Pick The “Low Hanging Fruit!”

Healthy Eating Tip:

Pick the “low hanging fruit!”

I do a lot of writing and talking to people about the spectrum of healthy diets. The DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) represents the most moderate diet on one end of the spectrum, and the plant-based whole foods diet represents the most effective diet on the other end of the spectrum. Both diets produce results and are very well studied, with results published in peer-reviewed journals. The DASH diet produces measurable but limited results and is easy to follow with just a little education. The plant-based whole foods diet is much more effective, but also more challenging to follow and requires some education and cooking skills development. The DASH diet is a great place to start, but the farther you move down the healthy diet spectrum closer to the plant-based whole foods diet, the healthier you will become. It is crucial to start at a place that matches your willingness and your ability. Choose a place on the spectrum that is comfortable for you based on your willingness to change and the ability to follow through. The DASH diet is a great place to start if you have assessed your willingness to change as moderate or low, but not so great if you are highly motivated. The DASH diet is the most conservative diet that has been shown in well-done studies published in peer-reviewed journals to be at least moderately effective lowering blood pressure, but as a side effect, DASH dieters also lose small amounts of weight and lower cholesterol and blood sugar a little. By far, the diet shown in many well-done studies published in peer-reviewed journals to be most effective in reducing weight, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure is the plant-based whole foods diet. It also helps stabilize blood sugar significantly. But if you think that is something you can’t do at the present time, start with a more moderate diet and gradually move in the direction of the plant-based whole foods diet. The closer you get to the plant-based whole foods diet, the more results you will see! If you don’t cook regularly, then the plant-based whole foods diet isn’t the place to start unless you have the time and resources as well as the willingness to engage in a serious education process.

Check out the blog post entitled; “what is the healthy diet spectrum, and why isn’t there one diet that is best for everyone?” This blog post is the fourth in a 5-part series entitled “health is in the big picture, not the details!” If you are interested in the present state of unhealth in Kansas and the United States and how to get yourself headed in a different direction, I would encourage you to read this series of blog posts!

If your willingness to change is not even at a level that will allow you to engage in a moderate like the DASH diet, there are still things that you can do to improve your diet, maybe lose a little weight, and help you become accustomed to thinking about what you eat.

It doesn’t matter where you start; the important thing is to begin!

Remember my favorite Bruce Lee quote.

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply.
Willing is not enough, we must do.”
– Bruce Lee

Taking action based on your willingness and knowledge is a physical expression of your desire to experience healing. There is extraordinary power in translating your intention into action!

Here are some very easy things you can do to reduce extra fat, refined carbohydrates, and excessive sodium in your diet that won’t affect your satisfaction with food in a significant way at all. If you are interested enough in healthier eating to be reading this, then there is no excuse not to follow these easy suggestions; they are definitely low hanging fruit!

Switch to diet soft drinks.
According to dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, “sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugars in our diet, representing almost half of all added sugars we consume. Added sugars are a major culprit in the obesity and diabetes epidemics.” If you add snacks and sweets, just those two items represent a whopping 77 percent of the added simple sugars Americans get. If you are a staff member at Smith County Memorial Hospital and you have questioned why I do not offer sugary drinks and calorically dense desserts in Hometown Café, that is why! Fruits juices are no better than pop because they lack the fiber that is associated with the original whole fruit before it is processed into juice. If you love the juice, then eat the fruit! Sports and energy drinks are the same as pop. I am not going to get into an argument about artificial sweeteners here. Even if you have to drink diet pop with artificial sweeteners, it is better than drinking the calorically dense sugary drink! Try Diet Dr. Pepper; it is, in my opinion, the best diet version of a sugary drink.

Switch to low-fat mayonnaise.
A regular mayonnaise can have over 10 grams of fat for just a single one-tablespoon serving, and who doesn’t put two tablespoons on a sandwich? There are some superb low-fat mayonnaise products out there that reduce the fat to just over three grams of fat per one-tablespoon serving. Take it from a mayonnaise fanatic; at the end of your first week using a low-fat mayo, you won’t be able to tell the difference! Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise is my personal favorite.

Switch to Hidden Valley lite ranch dressing.
Ranch dressing is far and above the most popular salad dressing used in America, and Hidden Valley is the best. A two-tablespoon serving delivers a whopping 14 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of that saturated fat. Hidden Valley Lite provides less than half of the fat and saturated fat: five grams of fat (one gram saturated). Most brands of light ranch are lower in sodium as well. I would not suggest the fat-free Hidden Valley Ranch, but the Lite Ranch is an exceptional product that your taste buds will not object to!

Switch to Fat-free Italian dressing.
Wish-Bone Italian dressing is one of America’s favorite Italian dressings. For a two-tablespoon serving, you will receive seven grams of fat (one gram saturated). The fat-free version is a good product and reduces calories from 80 to 15 with zero fat. Across the board, fat-free Italian dressings at pretty good flavor-wise, but you need to look at how much sugar they add to compensate for the elimination of fat. Some add so much sugar that they are a poor product to switch to, but there are many great fat-free dressings well worth the switch! I have not used a full-fat Italian style dressing in much more than a decade. If I am going to indulge in some fat, I want to save it for something spectacular. Full-fat Italian style dressing is a waste of fat calories!

Use Smart Balance instead of butter.
Let’s be honest here. Changing the way we Americans use butter-like products is the best idea, but if that is too much for you, then switching to Smart Balance can save you about five grams of saturated fat and 31 mg of cholesterol every time you use just a one-tablespoon serving, which is about half of what a typical American will use at breakfast! A moderate diet like the DASH diet has allocations for saturated fat and cholesterol at 14 grams and 150 mg, respectively, so if you eat real butter and use two tablespoons at breakfast, you will use 71% of your saturated fat and 41% for your cholesterol allocation before you leave the house in the morning! Smart Balance is a great tasting product that is well worth trying; it is one reason our vegetables at the hometown Café taste so good! It is a vegan product with zero trans-fat and zero cholesterol!

Order 1/3 cheese on pizza.
People in America are pizza crazy, and in some parts of the country like where I grew up in New Haven, Conn., it’s a religion. Two of the most famous pizza houses in the country are on the same block in New Haven; Pepe’s and Sally’s. The battle between them made New Haven the capitol of pizza in America. Don’t take my word for it google it! It’s a fact that especially in the mid-west, the version of pizza eaten has way too much cheese on it. No pizzeria in the world will object to you requesting that they use only 1/3 or even 1/4 of the cheese they usually use on your pie, and you will save a significant amount of calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium by doing so and the pie will be better! The real goal is to eliminate cheese, but if that’s too much to bite off right now, then reducing the amount of cheese you eat can help jump start your plan to eat healthier!

Switch to baked chips or other healthier snack options.
For many Americans snacking is a significant source of empty calories and sodium. If eliminating snacks won’t work for you, try switching to healthier options. Lay’s classic potato chips have 10 grams of fat (1.5 grams saturated) per serving while the baked chips that we offer in Hometown Café have just 3.5 grams of fat (zero grams saturated) per serving. Pretzel chips by Snack Factory in the blue bag at Gene’s have only 110 calories with zero fat and 330 mg of sodium for a larger portion than the Lay’s potato chips. Those are the pretzel chips we serve with the hummus in Hometown Café. All processed snack products represent empty calories, and the goal is to eliminate those, but if that isn’t something that you can pull off right now, look around and find snack options that are healthier than the calorically dense and nutritional deficient options that immediately come to mind. Consult the nutrition facts label and see what you are eating; look before you leap!

Switch to low-fat ice cream.
Cherry Garcia is a food group for me. I don’t do it anymore, but when I used to open up a pint, it became one serving. That’s 1010 calories with 59 grams of fat (38 grams saturated) per pint! For the same amount, Chili Cow chocolate chip cookie dough has 360 calories with 14 grams of fat (nine saturated). I am not suggesting that eating even lower-fat ice cream is a great idea, but you can shave off 650 calories and 45 grams of fat (29 grams saturated) and not experience withdrawal symptoms; it would be crazy not to do it!

Exchange whole wheat for white everywhere you can.
Food texture is just as important as flavor. The crunch in a kettle chip of a handle full of popcorn adds as much to eating pleasure as salt, fat, or sugar! Soft and doughy foods are also pleasant at times. Who doesn’t like a crispy hot dog in a fresh, doughy bun? Bread has that appealing texture, but it isn’t really food. There is nothing to it at all except calories and sodium. There are very high-quality whole-wheat breads on the market that don’t make you sacrifice any of that very appealing soft texture and provide you with increased nutrients and fiber. Look on the nutrition facts label and make sure that the bread you select has at least 3 grams of fiber preserving. Watch the sodium though. Some breads hit as much as 500 mg in a portion, and the DASH diet limit is about 2,000 mg a day! The goal is to move to a very high-quality, nutrient-dense bread like Ezekiel bread, but at the start switch to whole wheat made in the style of the soft white bread you are used to and it won’t make you sacrifice much at all!

Use 2% or skim milk instead of whole milk.
Leaving aside the whole argument about how appropriate it is for humans to be drinking cow’s milk, if you drink cow’s milk for each 8-ounce glass of whole milk, you are getting 146 calories, eight grams of fat (five saturated), and 24 mg of cholesterol. In terms of DASH diet parameters, that is 12 percent of the fat, 36 percent of the saturated fat, and 16 percent of the cholesterol you are allowed for the entire day; just one cup! Not many milk drinkers drink only 8 ounces a day. Switching to two percent will save you 43 calories, three grams of total fat, and reduce saturated fat by 2.5 grams. It will only shave off three mg of cholesterol, though. Switching to skim milk will save you 63 calories, 8 grams of total fat (five saturated), and 18 mg of cholesterol! If you move from whole to skim milk in one shot, the taste difference will be more than noticeable. But, if you allow your mouth to acclimate first to two percent milk first and then after a week or two step down again to skim milk, the taste difference is far less noticeable. Especially if you drink three to five glasses of milk a day, the reduction in calories, fat, saturated fat and cholesterol is significant.

Take a multi-vitamin every day.
In future healthy eating tips, I will discuss supplements and how to select a good multi-vitamin, but as low hanging fruit, buy the cheapest one you can find and take one a day. Average Americans eat so few fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes and eat so much nutritionally deficient processed food that just about all of us are not receiving the nutrients we need to keep our bodies functioning properly. Taking a multi-vitamin every day is fast and doesn’t hurt the wallet. It’s a no-brainer and there is absolutely no reason not to do it!

Start walking a little.
Exercise used to be part of our everyday life as a human. We have so many energy saving devices now that you do not have to get any exercise at all if you don’t want to. This lack of exercise, coupled with our poor diet, is why we are in the health crisis we are in! The National Weight Control Registry is a large, now 27-year-old study of more than 10,000 people that have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least one year. Ninety-four percent of those people increased their physical activity, with the most frequently reported form of activity being walking. If you are seriously overweight, ask your provider if walking is okay for you and only increase the level of exercise under their supervision. Start by walking out of your front door and down to the sidewalk and come back. There is absolutely no excuse not to do that right now! For those of us that are already walking, increasing the number of steps, we get in every day can help burn extra calories and build stamina. Try parking at the furthest place from the door at work, not the closest!

Here it is again!

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply.
Willing is not enough, we must do.”
– Bruce Lee

Taking action based on your willingness and knowledge is a physical expression of your desire to experience healing. There is extraordinary power in translating your intention into action!

Have a great week, and don’t leave any low-hanging fruit on the tree!

Here are the references for today’s Healthy Eating Tip:

Challa HJ, Ameer MA, Uppaluri KR. DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). National Library of Medicine (NLM). National Institutes of Health (NIH). Books. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482514/. (Accessed 7/24/2020).

Appel LJ, Moore TJ, Obarzanek E, et al. A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. DASH Collaborative Research Group. New England Journal of Medicine 1997;336:1117-1124.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Health.gov. Our Work. Food & Nutrition. 2015 2020 Dietary Guidelines. (Accessed 9/10/2020.)

Campbell TC. A plant-based diet and animal protein: questioning dietary fat and considering animal protein as the main cause of heart disease. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology. 2017 May;14(5):331-7.

Esselstyn CB. Resolving the Coronary Artery Disease Epidemic Through Plant-Based Nutrition. Preventive Cardiology 2001;4: 171-177

Campbell TC, Parpia B, Chen J. Diet, lifestyle, and the etiology of coronary artery disease: the Cornell China Study. American Journal of Cardiology. 1998;82(10B):18T–21T.

Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1998;280:2001–2007.