By Dr Chet
Has your doctor or nutritionist ever said, “All you have to do is eat a balanced diet”? You’ve probably heard that at some time, but exactly what does that mean? In reality, it’s not really balanced—that’s why the USDA uses a pyramid to depict it. The Food Guide Pyramid was created to provide a visual depiction of how we’re supposed to eat. The distribution of nutrients is 50 to 55% carbohydrates, 30% fat, and 15 to 20% protein. How can anything that unequal be called balanced? It really isn’t balanced in the classic sense of the word; what the pyramid approach attempts to do is provide a variety of foods so that people who follow it can get an adequate and balanced amount of nutrients.
For example, while it seems high in carbohydrates, the focus is on whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, while limiting sugars. If you were a careful observer, you might say, “Hey—this looks an awful lot like the DASH Diet!” The real difference is in the protein and fats: the DASH Diet limits fat to 20% and by doing that, the carbohydrates go up to 60% and the protein to 20%.
So Which Approach Should I Use?
Let’s say that you don’t intend to get the genetic test done to determine how you should eat—you just want to pick one and go with it. How do you decide without the test? Here’s what I would do. Start with the foundation of vegetables and fruits: eight to ten servings of each per day. Start with that because none of us regularly consumes that much. You need the fiber. You need the phytonutrients. You just plain need them, so start with that.
The second step is to add the fats, and in this case, always go for quality—the more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, the better. You’ll have to check the oils you use for cooking, the oils in salad dressings, and the oils that are found in prepared foods. You don’t have to strain to do it because here’s a simple strategy: no deep–fried foods. Period. No French fries, no potato chips, no deep-fried chicken, no taco shells.
All the process of frying does is add fat. An 8-ounce potato has about 200 calories. Turn it into French fries, and now it’s about 750 calories. Make that potato into potato chips, and you’ll be at about 1,200 calories. Almost anything that you deep-fat fry has many, many extra calories from the fat added in the process. Oil soaks into the batter covering the fish, for example, or oil adheres to the surface—the problem with the potato chips and fries is that cutting the potato into small pieces adds a lot of surface area.
An exception to the no-deep-fat-frying rule is deep-fried turkey; yes, oil adheres to the surface, but you’re going to remove the skin and thus the oil. And if you batter and deep fry a Snickers—which I admit I once did—you’d better cut it into bite-size pieces and share it with the whole family like we did. No one said you can’t have any fun—it all depends on portion control.
Finally, when you’re going to eat carbs, go for whole grains. If you’re on a low-carb, balanced, or high-carb diet, make sure you get the grains that are the least refined: buy whole grain bread, cook real oatmeal instead of pancakes, and eat the burger with a fork and no bun. From this point, all you have to decide is how many carbohydrates you eat to fit your plan. Remember that the fewer the carbohydrates, the higher the percentage of protein and fat you’ll eat, and that changes the balance.