Eating is not one size fits all

Published 2:02 pm Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Eating healthy is a confusing world. If you don’t have a computer, or are not Internet savvy enough to know how to search for it, the MyPyramid plan designed and implemented by USDA is just a pretty, colorful pyramid. There isn’t any text on it to explain what everything means. That is because the designers wanted it to be plain and simple with the guidelines and explanations available online at

The problem with that is not everyone has a computer.

The figure climbing the stairs illustrates exercise and activity. You are told on the website that you need to be physically active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, and children and teenagers should be physically active for an hour every day. You don’t get that from the picture? Neither did the professors at Harvard School of Public Health.

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The stairs go up the side of the USDA pyramid, and the HSPH pyramid has exercise and weight control as the foundation. This is because these two are critical factors in staying healthy along with proper eating habits, according to the HSPH article.

Confusion isn’t only in the food pyramids. Putting the pros and cons of the pyramids aside for a moment, eating and staying healthy means several different things to different individuals. It isn’t a one size fits all. Mississippi Department of Health says that choosing the right foods can be difficult because scientists, nutritionists and physicians pile up the recommendations for the “health benefits of this food or that foods”. The raw fruit and vegetable diet will detoxify you. But, when you eat no fats, your body will burn the fat you have, yet when you go off the diet the fat comes right back, most of the time worse than before you began the diet. Dieting can be a vicious cycle.

Then there are the warnings against food additives and sweet substitutes. A new book out by Peter Glickman, “Lose Weight, Have More Energy, Be Happier in 10 Days,” sites an article at, which was published in The Atlantic Monthly, about this very thing. The red coloring in many processed foods is none other than the desiccated (crushed up) bodies of female Dactylopius Coccus Costa, a small insect found mainly in Peru and the Canary Islands. “The bug feeds on red cactus berries, and the color from the berries accumulates in the females and their unhatched larvae. The insects are collected, dried, and ground into a pigment. It takes 70,000 of them to produce a pound of carmine, which is used to make the pink, red, or purple color in foods. Dannon strawberry yogurt gets its color from carmine, and so do many frozen fruit bars, candies, and fruit fillings, plus Ocean Spray pink grapefruit juice drink.”

Not only this, but many fast food places use beef extracts to enhance chicken nuggets and chicken breast patties. To anyone allergic to beef, this is sad news which answers the question of why the gout flares up when eating chicken at a fast food place.

The artificial sweetener Aspartame has been known to cause muscular sclerosis symptoms, not the disease but just the symptoms of dizziness and loss of equilibrium, among other symptoms such as blurred vision, ringing or buzzing in ears. At a fibromyalgia newsgroup, every posting noted the intensifying of pain coincided with the intake of food or drink containing Aspartame. Regardless of the numerous complaints against Aspartame, the FDA approved its use in all products. Another artificial sweetener, Xylitol, is extremely toxic to dogs and cats.

Donna Speed, a registered dietitian with Mississippi Department of Health answers the burning question, “How can we eat safely?” She says it is largely a matter of balancing variety and benefit.

“There are many foods that are good for our health, but some foods are better for us than others,” she said. “Stocking up on offerings such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, beans and whole grains is an ideal way to provide both variety and healthful benefit in your diet.”

One rule of thumb dietitians and nutritionists follow is that the brighter the color of fresh food, the higher the nutrients in that food. Carrots and sweet potatoes have a high vitamin A content. Leafy vegetables such as spinach and other greens have a high vitamin A content as well as vitamin K content which helps coagulate the blood. So heart patients should be careful with these foods because they counteract the blood thinners.

Oatmeal isn’t the only food that lowers cholesterol.

“Dried beans and peas have priceless benefits,” Speed said. “Beans are high in many of the nutrients and antioxidants that we need, and there are studies that show eating a daily serving of peas or beans can lower your blood cholesterol as much as 18 percent. That can also reduce your risk for heart disease. Canned beans have nearly the same benefits, but you want to wash them first because they tend to be packed in a starchy juice.”

Omega 3 fatty acids are another thing that helps the body’s heart. It is found in lean, fat-free fish such as salmon.

Whole grains, Speed says, offer huge benefits of stable blood sugar, less hunger, and better weight management along with supplying protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals essential to the healthy diet.

Harvard School of Public Health, www dot hsph. harvard dot edu slash nutritionsource, says the whole grains are a much better source of carbohydrates than enriched, processed carbohydrates because the body uses more energy in digesting them. This is why they help stabilize blood sugar. Some studies show the whole grains may help prevent type 2 diabetes. Another “brick” in the HSPH pyramid, is plant oils, such as olive, canola, soy, corn and the like. Since we get a third of our calories from fats, it makes sense, HSPH says, to place this brick near the foundation. The plant oils improve cholesterol levels when eaten in place of highly processed carbohydrates.

Every nutritionist and dietitian recommends fruits, vegetables, dairy foods and lean meats in a healthy diet. What is a little surprising is the emphasis HSPH places on nuts and legumes. The pyramid article states, “Nuts and legumes are excellent sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Legumes include black beans, navy beans, garbanzos, and other beans that are usually sold dried. Many kinds of nuts contain healthy fats, and packages of some varieties (almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios) can now even carry a label saying they’re good for your heart.”

Surprisingly, HSPH recommends a multivitamin everyday, but not surprisingly it recommends limiting alcoholic beverages.

However, the bottom line is that we must make wise choices in our diets. Artificial sweeteners and food additives may not be healthy for everyone. It is always a good idea to read the labels and choose fresh over processed for more nutrients.