This is an epidemic! Much of this epidemic is caused by people not knowing how to eat healthy and turning to fast foods or preparing unhealthy meals.
Recent research proves that we really are what we eat. Nevertheless, Americans spend more than any people of any nation on weigh loss or diet programs and still continue to gain. Why? Because”diets” do not work! What works long term is replacing bad habits of health with good habits in the areas of nutrition, exercise, stress management, sleep and emotional well being.
If you want to enjoy long term health and avoid disease while remaining functional well into your 80s and 90s, focus on “blood sugar stabilization” and gaining the right combination of protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals in the right amounts of the right type delivered at the right time each day.
This means eating as follows:
- Eat six small meals a day and eat every 2.5 to 3 hours. These small portion controlled meals help stabilize blood sugar while providing solid nutrition. By avoiding the insulin spikes that come from overloading the body with carbohydrates (high blood sugar) or (hypoglycemia or low blood sugar) that comes from waiting too long to eat.
- Pair proteins, carbs and fats in the right ratios with each meal. This means never eating fruit or grains without a protein. It also means never eating bakery items alone.
- Drink 64 oz or more of water a day. Water has a number of terrific benefits for your health.
- Use the 9 inch plate model for your meals: Take a 9 inch plate and draw a line down the middle. Then draw a line from the center at 90 degrees to the edge. This provides three portions of 25%, 25% and 50%. Place a protein in 25% of the plate, a good carb such as whole grains in 25% of the plate and fill the remaining 50% with vegetables that have a low glycemic score (the higher the glycemic index of food, the more it will elevate your blood sugar). Avoid starches such as potatoes, corn or certain beans. Use green vegetables like broccoli, mixed greens, turnip greens, or green beans. If you eat a salad, leave off the croutons and fruit and use a low carb dressing. If you are trying to lose body fat, leave off the good carb. This way, you can use the 9 inch plate in both weight loss and long term.
- Have an optional snack a day: A healthy snack could be a small piece of dark chocolate paired with eight pecan halves or eight macadamia nuts. It could also be a sugar free popsicle or sugar free pudding.
- If you are trying to lose body fat and reach your ideal weight, lower the carbs. While carbohydrates contribute valuable energy to our diets, too high a level of carbohydrates will spike blood sugar and illicit an insulin response that can result in fat storage and/or lead to diabetes and a wide variety of health issues over time. Most of the effective weight loss plans focus on keeping carbohydrates low enough that you can maintain your desired activity level while triggering the body to burn excess body fat as fuel. In contrast, the low fat high carb dieting that was popular a few decades ago has been proven to be much less effective at changing our body fat percentage.
- Replace Bad Habits with Good Habits: We all have developed bad eating habits along the way. For example, our parents told us to eat everything on our plate and served us huge portions on big 12 inch plates. We were given sugary deserts with every meal. A snack meant a cake or cookie wrapped in plastic that came from a box in the cupboard. We drank orange juice in large amounts with a sugary cereal or bagel for breakfast. We learned to consume fast food on a regular basis. We learned to love high fructose corn syrup in our soft drinks. And we focused on three square meals a day. None of these habits coincide with good health. In fact, many of these habits are driving our national crisis with pre-diabetes and obesity.
In terms of eating right, the Healthy Eating Plate includes proven guidance:
- Vegetables: Eat an abundant variety, the more the better. Limited consumption of potatoes is recommended, however, as they are full of rapidly digested starch, which has the same roller-coaster effect on blood sugar as refined grains and sweets. In the short-term, these surges in blood sugar and insulin lead to hunger and overeating, and in the long term, to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic disorders.
- Fruits: Choose a rainbow of fruits every day. Limit fruits when trying to lose weight.
- Whole Grains: Choose whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice. Refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, act like sugar in the body. Eating too many refined grains can raise the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Healthy Proteins: Choose fish, poultry, beans, or nuts, which contain healthful nutrients. Limit red meat and avoid processed meats, since eating even small quantities of these on a regular basis raises the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and weight gain.
- Healthy Oils: Use olive, canola, and other plant oils in cooking, on salads, and at the table, since these healthy fats reduce harmful cholesterol and are good for the heart. Limit butter and avoid trans fat.
- Water: Drink water, tea, or coffee (with little or no sugar). Limit milk and dairy (1-2 servings per day) and juice (1 small glass a day) and avoid sugary drinks.
While the Healthy Eating Plate serves as a good guideline, each individual will have slightly different dietary needs depending upon their metabolism, overall health, allergies, specific health problems, activity level and budget. If you are confused by all the diets and misinformation out there, consider retaining a health coach and getting on a program such as Optavia. I did and watched my body fat drop from 21% to 17%, my blood pressure dropped from 130/78 to 108/58 and my resting heart rate went from 68 to 52 bpm. Best of all, my A1C is now back in the normal range. Yes, I practice what I preach and hope that this information will be as helpful to you in your journey to better health as it has been to me. If I can help you in your journey or point you in the right direction, contact me on LinkedIn.
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